Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica, Convolvulaceae): A Food Gone Wild

Austin, Daniel F.
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) has been considered native to Africa, Asia, and the southwestern Pacific Islands. The herbs have been a medicinal vegetable in southern Asia since at least A.D. 300, and perhaps since 200 B.C. People still gather plants from the wild and cultivate them. With European arrival in these regions in the late 1400s, they became aware of this medicinal food and began carrying water spinach around the world. As with other transported plants, Europeans took along some common names and cultural uses. With the later migration of people from Asian countries to other parts of the world, the food was imported into new areas. Doubt persists as to where the species was domesticated. Data from uses as food, regions of cultivation, medicinal use, phylogenetic studies, common names, and pathogens suggest that water spinach was first cultivated in southeastern Asia. The plants may have been domesticated in China and India, but the data are equivocal. The vegetable sometimes escapes from cultivation to become an ecologically invasive weed.
ethnobotany, Ipomoea aquatica, Convolvulaceae, noxious weeds, aquatic plants, invasive species, aquatic weeds, wetland plants, food crops, herbs, medicinal plants, functional foods, wild plants, introduced plants, phylogeny, plant pathogens, folk taxonomy, forage, phytogeography, South East Asia, medicinal properties, insect pests
Austin DF. 2007. Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica, Convolvulaceae): a food gone wild. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 5:123-146.
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