Nderema, also known as vine spinach or Malabar spinach (Basella alba), is a perennial, climbing herb in the family Basellaceae that grows in tropical Asia and Africa. It has green or brownish-purple stems. The thick, shiny, green leaves, which are usually 5-10 centimeters long, are subcircular, ovate, or heart-shaped, and arranged alternately along the vine. The small flowers are borne on spikes growing from the leaf axils and can be white, pink, or red. The small fruits are white, red, or black. Nderema grows spontaneously in wooded areas and across cultivated fields. It prefers full sun or partial shade in warm to hot, humid areas with fertile, moist soil. It is commonly found along streams, lakes, or other bodies of water. Apart from growing spontaneously, it can be cultivated with other leafy vegetables or tree species that act as a natural support. The plant can be propagated by seed or cutting. It is sown during the rainy season, and it grows rapidly, reaching lengths of up to 9 meters. Harvest begins 3 weeks after sowing and continues at regular intervals for up to 6 (though usually 2-4) months.
The raw leaves are crisp and juicy. When cooked, they have a slightly mucilaginous texture. Once gathered, the leaves must be consumed as soon as possible—because of their high moisture content, they tend to deteriorate quickly. They can be eaten raw in a salad, boiled, or stewed. They are usually cooked together with other vegetables to balance their consistency, which is rather watery. Once cooked, they can be used as a primary ingredient in soups and are also good sautéed in a pan with oil and onions and served with starchy foods such as tubers and boiled plantain (green bananas), or with ugali made with corn or other cereals.
Nderema used to play a crucial role in the food systems of some rural Kenyan communities. Its leaves are rich in iron and vitamin A, thus making it a food with invigorating and restorative properties. For these reasons, it was traditionally part of the diet of children and pregnant women. It is also considered a suitable food for weak or sick people, especially with mouth conditions such as aphthae or abscesses, because the soft texture of the leaves makes them easily to chew. The mucilaginous texture of the leaves is associated with various healing properties—for example, cooked leaves are used as a natural remedy against constipation. Finally, the leaves serve as fodder for cattle and increase milk production. The use of this plant is mainly associated with the Luhya and Luo communities in Western Kenya, but after the migrations that took place during the second half of the 20th century, its consumption spread to other areas. Today, this vegetable can be found in markets in Nakuru County, various rural areas, and to a smaller degree in urban centers. The product offered in markets is usually gathered form the wild; more rarely, it is cultivated on a small scale.
Though Basella alba is frequently consumed in other parts of Africa and Asia, and despite its excellent nutritional properties and medicinal uses, nderema is not often consumed in Nakuru County. The limited diffusion of this product is due to its mucilaginous texture, which is often not appreciated by people who are not used to it; and to the fact that the leaves deteriorate rather quickly, a crucial factor that hinders its sale.