Waterleaf or Sambar Cheera – An Undervalued yet Nutritious Leafy Vegetable

Waterleaf is a herb with purple flowers native to West Africa, Central and South Americas. It is widely grown as a green leafy vegetable in many parts of the world including Africa and tropical Asia including India.

The plant might have reached south India from Sri Lanka. So it is also called Ceylon Spinach.

The accepted scientific name is Talinum fruticosum or Talinum triangulare. It belongs to the family Talinaceae.

Waterleaf - Ceylon Spinach - Talinum fruticosum
Waterleaf / Ceylon Spinach / Sambar Cheera – Photo from Kerala

Important Details

Plant Type: Perennial herb
Family: Portulaceae
Scientific name: Talinum fruticosum or Talinum triangulare

Height: 50 cm to 1 m
Flowers: Pink, 5 petals, 2 cm wide

Common names:
English: Waterleaf, Ceylon Spinach
Malayalam: Sambar Cheera

Main uses: Leafy vegetable, medicinal, ornamental

Distribution: Tropical Asia, Africa, South & Central Americas

Description

The plant has high water content with fleshy roots and succulent stem, so the name Waterleaf. It is perennial and grows about 60 cm tall. 

The flowers are light pink and almost 2 cm across. There are 5 petals.

The leaves are long with broader ends and a narrower base. Each leaf is about 15 cm long.

Sambar Cheera - Ceylon Spinach
The pink flowers are unmistakable and beautiful

Benefits & Uses of Waterleaf

The main significance of Ceylon Spinach is its nutritional benefits for which it is cultivated worldwide. It is a common leaf vegetable in tropical African countries like Nigeria. However, it is often undervalued and does not have a significant commercial value.

Health Benefits

  • Waterleaf is a good source of protein and fiber. The amount of protein content is comparable to that of Red Amaranth – another leafy vegetable.
  • It is rich in important minerals like Calcium, Potassium, and Magnesium.
  • The vegetable contains abundant levels of flavonoids and antioxidants. This may help to maintain a healthy heart [ref].
  • It contains Vitamin C, beta-carotene and omega 3 fatty acids [ref].

However, it is not recommended for people with kidney disorders [ref]. The vegetable contains a high amount of calcium oxalate although cooking dissolves much of it.

Waterleaf - Ceylon Spinach - Talinum fruticosum - Leafy Vegetable

Culinary Uses

  • In Kerala, the leaves of Ceylon Spinach is added to Sambar and other curries and with rice. So it got the name Sambar Cheera.
  • It is great for preparing Kerala-style thoran by adding coconut, chilly and turmeric.
  • It is used to prepare a wide variety of sauces.

Other Uses

Because of the beautiful pink flowers and thick leaves, it serves well as an ornamental plant.

As researches show the presence of alkaloids, it can also serve to be useful in modern medicines.

How to Cultivate

Ceylon Spinach prefers humid and hot climate where it thrives. It likes to grow under shade although sunlight is not a problem. Propagation is via seeds. Sow the seeds in fertile and moist soil after plowing. It germinates after a few days and the plant will be ready for harvest within a few months.

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