Morning glory – a valuable wild vegetable in Asia

Swamp morning glory or Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) has a variety of common names, like ‘Kangkong’ in Southeast Asia or ‘Kung Shin Tsai’ in China. It is a staple vegetable food throughout Asia-Pacific. And it is very low in calories (19 cal/100 g), but high in vitamins (Vit. C, Vit. A, and others), minerals, and antioxidants. The taste is slightly sweetish; the texture of the leaves is succulent, and the stems are hollow, a bit mucilaginous, and crunchy. It is used for salads, stir-fries, or – best for my taste – braised together with garlic. An in-depth description of this vegetable can be found here.

Ipomoea aquatica belongs botanically to the Convolvulaceae family. It is a very fast-growing, leafy vegetable and is related to sweet potatoes. There is no real resemblance to what Westerners call ‘spinach’.

Floating Thai vegetable garden

In Thailand, it is cultivated in suitable waterbodies for commercial purposes and also by families in nearly every rural water channel. Bamboo poles are used as climbing facilitators, which also hold the plants in place. The root is firmly planted in the waterbodies bottom and secondary rootlets appearing at internodes are either free-floating in the water or cling to soil, when getting in contact with it. This is therefore a very prolific plant and cultivated crops often form wild colonies. It also should be mentioned that it only takes 45 days from planting a seed to being able to harvest the vegetable sustainably.

A young plant can be harvested once a week, but in older plants, there are so many shoots, that a daily harvest is possible. Top shots and young, green stems with leaves are picked and the person who harvests makes sure, that about 5 cm of the new shoot is left on the mother stem to allow new growth. The plant will not be allowed to go into bloom, as shoots before blooming are best in flavor.

On a wet market, Morning Glory is sold in bundles of various weight classes. Vegetables with large leaves are more flavorful than smaller-leaved ones. Leaves with yellow colors should not be bought, as they could be insect-infested.

Use of Morning Glory

Swamp Morning Glory grows and thrives in warm, tropical waters. Therefore there is a high likelihood of having nematodes, insects (including their larvae and eggs), and/or other parasites on it. Like all other vegetables in tropical countries, they should be soaked either in saltwater or in a weak potassium-permanganate solution before consumption.

Swamp Morning Glory will either be served as a separate vegetable dish or as an ingredient in other dishes. It is often braised or stir-fried together with garlic plus fish- or soy sauce. In the picture, we see an example of a noodle soup with fried chicken leg and -blood as well as Morning Glory.

Lessons learned about Swamp Morning Glory

  • Swamp morning glory is nearly omnipresent at most rural water channels in Thailand
  • It is healthy and tastes very well (especially the garlic on it)
  • Before raw consumption: chemically clean it. If not possible: cook it!

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