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Not-So-Popular Edible Leaves of the Tropics.
Here are pictures and descriptions of the many leaves that can be eaten when the most commonly eaten leafy vegetables are not available. Most of these are found in the tropics or the areas of the sub-tropical climates.The leaves are eaten only or mostly as a last resort ie. when the most popular green leaves are not available.The information presented here is compiled based on the authors experience. Most of these plants leaves have been eaten by the author herself and the people she knew. It is highly recommended that anyone who is new to these plants or leaves must carry out a lot of research first before consuming them. Cooking it to the right taste and texture also requires a lot of practice. Some of the leaves if not cooked properly can have an undesirable taste or texture, cause irritation to the tongue, .throat or mouth and can even cause death. Some are available in several varieties in the wild. An experienced person is required to identify and differentiate the edible ones from the non-edible ones.
Scientific name: Ficus Copiosa
Common name (s): Plentiful fig, Kumu Mosong (PNG Pidgin).
Description: The leaves are prickly, feels like sandpaper (emery paper) and if not handled properly can scratch your skin. The plants can grow up to be trees. The trees produce fruits on their trunk or the stem of the tree. The fruits are round with a flat base, prickly and hollow inside. They are green in colours and can sometimes be purplish. Fruits are taste-less or sweet and juicy, depending on the type of tree.The sweet fruits are usually larger in size. On removing leaves, bark or fruits, a sticky milky sap is produced.There are several varieties available in the wild. Some are not edible. They belong to the family of fig trees.
Edible Parts: Young leaves and fruits.
How is it cooked? The leaves and fruits can be eaten raw or boiled and steamed, usually mixed with other green leafy vegetables and cooked in water with a little bit of oil from animal fat or coconut cream. The flavour comes from whatever spices that had been added.
Precautions: When eating raw leaves be mindful that it can cause the tongue to bleed. If not cooked properly, the texture is rough. Fruits and leaves from some variety are not edible.
Scientific Name: Manihot Esculenta
Common Name: cassava, manioc, tapiocca, maniohta
Description: The cassava plant is a woody shrub, grows to about 2-3 meters in height. It is famous for it's tubers which are grown, cultivated and consumed in a lot of countries in Asia, South America, Africa and the Pacific. The young leaves can also be eaten. The leaves however are not as popular as food.The young leaves are cooked as green leafy vegetable and are cooked by boiling, steaming and stir frying.
Precautions: Some varieties of Cassava are poisonous and if not prepared or cooked properly, can kill. Cassava contains cyanide which disintegrates on cooking, so proper preparation and cooking is a must. Some varieties are grown as garden plants. Some have leaves that are variegated and the leaves are not edible.
Scientific Name: Areceae (family name)
Common Name (s): Taro, Elephant Ear Plant,
Description: Plants from the Areceae (taro) family are many, however not all are grown and harvested for food. Some grow in the wild while some are grown in the garden or swamps for food and there are some varieties that are grown in home gardens or pots as flowers.Taro plants grow from corms or the stem attached to the corm. The taro tub corm is also a popular food in the tropics. The leaf however is not as popular.The leaf of most taro plants look like an elephant's ear.
How it is cooked?: Leaves together with the stems are boiled, or steamed or baked with other food eg. wrapped in foil with beef. The corm can be boiled, roasted, baked and steamed.
Precautions: The taro corm, leaves and stems contain calcium oxalate crystals, which is responsible for irritation of the tongue, mouth and throat if not prepared and cooked properly. Non edible varieties are similar to edible ones and can be confused with the ones for eating.
Scientific Name: Amaranthaceae Family
Common Name: Aopa (PNG Pidgin)
Description: Plants from the Amarathaceae family are many and vary in color, flower types leaf patterns. the ones with variegated leaves, purple is a common colour on most leaves and they usually have very beautiful flowers eg. Celosia argentea. Some of the varieties are considered as weeds. Some varieties are grown in the garden from seeds gathered from previous harvest. The ones of less desired variety grow wherever there is a new clearing or a new garden and tend to grow to about a meter in height.
Edible parts: Leaves and stem ie. the soft portion.
How is it cooked? Boiled or stir fry.
Precautions: Exist in several different varieties, some forms are very common as flowering plants (Celosia argentea) and some also have very colourful variegated leaves. Mature plants usually with flowers can not be eaten because the stem is hard and the leaves are bitter.
Scientific Name: Solanum Genus
Common Name: Black NightShade, karakap (PNG Pidgin)
Description: Grows best where soil is moist and new soil is cleared or disturbed usually a new garden. The plant is a perennial shrub that grows to about a meter in favorable soil and environmental conditions. It has healing properties and is often used as a herb.The plant also has star shaped flowers which are white in colour and on maturity produces berries which are black or red in colours.
Edible Parts: Leaves and fruits.
How is it cooked?: Boiled, stir fry or steamed.
Precautions:The leaves are bitter when cooked.
Common name (s): winged beans, snake bean, common bean, mung bean,
Description: Beans are common as food and are often referred to vegetables that have a pod that is filled with beans, leaves are small and are rough in texture. the beans are classified as legume plants.
Edible Part: beans, young leaves.
How is it cooked?: Beans and leaves can be boiled or stir fried.
Precautions: Most beans leaves are safe to consume. If not cooked properly, have rough texture. The leaves can be mixed with other leafy vegetables and cooked.
Scientific Name: malvaceae family, hibiscus genius
Common name (s): Hibiscus
Description: The plant is very popular as a plant for landscaping because of it's beautiful flowers which come in a range of colours. The flowers usually have 5 to six petals. Because of the sweet nectar in the flowers, it tend to attract a lot of little birds.
Parts Edible: Flowers and young leaves.
How is it cooked? Crushed and stir fried or boiled.
Precautions: Can be very slimy if not prepared and cooked properly.