How to grow ong choy?

Ong Choy is a green leafy vegetable that I was introduced to at our local Chinese restaurant. They serve Ong Choy with oyster sauce as one of their dishes. Some time later I got a plant of Ong Choy but I forget how that came about. I know that I did not understand how water loving the plant was until I saw it covering an old shrimp pond at a local farm. From then on I made sure that my container grown Ong Choy was sitting in a deep saucer filled with water and I make sure to water it often. Even then, I notice the plant is a lot happier in the rainy season that in the dry summer.
Ong Choy is a member of the sweet potato family, which becomes obvious when you see its flower. It is a tropical and semiaquatic. It grows in moist soils as well as water. Its hollow stems allow it to spread out on top of water. The leaves and shoots are a popular vegetable through out the tropical world. Apparently it is extremely popular in Taiwan. There is some variation in the shape of the leaves; from arrow head shape to lanceolate. Stems can grow 2-3 meters in length. There is rooting at the the nodes which makes it easy to grow new plants from cuttings. It can also be grown from seed.
Ong Choy is a vegetable that does not store well. You really need to pick it on the day you are going to eat it. A good reason to have some of this growing in your kitchen garden. I have just one four gallon size container of it but it is a quick vegetable to grab for a stir fry or to add some nutrition to my packaged, instant noodle soup. My container plant has kept going for several years at this point. I just cut the leaves and tips off to eat and occasionally cut the old stems back and give a bit of fertilizer for new growth. Ong Choy has a history of providing survival food for people in the tropics during war time when other food was scarce It is also high in vitamins and minerals. Definitely a good plant to have around and an easy one to care for.
PS Nov, 2016
I have recently been traveling in Cambodia and it has been interesting to see Ong Choi used so much there. It is referred to as Morning Glory on the menus in English. They tend to use a long stalk of it rather than the leaves which puzzled me. After I saw it growing I realized why. There seems to be a bug or snail that eats holes in all the leaves so those are removed with only the very young leaves on the top used. I had some nice stir fry meals using the Ong Choi and also I had it chopped and fried as tempura too which is something I have not seen done in Hawaii although why not as you see chopped mixed vegetables in tempura batter.

Ong Choi (morning glory) for sale in a market in Cambodia

Near Siem Reap there are floating villages that are built on super tall stilts where life is lived completely on water when the lake grows way big in the rainy season. Each family had containers of herbs up on by their house but there was also floating masses of Ong Choi by each house where the plant is just growing on top of the water as a vegetable garden with a bit of floating bamboo around it to keep it contained.

A floating vegetable garden of Ong Choi

Ong Choi is seen grown through out the country side of Cambodia. Most farmers are growing padi rice and have a watery corner of their field near the house where they are growing Ong Choi.

Here is a little old lady harvesting Ong Choi near her home.

Water Spinach (Kangkong)

Note Number: AG0900
Published: March 2002
Updated: August 2010

Water spinach (Ipomea aquatica) is of East Indian origin and a member of the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) family. It has long, jointed and hollow stems, which allow the vines to float on water or creep across muddy ground. Adventitious roots are formed at nodes which are in contact with water or moist soil. They exude a milky juice, and are white or green, depending on variety. Water spinach has no relationship with common spinach, but is closely related to sweet potato (Ipomea batatas).


Water spinach is an herbaceous aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial plant of the tropics or subtropics. Leaves are flat, and vary in shape depending on variety, from heart-shaped to long, narrow and arrow-shaped. Narrow leaves are 1-2.5 cm wide and 20-30 cm long. Broad leaves are up to 5 cm wide and 15-25 cm long.

The large, attractive flowers have the typical open, trumpet shape of convolvulus or bindweed flowers. They are usually white, sometimes with a pinkish centre. Wild forms may have purple or mauve flowers.

The leaves have a very pleasant, mild, sweet flavour and a slightly slippery texture, which contrast when cooked with the crispness of the stems. The Chinese consider the white-stemmed forms better flavoured and tenderer than the green. Like many other leafy vegetables, water spinach’s leaves are very nutritious, being rich in vitamins and minerals. They are also a mild laxative.

There are two major cultivars of water spinach,

  • Ching Quat (known as “green stem”) – this has a narrow, pointed leaves and white flowers and is adapted for moist soils. This can be grown in beds, provided there is always plenty of moisture.
  • Pak Quat (known as “white stem”) – this has broad, arrow-shaped leaves and pink flowers. It is adapted to aquatic conditions and also called “Water Ipomea”.

Water spinach has different names according to language and dialect. Water convolvulus, Kang cong and Swamp cabbage are some alternative names in English. It is known in Mandarin as kong xin cai (empty heart/stem vegetable); ong tsoi and weng cai (pitcher vegetable) in Cantonese, kang kong in Filipino and Malasian and in Japanese as Asagaona (morning glory leaf vegetable).


Practically all parts of the young plant are edible, although the shoot tips and younger leaves are preferred. Water spinach is consumed differently in Western and Chinese cuisines. Water spinach deteriorates rapidly once picked, so must always be used very fresh. The leaves can be used whole, or cut into smaller pieces. Like ordinary spinach, the stems require slightly longer cooking than the leaves.

The Cantonese exclusively stir-fry it.

Coarse stems and leaves are often used for animal fodder.

Growing conditions


Water spinach is not adapted to climates with mean temperatures below 10 °C and the optimal temperature is around 20C – 30C. It is grown year-round in the tropics. Flowering occurs under short-day conditions and commences from mid-summer onwards. Water spinach is perennial in warm climates, but an annual under cooler growing conditions. It tolerates very high rainfall, but not frost.

Water spinach can be grown outside in summer. In cool areas, it can be grown in unheated greenhouses in summer, but will require heated greenhouses for a spring crop. It prefers full sun but where summer temperatures are very high, it is sometimes grown as a ground cover beneath climbing plants. Water spinach should be sheltered from strong winds.

Soil and soil preparation

Water spinach requires fertile soils rich in organic matter. Overwatering can leached out readily available nutrients and will affect yield. Therefore slow releasing fertilizers are recommended to avoid the loss of nutrients. The most suitable soil pH ranges from 5.5 to 7.0.

Crop management

Sowing and planting

In moist soil culture, the crop is grown on raised beds 60-100 cm wide. Seeds are sown directly or nursery-grown seedlings are transplanted into the beds. Seed should be no more than 2 years old and can be soaked for 24 hours before sowing to encourage germination. Soil temperature requirement for germination is 20 °C.

When rainfall is low, frequent heavy irrigations are necessary for high quality shoots.

To produce strong seedlings, seed should be sown 5-10 mm deep in trays with potting mix deep enough to allow the plants to develop a good root system. Transplanting should take place when plants are 10-15 cm high, with four true leaves. Highest yields are obtained by spacing plants at 15×15 cm. They can also be grown in rows about 30 cm apart with plants at 20 cm spacing within rows.

Propagation from cuttings

Water spinach can also be raised from stem cuttings, 30-40 cm long, taken from the young growth just below a node, and planted about 15 cm deep. To ensure earliness, growers in China sometimes lift roots at the end of the season, store them carefully in winter, and plant shoots from them in spring.

For aquatic culture, cuttings from the broadleaved cultivars are transplanted into puddled soil, similar to the planting of rice in paddies. The cuttings are about 30 cm long with seven to eight nodes, and are planted 15-20 cm deep and spaced 30-40 cm apart.


For aquatic culture after planting the land is flooded to 3-5 cm in depth and the water is kept flowing continuously. In moist soil culture, irrigation should take place every 1-2 days for high quality shoots if rainfall is low.


Before planting, the crop must be given sufficient nutrients to produce quality spinach. After the plants are established, nitrogen in the ammonium form should be applied at the rate of 40-50 kg/ha, then the water level is raised to 15-20 cm depth. Plants respond well to nitrogen, but over-feeding must be avoided because for high nitrate concentrations in the leaves and stems can result which is undesirable.

Regular applications of an organic liquid fertiliser should occur every 2 weeks or so for best results. Liquid fertilisers are usually diluted before application the plants.

Pests and diseases

The main fungal diseases, which effect water spinach, are stem rot (Fusarium oxysporum) and black rot (Ceratocystis fimbriata). For prevention of fungal diseases strategies such as use of clean land and rotate crops every third or fourth year, carefully select stems for propagation that are disease free

Internal cork, chlorotic leaf spot, yellow dwarf and russet crack are viral diseases which can also affect water spinach.

The most important insect pests are leaf beetle, aphids, and wire worm.


Water spinach should be harvested before it flowers. In the semi aquatic type, the crop is ready for harvest 50-60 days after sowing, when entire plants are pulled, washed and bundled. More than one harvest can be taken if shoots are cut above ground level, allowing secondary shoots to grow from nodes below the cut.

In the aquatic type, the first harvest can be made after about a month of good growth. The frequency of harvesting will depend on the growth rate of the crop. The upper part of the main shoot, about 30 cm long, is cut about 5 cm above water level. Bundles of 8-10 shoots are marketed. Removal of the main shoot stimulates horizontal shoot growth. These new shoots can be harvested in 4-6 weeks, depending on plant vigour and temperature. About 40 tonnes/ha can be harvested from three or more cuttings in a year.

Rapid and careful post-harvest handling is required to minimise damage to the fragile crop, especially due to wilting caused by moisture loss. To prevent this, the plants should be harvested during the coolest part of the day. After bunching, a fine spray of cold water should be applied, and the leaves kept in a cool place away from the wind.

Leaves are usually sold in 500 gram bunches in the markets.

Further reading

Contact/Services available

Correct diagnosis is essential for effective pest and disease control. A commercial diagnostic service is available at the AgriBio Bundoora.

For further information, phone Crop Health Services on (03) 9032 7515.

For further information on registered chemicals, phone our Customer Services Centre on 136 186.


This Agriculture Note was prepared by Murat Top and Bill Ashcroft in March 2002.

It was reviewed by Neville Fernando and Rob Dimsey, Farm Services in August 2010.

ISSN 1329-8062

Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
Melbourne, Victoria

This publication is copyright. No part may be reproduced by any process except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968.

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication

Chinatown’s produce stands offer many items that make only fleeting seasonal appearances, often so brief that many intrepid chefs scarcely have time to figure out how to cook them properly before they disappear for another year. One example is Water Spinach, a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.
Commonly called Water Spinach, Kangkong or Ong Choy, Ipomoea aquatic goes by many names around the world. With spinach-like leaves with long hollow stems, indeed the Mandarin for water spinach is Kong xin cai,which literally means ‘empty-hearted vegetable’. Almost all parts of the young plant are edible, but the tender shoot tips and younger leaves are preferred. The spinach-like leaves are mild and tender and without any trace of the oxalic acid taste of regular spinach and the long hollow stalks have the advantage of holding onto all flavourings they are cooked with and stay crunchy even when wilted. No wonder it is one of the most popular greens in southeast Asia.
Water Spinach is an herbaceous semi-aquatic perennial plant. This cultivar Ching Quat is usually grown in moist soils, often in beds. Direct seed or transplants may be used. In warmer locations, it can be grown as a perennial. In cool to cold locations, it can be grown as an annual or as a greenhouse plant. It does very well in hydroponic systems and is an excellent permaculture plant.
It grows so fast and easily, and tastes so good, that anyone in a temperate climate could grow this plant indoors in winter and outside in summer.

Water Spinach does not do well where average temperatures drop below 10°C (50°F), and do much better when the temperature is between 20 to 30°C (68 to 86°F). It tolerates very high rainfall, but not frost. For most of us this means we will use Water Spinach as an annual or grow it in a greenhouse.
Water spinach can be grown outside in summer. In cool areas, it can be grown in unheated greenhouses in summer, but will require heated greenhouses for a spring crop.
In moist soil culture, the crop is usually grown on raised beds 60 to 100cm (24 to 39in) wide.
It can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and does very well in hydroponic systems. The most suitable soil pH ranges from 5.5 to 7.0.
It prefers full sun but where summer temperatures are very high, it is sometimes grown as a ground cover beneath climbing plants. Water spinach should be sheltered from strong winds.

Soak seeds for 24 hours before sowing to encourage germination. Seeds can be sown directly or seedlings transplanted into the beds. Soil temperature requirement for germination is 20°C (68°F).
To produce strong seedlings, seed should be sown 5mm (¼) deep in trays with potting mix deep enough to allow the plants to develop a good root system. Transplant when plants are 10 to 15cm (4 to 6in) tall with four true leaves.
Plant stems are not strong, but plants grown in beds support each other and produce longer stems with less branching. Highest yields are obtained by spacing plants at 15 x 15cm (6 x 6in) They can also be grown in rows about 30cm (12in) apart.

Water spinach needs much more water than most other vegetable crops. This increased irrigation can leach out readily available nutrients, so it is recommended to use slow-release forms of fertility. Where rainfall is low, frequent heavy irrigations are necessary for high quality shoots.
The plants grow to around 30cm (12in) tall with trailing stems that can grow to 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10ft) long.
If you live in warmer locations, you may need to contain the plants or harvest often to keep it from spreading too much. It has long, jointed and hollow stems, which allow the vines to float on water or creep across muddy ground. Adventitious roots are formed at nodes which are in contact with water or moist soil. Harvesting for human consumption is the best method, by far.
Flowering occurs under short-day conditions and commences from mid-summer onwards.

Harvest 30 to 60 days after sowing, depending on climate and culture, earlier if fully aquatic and later if semi-aquatic. They are best harvested before flowering, harvest in the coolest part of the day to prevent moisture loss and wilting.
Water Spinach can be harvested completely or in a cut-and-come-again manner. Plants are harvested by cutting the stem close to the ground. Shoots regrow readily and growers should get two to three cuttings of water spinach before frost.
Water Spinach is always best when used very fresh. It is very perishable and deteriorates rapidly once picked, and only stores in the refrigerator for about a day or two.
It can be used as fodder for animals, including pigs, chicken and ducks.

Culinary Uses:
Practically all parts of the young plant are edible, although the shoot tips and younger leaves are preferred. The leaves can be used whole, or cut into smaller pieces. Like ordinary spinach, the stems require slightly longer cooking than the leaves.
To cook these greens, just trim off the very ends of the stems and chop up the rest, mixing stems and leaves together. Sauté water spinach with just garlic; simple and tasty.

Botanists are unsure where Ipomoea aquatic, Water Spinach originated, but it likely came from somewhere in eastern India to Southeast Asia. It was first documented as a vegetable in 304 A.D. during the Chin Dynasty.
Currently it is found throughout tropical and subtropical regions around the world, but is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has grown so prolifically in waterway regions of Florida that it is listed locally and federally as a prohibited plant.
Water Spinach, Ipomoea aquatic is closely related to Sweet Potatoes, Ipomoea batatas and to Morning Glories, Ipomoea purpurea.

Water spinach has different names according to language and dialect. Water convolvulus, Kang cong and Swamp cabbage are some alternative names in English.
It is known in Mandarin as Kong xin cai (empty heart/stem vegetable); Ong tsoi and Weng cai (pitcher vegetable) in Cantonese, Kang kong in Filipino and Malasian and in Japanese as Asagaona (morning glory leaf vegetable).

Growing water spinach is very popular as a vegetable, especially in the Southeast Asian region. It is very popular in the Southeast Asian cooking, and it has a nutty flavor similar to spinach. Water spinach grow rapidly and they are among the very fast growing vegetables.

Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) is a semi-aquatic, tropical plant which is actually grown as a vegetable for it’s tender shoots and leaves. Today, growing water spinach is much popular and the plant is found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Water spinach is known by many other different names such as river spinach, kangkong, kangkung, water morning glory, water convolvulus, Chinese watercress, Chinese convolvulus, Chinese spinach and swamp cabbage. It is also known by some other local names in different parts of the world.

It’s other local names include Kalmi shak in Bengali, Thooti Koora in Telugu, Kalama saga in Odia, Dagoeblad or dagublad in Suriname, Hayoyo in Ghana, Kalmi saag n Hindi, Vallal in Tamil, Kolmou xak in Assamese, Trokuon in Khmer, Gazun in Burmese, Rau muong in Vietnamese, Kongxincal in Mandarin Chinese, Ong choy in Cantonese, Eng chhai in Teochew and Hokkien and Phak bung in Thai and Laotian.

Water spinach plants grow in water or on moist soil. The plants have long stems, measuring about 2-3 meters or even longer. The stems are hollow and can float, rooting at the nodes. Shape of the leaves typically vary from sagittate to lanceolate, long and broad. The flowers are of trumpet-shaped measuring about 1-2 inches in diameter. The flowers are usually white in color with a mauve center. Propagation is either by planting seeds or cuttings.

Both leaves and stems of the water spinach plants are edible and can be used in many different ways. Both leaves and stems are very nutritious and contain good amount of energy, dietary fiber, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. And it is very good for human health. But consuming raw water spinach which is harvested from contaminated areas may transmit Fasciolopsis buski (an internal parasite of humans and pigs causing fasciolopsiasis).

How to Grow Water Spinach

Growing water spinach is very easy, as long as the soil is moist consistently. It grows vigorously in East, South and Southeast Asia. You can even start growing water spinach in containers in the non-tropical areas if you can plant the seedlings in sunny location and give them enough water. However, here we are describing more information about growing water spinach organically in home garden from planting, caring to harvesting.

Select a Location

Select a good location in your garden with full sun for growing water spinach plants. Because the water spinach plants require full sun for proper growth and they can’t tolerate shade. Planting water spinach near the edge of a pond or other water bodies will also be good.

Prepare the Soil

The water spinach plants grow well in fertile soil which is rich in lots of organic contents. So while preparing the soil, add as much organic contents as you can. Adding well-rotted aged manure and homemade compost will be very good for the growth of the water spinach plants.

Best Time for Growing Water Spinach

Water spinach can be grown throughout the year in tropical areas. But generally the summer season is the best time for growing water spinach.

Purchase Seeds or Cuttings

The water spinach plants can be grown from both seeds and cuttings. So, purchase either seeds or cuttings for growing water spinach organically in your home garden.


The water spinach plants readily roots from cuttings. So planting the cuttings is the easiest way for growing water spinach. Although you can plant seeds for growing water spinach. Soak the seeds 24 hours before sowing for growing water spinach from seeds. This will help to germinate the seeds faster. Then scatter the seeds in your prepared bed, and transplant later when the seedlings reach 4-6 inches height. Planting the seedlings in rows will be good for additional caring. Plant the seedlings to at least 6 inches apart.


The water spinach plants are very easy to grow and they generally require less care. Although taking additional care will be very good for the growth of the plants. Here we are describing more about additional caring process for growing water spinach plants.

Fertilizing: The water spinach plants are not among the heavy feeders. They will grow just fine if they have access to enough water. So additional fertilization is not required for growing water spinach plants in home garden.

Watering: Water spinach plants grow very well in moist soil. So, regular watering is a must for growing water spinach plants.

Controlling Weeds: Hand control the weeds, because weeds will consume most of the nutrients from the soil.

Thinning: Thin the water spinach seedlings to at least 6 inches apart.

Pests and Diseases

Most common or main pests and diseases of the water spinach plants are stem rot, black rot, leaf beetle, aphids and wire worms. Apply organic methods for controlling all these.


The water spinach plants grow very fast. And you can expect to harvest for the first time 4-6 weeks after planting the seeds. You can harvest either leaves or entire plants. But cutting only a few leaves or entire plant with leaves and stems leaving only 3 inch of growth, will help the plants to grow again.

These are the common ways for growing water spinach in home garden. Hope you have enjoyed this guide! Good luck & happy gardening 🙂

Kangkong (water spinach) nutrition facts

Selection and storage

Kangkong is ready for harvesting about 45 days after seedling. Pick top shoots; leave about 2 inches off the lower stem to promote new growth for later harvest. Harvest before blooming for best flavor.

In the markets, water spinach is sold in bundles of various sizes and weights. Look for the deep green, large leaf types since they are more flavorful than the small leaf variety.

Avoid wilted, yellowish leaves. Also avoid damaged, insect afflicted greens.

Water spinach leaves damaged early if not stored in the cool surroundings. Keep them wrapped in wet towels, and place inside the refrigerator as in other greens like spinach.

Preparation and serving methods

As in watercress, this leafy green too grows in the aquatic environments. Wash in clean running water and then soaked in salt water for about half an hour in order to rid off parasite eggs and worms that thrive well under aquatic conditions.

Mop dry using a soft cloth or paper towel. Chop using a paring knife. Trim away tough stems. Young tender shoots may be eaten raw in salads. Larger leaves should be cooked before consumption.

Kangkong greens have a very mild and subtle sweet taste and slightly mucilaginous texture. Steam cook or braising brings out their unique flavors and contrast texture between crunchy stem and succulent, moist leaves. Sauté with butter and garlic, and toss with little vinegar, and finish with sprinkling toasted sesame seeds. Boiled greens may also be served creamed and cheese prinkled.

Here are some serving tips:

Tumis kangkung-Stir-fried water-spinach.
(Photo by Farhan Perdana)

  • Fresh, tender shoots of kangkung used in green salads.

  • Young stems and leaves are boiled, steamed or sauteed in oil, and used in various dishes such as stews and curries.

  • Tumis kangkung is an Indonesian stir-fried water-spinach with chilies and shrimp paste.

  • Finely chopped young stems and leaves can be sautéed in oil and garlic used as a filling for momos (dim sum).

  • Kangkong is also a good substitute for other leafy greens such as spinach, chard, basella, sorrel etc, in many recipes.

Safety profile

Being an aquatic plant, kangkong greens may harbor many water-borne worms which may cause infections like flukes (F. buski). The larval stages of these trematodes encyst (called as metacercariae) on aquatic plants such as water-spinach, water chestnut, water caltrop, lotus root, and other edible plants. Raw, uncleaned greens when consumed may cause symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, fever, allergic reactions to larvae, and in cases of heavy infestation, intestinal obstruction.

Buy water-spinach from the recognized farms that use clean water for irrigation. Avoid if the greens sourced from stagnant and polluted water.(Medical disclaimer).

<<-Back to Vegetables from Kangkong (water spinach). Visit here for an impressive list of vegetables with complete illustrations of their nutrition facts and health benefits.

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Further reading:

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

  2. Water spinach– pdf.

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Introducing two ways to cook stir-fried water spinach, and both require fewer than five ingredients. Try out this Chinese leafy green to add color and nutrition to your dinner table. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Vegetables are a staple in Chinese cuisine and seasonal leafy greens are an important element on the Chinese dinner table. Since I moved to the US, I’ve been missing the simple and delicious greens that my mom used to make every day. She would visit the market a few times a week and get a few batches of the greens that look the freshest. She’d cook at least two veggie dishes every day, both for lunch and dinner, just for the three of us. If you’re curious about how our dinner table looked like in China, you can find some examples in this post.

In the past I shared some veggies dishes using more common greens. For example, Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, baby bok choy in garlic sauce, and 4-ingredient cabbage stir fry.

I purchased and cooked Chinese greens while living in Austin, especially after the 99 Ranch Market opened in 2018. After moving to New York, the situation improved even more.

We’re lucky enough to live close to Manhattan’s Chinatown. The first time I visited the wet market there, I was thrilled to find almost all the veggies I’d eaten growing up. Not only is the variety very wide, but the veggies also look super fresh and are cheaply priced. Now I’m working on putting together a Chinese veggie guide to help you shop for and cook these veggies you’ve never heard before. Today we’ll look at how to prepare water spinach.

Water spinach 101

1. What is water spinach?

Water spinach is called kōng xīn cài (空心菜) in Chinese, which literally means ‘empty hearted’ spinach. The name probably comes from its round, hollow stems. It has slender, long, pointed leaves. The vegetable is quite popular in southern Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines, where it is known as ‘kang kung’.

Water spinach has a savory, mild, and slightly mineral flavor. Once cooked, the leaves turn very tender like spinach with a hint of sweetness. The cooked stems stay crunchy with a refreshing taste.

2. Nutrition facts

If you’re wondering why go to all this trouble to hunt down and cook this special veggie, I might have a good reason beyond the fact that it’s a delicious tasting vegetable.

Water spinach contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals. For example, 100 grams of water spinach contains 210% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin, hair, and eyes. Additionally, the greens also contain minerals such as iron (21%), calcium (8%), potassium (7%), magnesium (18%), manganese (7%) and phosphorus (5.5%). Some of minerals, such as iron and calcium, are especially crucial if your diet contains less meat or is plant-based.

3. How to buy and store

Water spinach is usually sold in bundles, displayed in the room-temperature produce section of a wet market, or in a refrigerated area in an Asian grocery store. The length of water spinach varies, from 12 to 19 inches (30 to 50 cm).

When available, I prefer water spinach that is shorter with slimmer stems. The veggies are crisper and tenderer once cooked. On the other hand, I’ve seen other cooks actually prefer larger sized water spinach, stating that the bigger leaves taste richer.

At any rate, avoid wilted, yellowish leaves. Also avoid damaged, insect afflicted greens.

Once purchased, store water spinach in a bag in the refrigerator and consume it as soon as possible, preferably within three days. I’ve stored water spinach in the fridge for 4 to 5 days in the past. But the longer I store it, the more prep it will require since you will need to pick out and discard any withered leaves.

4. How to prep water spinach

The preparation method you use for water spinach (i.e. before cooking) can affect the end result of the dish, substantially.

To get the best result, you should trim off the tough stem, separate the stems and leaves, and cut the stems into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces. I usually separate the stems and leaves and cook the stems a bit longer to get the best result.

Ideally, you will be dealing with the water spinach one stalk at a time, which my mom insists on doing. She usually feels the stems by hand, and snips off and discards the part of the stem that is tough. It’s easier said than done, because the process can take 15 to 20 minutes.

What I usually do is feel a few stems and cut off 3 to 5 inches (7 to 13 cm) from the bottom to remove the tough part, Then I separate the leaves and stems into small batches. Then I further chop the stems into bite-size pieces.

Once done cutting, you should thoroughly rinse the water spinach with running tap water. Unlike most grocery stores, Asian markets don’t usually wash the veggies before putting them on display (so they have a longer shelf life). Sometimes the water spinach can be very dusty.

5. Cooking methods

Since water spinach has a very mild taste, it usually works well with pungent sauce and aromatics. In China, it’s very popular to cook water spinach with fermented tofu, which has kind of a strong fermented taste like blue cheese. I’ve included it in one of the methods below.

I also added a simpler way to cook it, since some of you might not like the taste of fermented tofu.

If have some of my black bean sauce on hand, you can add a tablespoon of it at the end using method #2. It goes great with the veggies.

Cooking notes

1. How much to cook at a time

It’s hard to measure leafy green veggies and give an exact amount in the recipe, because each market bundles the veggies differently. Plus, depending on the freshness of the veggies, you might need to remove a lot of material before cooking. There was a time I bought a big batch of water spinach that was about a pound and a half. I ended up using just a third of it because I left it in the fridge for too long and most of the pieces had gone bad.

The bottom line is, the raw veggies should fill up your pan but not by too much. When cooking Chinese greens, the less you cook at a time the better the result.

2. A quick word on fermented tofu

Many Chinese recipes call for the red fermented tofu. But I’ve found that both the white and the red type work pretty well in this dish. Depending on the brand and the type of fermented tofu, they come in different sizes. I usually use two cubes of white fermented tofu or one cube of red fermented tofu.

3. Oil content

The hard truth about cooking a delicious plate of Chinese greens is, you need to use quite a bit of oil to make it work. For a big plate of veggies, using two tablespoons of oil is quite normal. Not only will the oil will be infused with aromatics, it will also ensure the veggies are seared and not steamed.

If you prefer to use less oil, you can reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon. In this case, I usually add a splash of Shaoxing wine while cooking, so the pan won’t get too dry.

4. Cooking equipment

I discussed the wok vs. flat skillet issue in depth in the past. Long story short, it doesn’t matter when you make a saucy and rich stir fry dish (such beef and broccoli) in a skillet. However, a nice heavy pan or a wok does make a difference when you’re making very simple dishes, like this stir-fried water spinach. I usually use my Debuyer carbon steel skillet when making this dish. A cast iron pan works great as well. Use a wok only if you have a good gas stove.

You can totally use a nonstick pan to make the dish as well. It works the best, especially when you want to use less oil.

More delicious vegetable recipes

  • Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic
  • Chinese Seaweed Salad (凉拌海带丝)
  • Steamed Eggplant in Nutty Sauce (芝麻酱拌茄子)
  • The Best Chinese Coleslaw
  • Vegetable Fried Rice (蔬菜炒饭)

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Stir Fried Water Spinach – Two Ways

Introducing two ways to cook stir-fried water spinach, and both require fewer than five ingredients. Try out this Chinese leafy green to add color and nutrition to your dinner table. {Vegan, Gluten-Free} 5 from 1 vote Pin Course: Side Cuisine: Chinese Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 5 minutes Servings: 2 to 4 servings Calories: 93kcal Author: Maggie Zhu


  • 1 batch water spinach (*Footnote 1)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil (*Footnote 2)
  • 2 to 3 Chinese chili peppers , dried (*Footnote 3)

Method 1 – Stir-fried water spinach with fermented tofu sauce

  • 2 blocks (1 tablespoon) fermented tofu (*Footnote 4)
  • 2 teaspoons liquid from the jar of fermented tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic , sliced

Method 2 – Stir-fried water spinach with garlic

  • 6 cloves garlic , minced and separated
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or chicken stock, or vegetable stock)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Prepare the water spinach by cutting off the tough stems, usually 2 to 3 inches from the bottom end. Discard the leaves that are withered, have brown spots, or have turned yellow. Thoroughly rinse with tap water and transfer to a colander to drain. Separate the stems and leaves with a pair of kitchen scissors. Cut the stems into 1-inch long pieces.

Method 1

  • Add the fermented tofu, the liquid from the jar, and the sugar into a small bowl. Use the back of your spoon to mash the tofu and stir it with the rest of the ingredients to make it into a sauce.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet (or woover medium-high heat until hot. Break apart the chili peppers and add them into the skillet. Add the garlic. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
  • Add the stems of the water spinach to the skillet. Cook and stir for a minute.
  • Add the leaves of the water spinach. Cook, flipping occasionally using your spatula, until most of the parts are withered.
  • Pour in the fermented tofu sauce. Stir until the water spinach turns tender and the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer everything to a plate. Serve hot.

Method 2

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet (or woover medium-high heat until hot. Break apart the chili peppers and add them into the skillet. Add half of the garlic. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
  • Add the stems of the water spinach to the skillet. Cook and stir for a minute.
  • Add the leaves of the water spinach. Cook, flipping occasionally using your spatula, a few times. Pour in the Shaoxing wine and sprinkle with salt. Cook and stir until most of the parts are withered.
  • Add the remaining garlic. Stir a few times to mix well. Transfer everything to a plate. Serve hot.


  1. It’s hard to measure water spinach properly because it all depends on how much edible material you get after the prep. For example, sometimes I only get two-thirds of the original batch after cutting off the tough parts. In this recipe, I used 10 oz. (300 g) of water spinach after the prep.
  2. To make stir-fried water spinach very tasty and properly seared, you should always use a bit more oil. If you prefer a healthier dish, you can reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon. During the stir fry, if the pan gets too dry, you can add a splash of Shaoxing wine or chicken stock so the veggies won’t burn.
  3. The chili peppers add a heavenly smokiness and aroma to the dish. If you use mild Chinese chili peppers, the dish won’t end up very spicy. If you don’t like any spicy taste, remove and discard the seeds from the chili peppers.
  4. You can either use the red fermented tofu or white fermented tofu in this recipe.

Serving: 4servings | Calories: 93kcal | Carbohydrates: 7.4g | Protein: 2.2g | Fat: 6.9g | Saturated Fat: 1.1g | Sodium: 298mg | Potassium: 252mg | Fiber: 1.7g | Sugar: 2.1g | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 1.8mg

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Growing Water Spinach (Kangkong) and Chinese Kale (Kailan) from seeds use pretty much the same method as growing tomatoes. I actually planted my kangkong and kailan the same time I planted my okra seeds, eggplants seeds, pepper seeds and tomato seeds.

Refer to this post to know what you should do to prepare your mini vegetable garden: How to Make a Mini Vegetable Garden

By the way, I’m actually on the 26th day of my very own self-imposed 30-day blog post challenge which also propelled me to restart doing other things I love and one of them is planting vegetables (obviously!)

First of all, let me tell you that unlike how I grew tomato, eggplant, okra, and pepper seeds, I didn’t study at all how to plant water spinach (kangkong) and Chinese kale (kailan) seeds. I bought several different seeds and one day I just thought to plant two more kinds and see if they will grow. After almost a month, I can say that my water spinanch and Chinese kale vegetable seeds have grown so much since then. I’ve even re-potted them which I will discuss on a separate post. For now, let me tell you how I managed to grow Kangkong and Kailan vegetables from seeds.


  • Pots – It’s good to use recycled a popcorn container or an ice cream bin. Include the cover of these bins. It is important to use recycled materials at first especially if this is your first time to venture into vegetable gadrdening. We still didn’t know if you can grow these seeds and buying new pots up front could be wasteful especially if after all this effort, you won’t be able to grow the seeds. That was my thinking when I started all this, hence the recycled pots. You can always re-pot them later on once they’ve grown.
  • Holes – Make sure the pots have holes at the bottom so water can pass through. You can use a screw driver for punching holes.
  • Soil – Use a soilless potting mix by Red Earth which can be bought from Ace Hardware. A sack costs about Php80.00 each.
  • Water – just enough to make the soil moist and wet.
  • Seeds – you can buy seeds at National Bookstore or Ace Hardware. They’re only Php50 per pack.
  • Procedure:


  • Once you have all the materials, it’s time to put some soil into the recycled pots. Fill the pot at least 3/4 full.
  • Then put the seeds. You can put as many as you want. It’s okay to crowd them or you can space them a centimeter or two apart.
  • Then cover the seeds with another layer of soil until the pot is almost full.
  • Water it.
  • Get the cover of the bins and place one under each recycled pot. This will catch the water that goes through the holes so the soil is kept moist.
  • Place the pot in an area where there’s sunlight during the day. I keep mine at the balcony since the sun shines there in the morning.
  • Water your pots everyday.

After 1-2 days, your water spinach and Chinese kale seeds should start sprouting like this:

After almost a week, your water spinach and Chinese kale seedlings should look like this:

In two to three weeks, your seedlings should already look like this:

Just keep on watering them every day. Since you’ve already proven you can grow water spinach and Chinese kale seeds, the next time you plant them, you can already use real pots just like what I did on the next four batches of Kangkong seeds I planted:

Happy planting! (^_^)

Virginia Invasive Species

Early Detection Invasive Plant Species of Virginia

(Ipomoea aquatica)

What is the harm?

Forming dense floating mats of tangled stems, water spinach shades out submersed native vegetation and competes with emergent native species. These mats can obstruct water flow, create stagnant water environments ideal for breeding mosquitoes, and displace native plants that are critical for fish and wildlife.

What is it?

Water spinach is an invasive aquatic vine in tropical and subtropical regions. Its stems are hollow, rooting at nodes and floating when in fully aquatic surroundings.

How did it get here?

Water spinach is popular vegetable in Southeast and East Asian. It was orignially introduction into North America as a potential crop species. However, it quickly escaped cultivation and became weedy. Water spinach is listed as a noxious weed by the USDA and in Virginia.

Where is it now?

Water spinach can be found in freshwater habitats, including muddy stream banks, canals, ditches, ponds, lakes, and marshes. It is susceptible to frosts, and does not grow well at temperatures below 75°F, thus its habitat is limited to the tropics and subtropics.

What is being done?

Aquatic herbicides have been used to control this plant, but the results have been only temporary and can have unacceptable impacts on surrounding vegetation with conservation value. Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of a more selective herbicide on this plant.

How can I learn more?

Read about water spinach here >>

How can I report an occurrence?

If you find water spinach or other early detection species, go to our reporting page here >>

Image Credits

University of Georgia,

Ipomoea aquatica

Ipomoea aquatica is rarely found in the shallow water in ponds, lakes, and rivers of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee counties of Florida. It is native to the East Indies but escaped cultivation (Wunderlin, 2003).

Appearance: Herbaceous trailing vine with milky sap. Stems hollow, rooting at nodes, floating in aquatic situations.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, with glabrous petioles 3–14 cm (1–6 in) long; blades generally arrowhead shaped but variable, glabrous or rarely pilose, to 17 cm (7 in) long, with tips pointed; blades held above water when stems floating.

Flowers: Showy, funnelform; like morning glory blooms; solitary or in few-flowered clusters at leaf axils; petals white or pink-lilac.

Fruit: An oval or spherical capsule, woody at maturity, about 1 cm (0.5 in) wide; holding 1–4 grayish seeds, these often short, hairy.

Ecological threat: Forms dense floating mats of intertwined stems over water surfaces, shading out native submersed plants and competing with native emergents. FLEPPC Category I

Distribution: C, SW

Text from Invasive and Non-Native Plants You Should Know, Recognition Cards, by A. Richard and V. Ramey, 2007. UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Publ. No. SP 431.

View more information and pictures about water spinach, as contained in the Langeland/Burks book, Identification & Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas.

View the herbarium specimen image from the University of Florida Herbarium Digital Imaging Projects.

Video Transcript

Water spinach – Ipomoea aquatica
Water spinach is not native to Florida. Like others in the morning-glory family, water spinach is a vine. This prolific plant can grow into thick, tangled mats. Though it is edible, and sometimes sold in grocery stores, water spinach is listed as an illegal aquatic plant in Florida. The long, viny stem of water spinach distinguishes it from most aquatic plants. Its vines can reach 9 feet long. Water spinach leaves are almost arrowhead-shaped, 1 to 6 inches long, and 1 to 3 inches wide. The leaves have notched bases, with rounded or pointed lobes. Water spinach has recognizable, morning-glory-like flowers. They are 2 inches wide and funnel-shaped; and can be white, pink, or pale lilac. Water spinach has morning-glory-like flowers. It is an aquatic vine that can grow to be 9 feet long. Its leaves are arrowhead-shaped.


1. Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition,
by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 257. 2008.

3. Invasive and Non-native Plants You Should Know – Recognition Cards,
by A. Richard and V. Ramey. University of Florida-IFAS Publication # SP 431. 2007.

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Appearance Ipomoea aquatica is an annual herb. It can be a procumbent terrestrial in wetland areas or a floating aquatic. The thick hollow stems root at the nodes. Stems are slightly swollen above the nodes. It is native to temperate and tropical Asia, Africa, and Australia. It is used as a pot herb in some regions. Foliage The petiolate leaves are hastate (halberd shaped) with the central lobe lanceolate. The basal lobes are much smaller and sometimes almost absent. Leaves are from 1.5-5 in. (4-12 cm) inches long. Flowers The white to purple funnel shaped flowers are usually solitary. Sometimes a few flowers are held in a cyme. It can flower year round in tropical climates. Fruit Ipomoea aquatica fruits are woody ovoid capsules. Ecological Threat Ipomoea aquatica can become an invasive problem in some tropical and temperate regions outside of its native range. Its common name, water spinach indicates that use as a food is one reason it has been spread to other parts of the world. It is listed as a noxious weed in the United States. Ipomoea aquatica has been reported in Florida, California, Hawaii and Washington. It has also been reported in Micronesia, French Polynesia and South America.

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