Salad Mallow: A Green For All Seasons

Corchorus olitorius

Some time ago I attended a small farmer’s gathering at a local farm on Pine Island. During the gathering, which included small growers from all over the state, we enjoyed a tour of the farm, exchanged seeds along with a few trade secrets, and enjoyed a potluck style lunch. It was during the lunch that I was introduced to the delectable Salad Mallow (Corchorus olitorius) also known as Egyptian Spinach, Jew’s Mallow, Molokhiya, Jute and a variety of other names depending on the region where it has historically been used.

You might be surprised to know that when it comes to greens, I’m always a bit picky and therefore skeptical as to the palatableness of them, but as I sat there devouring a salad comprised of this plant, I couldn’t help being both astonished and delighted to want more. I was even more surprised when I recognized that it was being grown during our Florida summer months. I started interrogating the farmer who was responsible for the dish. How does it grow? Where do you grow it? What’s it called again? As soon as I returned home, I was online researching the green which would eventually become a full time resident in my garden. The same day I located a seed supplier and ordered my first batch of seeds. My research made it clear, this is one amazing and under used plant in our area.

Corchorus olitorius is a powerhouse of nutrition. Besides containing over 20% green leaf protein, it contains one of the highest levels of potassium in the vegetable world. It also contains significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and other essential minerals. It’s packed full of vitamin A and contributes to the daily intake of vitamins B1, B2, B3 & C. Medicinally, this plant has been reported to be prepared as a tea and used as a tonic. Properties and traditional medicine also suggest it to be anti-diarrheal, demulcent, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and digestive.  In India and Bangladesh, this plant is grown primarily as an essential fiber product known as Tossa jute. In my own garden, I grow this primarily for salad greens, but it also used in cooked recipes and takes on a mucilaginous quality when prepared this way. Molokhia is a popular Egyptian dish.

Growing 3-4′ tall and bushy if given enough space, this is a perfect plant for both container and traditional gardening. I harvest the leaves much like basil to encourage a continued bushy growth and prevent early flowering, but you can also harvest down to about 6 inches from the ground and wait for the plant to grow back harvesting 2-3 times this way. You can also dry and store the leaves to be rehydrated later or used in teas. This is an annual crop, so if you want a year round supply, you will need to start new plants 2-3 times a year especially in the S. Florida August-September months. The plants benefit from partial afternoon shade in the summertime. This is one of the easiest plants I’ve grown and it is mostly pest and disease resistant though black spot has appeared from time to time. I treat by hand removing the leaves and/or giving a light spray of baking soda and water.

From the high nutrition density, to the ease of growth, to the ability to preserve the leaves for future use, this is a spectacular candidate for your edible garden. If you are serious about producing nutritional food for you and your family then add this one to the list. I have both plants and seeds available for sale if you would like to explore the world of the Corchorus olitorious.

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