By Ruth Santos
What vegetable is packed with vitamins yet popular with small girls?
Yes, it’s Alugbati, a winner with the young and old. While the name may be unfamiliar to some, it is commonly seen in school gardens and house backyards. Little girls love it for the lip and cheek tint that its fruit brings, and parents like it for the nutrition and the simplicity of cooking it.
Also known as Ceylon Spinach, red vine, Basella, Malabar spinach, Malabar Nightshade, or Indian spinach, Alugbati is a purple-red vine with dark green leaves akin to spinach but is more fibrous and fleshy. Its fruits are green pea-sized berries that turn deep purple when matured.
Alugbati is easy to propagate and cultivate. Its seed or stem cuttings can be directly planted onto the soil and although it grows best in a slightly acidic, moist and fertile soil, Alugbati can easily tolerate poor soil conditions. A trellis needs to be provided to support the vine since it can grow several feet in length.
The leaves sprouts are popular as vegetable. It can be blanched then used as a salad ingredient, sautéed or stir-fried with other vegetables, or used as a soup thickener. The most common in Filipino dish is adding the alugbati to a pot of mungo beans as a finishing touch before turning off the heat and serving.
For those who want to lose weight, Alugbati is a good food source. A one and half cup serving has only 15 calories, approximately half gram of fat, and 1.4 grams of dietary fiber. Each serving also has Vitamin B-complex which helps the body breakdown carbohydrates and uses it. A serving also provides 19 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of Folic Acid or Vitamin B-9, which is needed for healthy brain function and is also important for maintaining overall mental and emotional health.
Alugbati is an excellent source of essential nutrients such as Vitamin C, A, and Calcium. A single serving provides 59 to 99 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin A needed to maintain healthy vision and good immune system. It is also rich in Iron, containing 0.98 milligram per portion which is between 5.4 percent and 12 percent of the recommended dietary allowance. Alugbati also contains the antioxidants, lutein and talinum, which helps protect the body’s cells from damages caused by free radicals and exposure to environmental toxins. Since it also contains saponins that act as phytochemicals, it helps fight cancer and other diseases.
In the medicinal world, the leaves help soothe the pain when applied to burns and scalds, while pulped leaves hasten suppuration when applied to boils and ulcers. The leaf juice when mixed with sugar is effective for catarrhal inflammation of the nose and throat. Poultice roots and leaves can be applied to wounds to reduce local swelling. The Alugbati’s sap can be applied to acnes to eliminate irritation since it has a softening and soothing effect to the skin. Tea concoction made from its leaves and stem is a mild laxative. Alugbati also has antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
The fruit berries of Alugbati has anthocyanin content which makes it a natural food colorant, resulting to a vivid purple dye that is environment-friendly and organic. The dye is used for coloring foods such as eggs and gelatins. A study is also being conducted to extract it as a colored ink for printers, as a coloring agent in cosmetics, as well as a biological blood smear stain in research.
The Alugbati is cost-effective, accessible, and highly prevalent in the Philippines. And this being the case, it is easily available to little girls fascinated by the color produced by its fruits, which also offers material for their imagination at play. There they go, small girls aged between 3-14 years old, bags on their shoulder, their lips and cheeks pink from the berries’ stain as they play a game of pretend, offering a moment of peace to their parents and caretakers. And this perhaps, aside from Alugbati’s nutritional value, is its greatest allure to both children and adults alike.