Talinum fruticosum

Philippine spinach


Talinum fruticosum

(L.) Juss. 1789

pronounced: tell-EE-num froo-tick-OH-sum

(Talinaceae — the waterleaf family)

synonym: Talinam triangulare

pronounced: tell-EE-num try-ang-yew-LAH-ree

common names: Phillipine spinach, Ceylon spinach, Florida spinach, waterleaf, leaf ginseng

The origin of the name Talinum is obscure; fruticosum is Latin, fruticosus, shrubby or bushy. In the synonym, triangulare refers to the sharply triangular flowering axes.

The plant is found growing wild in many tropical regions of the world, and its origin is uncertain, but it may well have originated in South America, It is a fast-growing perennial herb to 60 cm high or a little more, with a spread of up to about 50 cm, and has a soft main stem and branches. The leaves are oblanceolate in shape, a lush green in colour, and slightly fleshy, up to about 8 cm long.

The small pink flowers are borne in 2 – 5 branched raceme-like clusters 3 – 20 cm long. The flower stalk is about 1 cm long, the bracts narrow, 4 – 6 mm long. The petals are pink, obovate, up to 1 cm long, with 15 – 40 stamens.

Globular to ellipsoidal fruit capsules are produced, about 5 mm in diameter and 6 – 7 mm long, that are explosively dehiscent, and scatter the tiny black seeds over quite an area. In the tropics, it is best grown in a fairly shady position, but in cooler climates it should have some sun. In cold climates it is probably best grown in a pot, so that it can be shifted under shelter in the winter. It thrives in humid conditions, in temperatures around 30 ºC, in rich, fairly acidic, well-drained soil under partial shade, and is much cultivated along the banks of the Amazon River.

The plant will normally reproduce from the seeds it scatters, but it may also be grown from stem cuttings. It is quite resistant to pests and diseases, but snails are very partial to it: indeed, in some places it is used a fodder for the raising of edible snails.

It is used as a leaf vegetable, especially in many third world countries. The leaves and stems are eaten raw in salads, or can be cooked. They have a slightly sour taste. Young shoots are used in making stews and soups. Best lightly steamed, they should not be overcooked, or they will become excessively soft and mucilaginous. When cut and stored, the tops of the plants will remain fresh and crunchy for quite a long period, even without refrigeration.

It is commercially cultivated in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Caribbean, Brazil and the Philippines. Its fleshy leaves and stems make for good water storage, and so it will thrive in countries with high temperatures and intermittent rainfall patterns.

dangerous 2As the plant contains oxalic acid, it is not safe to eat too much of it in the green state, Although blanching and cooking reduce the risks associated with the acid, caution is advised when feeding the plant to infants, or to people who suffer from kidney stones, gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Increasing use is being made of the plant for medicinal purposes, and various studies are being made into its therapeutic effects, especially in Nigeria. It is claimed to be effective in such areas as gastrointestinal disorders, diarrhœa, peptic ulcers, dysentery, hepatic ailments, measles, oedema, anaemia and high blood pressure. It is also used externally, its crushed leaves being applied to swellings, inflammations and sores. A veritable panacea!

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographed in Picnic Bay 2018
Page last updated 17th June, 2019