Longevity spinach (Gynura procumbens) is a popular vegetable grown in the tropics. While regular spinach is best grown in colder climates and has a tendency to bolt in the heat, longevity spinach is perennial in warmer climates. It is a common cooking and medicinal ingredient throughout Southeastern Asia.
As its name implies, this vegetable is celebrated for its health benefits. Eastern medicine practitioners use longevity spinach to assist in treating kidney problems, rheumatism, constipation, hypertension, diabetes, and more. It can be ingested or topically applied.
In Malay, this plant is called Sambung Nyawa, which means “prolongation of life” and in Chinese, it is known as Bai Bing Cao, which translates to “the grass that heals 100 diseases.” There is ongoing scientific research on the pharmaceutical potential of longevity spinach. Although there is no such thing as a miracle plant, this one could easily be incorporated as part of a healthy diet.
Longevity spinach would be an excellent addition to gardens in North America and perennial in USDA zones 9-11. They can be planted as annuals in cooler growing zones. Different parts of the plant are edible raw in salads and smoothies or cooked in stir-fries and soups. When heated, longevity spinach has a viscous consistency and may leave a sticky residue akin to okra or Malabar spinach.
Those with food allergies should first try a few leaves before making a big batch. It’s easy to propagate, so you can take as many cuttings as you like to share with curious family and friends!
Quick Care Guide
Longevity spinach. Source: the queen of subtle
|Common Name(s)||Longevity Spinach, Longevity Greens, Scrambling Gynura, Sambung Nyawa, Cholesterol Spinach, Bai Bing Cao, Leaves of the Gods|
|Scientific Name||Gynura procumbens|
|Days to Harvest||From 30 days onwards|
|Soil||Loose soil with good soil drainage|
|Fertilizer||Nitrogen rich fertilizers such as blood meal, kelp, or fish fertilizer|
|Pests||Beetles, aphids, mites, whiteflies, leafminers|
|Diseases||Broad bean wilt virus 2|
All About Longevity Spinach
Gynura procumbens mature plant. Source: Daderot
Longevity spinach, Gynura procumbens, is a low-growing perennial plant native to Southeast Asia, China, and Africa. In the wild, longevity spinach plants can be found in forests by streams or climbing on trees. Plants in the Gynura genus belong to the aster family (Asteraceae).
Like its sunflower cousins, the longevity spinach plant also produces beautiful yellow flowers which then produce seeds. However, if you plan to cook with longevity spinach instead of using it as an ornamental, you should remove the flowers to promote lush growth of leaves.
It has a climbing growth habit which gave this plant one of its common names – the Scrambling Gynura. Longevity spinach plants can be grown directly in the ground and let sprawl as an attractive groundcover or grown in containers to manage the vines and move indoors.
The fleshy leaves are round to ovate in shape with a smooth green upper surface, making it semi-succulent. Leaves are configured in an opposite pattern and can get up to six inches long. The stems are also edible but will root wherever they touch the soil.
The underside of leaves, stems, and buds may have purple hues. Leaves can be harvested as soon as one month after planting, but make sure not to over-harvest during the early stage of planting. Regularly harvesting of longevity spinach leaves can help the plant look bushier.
Planting Longevity Spinach
If you order online from garden suppliers, you will most commonly receive plant cuttings instead of seeds. Seeds are very difficult to germinate, even at the hand of experienced gardeners. Cuttings can be planted directly in nutrient-rich soil after the last frost. Take care not to plant them any sooner, as the young cuttings will need time to adjust to your garden and are not very cold-tolerant.
Longevity spinach should be planted in partial shade and well-draining soil. While the plants can tolerate full sun, too much sun exposure will cause the leaves to develop a bitter taste. Leave plenty of space between each plant, as they will easily sprawl. Because they are not native to North America, they may become mildly invasive if not pruned.
If you’re planting longevity spinach in containers, the containers should be at least 3 gallons to accommodate vigorous growth. Fertilize container plants more frequently than those grown in the ground since nutrients in the containers tend to deplete faster.
Caring For Longevity Spinach Plants
Closeup of longevity spinach. Source: Judgefloro
It is easy to grow longevity spinach indoors or outside. This plant is not susceptible to many diseases or pests and can thrive under favorable conditions.
Sun and Temperature
Longevity spinach grows best in partial sun soil and especially shaded from the harsh afternoon rays. In North America, it can be grown as a perennial plant in zones 9-11 and as an annual in all other zones that experience frost.
Because longevity spinach is a tropical plant, it is sensitive to colder climates. If the plant suffered light frost damage, prune the damaged leaves and stems back to encourage healthy new growth. Mature plants can tolerate a few nights of light frost but won’t recover after prolonged cold spells.
Water and Humidity
As with many plants, longevity spinach also benefits from drip irrigation instead of overhead watering. Longevity spinaches have an ample root system to tolerate some drought conditions but will grow better with more consistent watering. Because the longevity spinach plant has a vining growth habit, the long tendrils of leaves can also act as a living mulch to help retain soil moisture.
If you see your plant wilt or become sickly, it might be due to too much water absorption or poor drainage. As new transplants, they should be watered every day. However, once they’ve become larger plants, weekly watering will suffice. Unlike other high-humidity plants from the tropics, this one does not require misting to maintain ambient moisture.
Grow longevity spinach in loose, well-draining soil and not soggy zones. If you’re growing longevity spinach directly in outdoor environments, you can help enrich the soil by adding organic materials such as compost. Because these plants can be used as a natural ground cover, they do not need application of additional mulch.
Fertilizing Gynura Procumbens
The use and frequency of fertilizer applications depends on the soil quality. Longevity spinach can benefit from nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as coffee grounds, blood meal, worm castings, or a kelp or fish liquid organic fertilizer. Fertilizers are especially important if you are growing longevity spinach in indoor planters and with two or three plants in the same pot. Too many plants often will compete for resources so it’s important to feed them with nutrient-rich liquids.
Pruning & Training Gynura Procumbens
Longevity plants enjoy vigorous growth and have a tendency to take over an area if left unpruned. The best method of pruning is to simply harvest the leaves and cut back the vines. Mature plants can grow up to a foot tall with scrambling vines. In the wild, this plant has a tendency to climb trees, so they can be trained to grow upwards using supports like bamboo stakes.
It is easy to propagate longevity in spinach from existing plants. Take a cutting with at least two to three leaves and put the cutting into some soil. Keep the soil well watered for the following days, and the cutting should root and start to produce new leaves. Propagation is a great way for cool-weather gardeners to have more longevity spinach for the following season without ordering new plants.
Growing longevity spinach indoors is easy; save cuttings near a warm and sunny window and let the soil dry out between waterings to keep roots healthy. They can also benefit from being placed under a grow light. The plant will develop more slowly during the winter but will be ready to be transplanted outside after the last frost.
Harvesting and Storing
Gynura procumbens top view. Source: Shahidul Hasan Roman
Longevity spinach can be a great replacement for true spinach in hot climates. It thrives in the heat and can yield an abundant and continuous harvest of leafy greens throughout the summer.
Longevity spinach is a vigorous plant that can be harvested as early as a month after planting. As the plant matures, it requires frequent harvesting to control the vines. Frequent harvesting is a great way to contain the plant before it takes over the whole garden. Longevity spinach is also a healthy plant to feed chickens.
Prepare and store longevity spinach as you would any other leafy green, although freezing will be the best method to preserve its nutritional value. Wash and pat dry the leaves before freezing them in sealed containers or bags.
Longevity spinach can help pack in extra health benefits into smoothies. Longevity spinach leaves can also be dehydrated at a low temperature. In fact, there are currently powdered longevity spinach capsules and dried tea leaves being sold as herbal supplements.
Growing longevity spinach is generally not difficult as it’s naturally vigorous and doesn’t face too many pests or diseases. However, if you encounter some issues when you try to grow longevity spinach, here are some common ways to troubleshoot.
Longevity spinach will typically arrive as young cuttings. One of the most common growing problems is exposing them to freezing temperatures before they are robust enough to be outside. Make sure only to transplant the cutting after any chances of frost so as not to damage young longevity spinach leaves.
The temperature should not be a huge issue for gardeners in warm climates. While they can thrive indoors, they can also be more vulnerable to nitrogen deficiency or become root bound. Inspect your plant daily.
Your longevity spinach plant may attract beetles, whiteflies, and other tiny green insects such as aphids. Healthy plants are more resistant to pests, whereas those that have already suffered some damage will attract them. Beetles will typically directly eat parts of leaves, whereas the piercing and sucking insects will feed on plant tissue using their specialized mouthparts. Neem oil can serve as a natural pest control when applied to leaves. In severe cases, you can apply chemical controls such as spinosad or pyrethrin.
A leafminer larvae infestation is visible when leaves have small white squiggles on them. This is evidence the larvae have tunneled into the area between the leaf surface and its tissue to feed before pupating. The best course of action here is to remove the leaves that contain leafminers and dispose of them.
Researchers from South Korea, where this edible plant is a favorite, have found that aphids are a vector for the Broad bean wilt virus 2 (BBWV-2). Longevity spinach that has this virus will develop chlorotic local lesions on leaves. The diseased plant’s leaves will become mottled, and the virus will eventually cause stunted plant growth. It’s important to control aphids to decrease the chance that a pest infestation will spread diseases.
Additionally, because longevity spinach can grow as a dense patch, the lack of airflow can cause some fungal issues. Harvest regularly or cut the vines back to promote airflow. This also gives you the opportunity to examine your plant more closely for other signs of pests and diseases so you can treat them accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Gynura procumbens. Source: Judgefloro
Q: Can longevity spinach be eaten raw?
A: Yes, longevity spinach can be eaten raw or cooked. Many people eat longevity spinach for its health benefits, such as to manage blood sugar, lower blood pressure, control bad cholesterol, etc.
Q: Is longevity spinach invasive?
A: No, the longevity plant is not typically invasive and can be planted directly in the garden.
Q: Does longevity spinach like full sun?
A: Longevity spinach can be grown in direct sunlight. However, if possible, make sure your longevity spinach plant has enough natural light but is placed in partial shade.
Q: Does longevity spinach taste like spinach?
A: Longevity spinach is a leafy green that can be used instead of spinach in all use cases, but it has a milder taste.
Q: Is longevity spinach the same as Okinawa spinach?
A: No, longevity spinach (Gynura procumbens) is not the same as Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides), although they are both in the Gynura genus and are more heat tolerant than true spinach. Both plants also grow best when propagated from cuttings rather than directly sown from seed. Longevity spinach originates from Southeast Asia instead of Japan.
Q: How cold can longevity spinach tolerate?
A: Longevity spinach is sensitive to frost. Potted plants can be moved indoors when temperatures cool in colder climate environments.
Q: Can you eat the stems of longevity spinach?
A: Yes, you can eat the stems of longevity spinach, although this plant is more commonly eaten for its leaves.
Q: Does longevity spinach have oxalates?
A: Yes, longevity spinach contains oxalates which can be reduced through cooking before eating.