Botanical Name: Alternanthera sissoo
Common Names: Brazilian Spinach, Sissoo Spinach, Samba Lettuce, Poor Man’s Spinach
Origin: Brazil, and the cool, wet highlands of South America
Description: Brazilian spinach is a hardy, low-growing, perennial, leaf vegetable, which forms a neat mound to 30cm high. The attractive leaves are mid green, round and crinkled, and the flowers are insignificant, small and white. In SE Queensland this is an extremely resilient plant that thrives through the heat of summer, during weeks without rain, and in cold, frosty winters.
Cultivation: Brazilian spinach is best suited to subtropical and tropical areas in full sun to moderate shade. It dislikes water-logging but is a prolific, hardy plant that will tolerate most soil types and hot, dry conditions. Once established, it will readily root from nodes and quickly forms a dense, edible ground cover without becoming invasive. Plants should be spaced 30 to 60cm apart and mulched well. Harvesting the plant by plucking the leaves downwards encourages new leaves to shoot from the leaf axil.
Propagation: New plants grow easily from 15cm softwood cuttings taken in the warmer months, and stripped of all leaves on the bottom half of the stem. The cuttings should be buried in soil or potting mix to half their length, and kept moist for the first two weeks, but not too wet, and partly shaded in very hot weather.
Culinary Uses: The leaves and young stems are edible and are eaten raw or cooked. In its native Brazil, the leaves are commonly eaten raw in salads with oil, vinegar, tomato and onion. However, steaming or cooking is recommended when eaten in large quantities to reduce the presence of oxalates (which are also present in other spinaches and leafy green vegetables). Fresh Brazilian spinach has a firm, crunchy texture, and is not slimy like some other perennial spinaches. It’s a very tasty substitute for spinach or silverbeet, and can be added to stir-fries and baked dishes such as quiche, lasagne and pies. One simple use is to chop leaves into scrambled eggs or an omelette.
Nutrition: The nutritional content of Brazilian spinach is similar to other leafy greens. It contains manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, vitamins B2, B6, C and E, calcium, and potassium, and is very low in kilojoules and fats.
Other Uses: The growth habit of Brazilian spinach makes it a handy plant for edging paths, especially in partial shade as it is quite shade-tolerant. It’s also a useful living mulch under fruit trees, and makes a good chicken fodder.