Botanical Name: Ipomoea Aquatica
Some other names: Water Spinach, Swamp Cabbage, Ong Choy, Chinese Watercress and many other local names throughout Asia.
How to grow it:
Kang Kong is a terrifically hardy perernnial that will grow anywhere at anytime it’s growing conditions are met – that is, when it’s hot & wet. It grows like mad in these conditions, and will meander or die back when it’s cold and/or dry. Seems just as happy in sun or shade.
In the tropics, it will grow all year if it has regular water, but is best planted as the wet season begins and will require no maintenance. If there’s a problem with it, it can get out of control – a great reason to harvest it regularly.
In cooler areas, it will die back in winter and reshoot in spring. In cold areas it’s growing season might be quite short.
Given it’s water requirements, it does best in a boggy area or on the edges of ponds. It’s just as happy in shallow water as it is in wet mud. It does well in a shadehouse or hothouse and it’s growing period might be extended due to the extra warmth.
Kang Kong will certainly benefit from the addition of manure, compost, worm juice or seaweed, but will also do pretty well without any maintenance at all. Once I put a cutting in a vase of water to root, and it grew & produced leaves for months without any help at all – quite amazing!
Very easy to propogate from stem or tip cuttings – they’ll readily shoot in water or just put them in the ground on a rainy day or when rain is imminent. The plant will start flowering as the weather cools down and seeds can soon be collected for planting in the following seaason.
I’ve had great success growing Kang Kong in closed containers – simply fill any closed container (20 litre bucket, pots with no drainage, styrofoam boxes etc) with soil leaving 5-10 cms from the top. Fill with water to a level just above the soil, and put your cuttings or seeds in. As soon as the plants start growing you can start harvesting. This growing method can be very productive and is great for drier climates – just add a bit a bit of water when needed – the foliage will reduce much of the water loss.
It’s best to start a new container every spring though – one season is plenty for it to become rootbound and the following year will produce rather straggly leaf & stems.
Nutrition: Despite the fact that it requires very little care, Kang Kong is a highly nutritious plant with high levels of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, & vitamins A B & C. A valuable addition to the diet.
Using it in the kitchen:
Young leaves are fairly bland taste-wise and easily substitute for lettuce in green salads. The best thing is they are so prolific when it’s too hot or wet for other salad greens. In season I eat the greens fresh on a daily basis both in salads & sandwiches.
As a spinach, leaves can be used in almost anything – quiches, omelettes, soups, casseroles anything that would benefit from some nutritious greens. I prefer to add them at the last minute as they wilt very quickly, but they also do well in slow, long cooking dishes.
The stems can be chopped finely & used in salads, but are at their best when chopped quite thickly & used in stir fries. Very tender & tasty.
Kang Kong is a brilliant survival food as it’s so nutritious, it grows like mad and keeps coming back every summer.
Kang Kong makes great animal fodder due to it’s high protein content. Just feed it fresh to your livestock and grow it in boggy areas of paddocks.
Due to it’s prodigious growth it could also make good mulch or compost in the garden, but I’d sun dry it for a week first – it will sprout very easily in moist warm conditions.