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Wild Edible Leaves of the Tropics

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Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

Remember, all vegetables and fruits have some traces of toxic content in them as also these plant leaves. That does not mean that they are not safe to consume. Any vegetable or fruit has to be consumed in moderation. Having a maximum variety of them in your diet is the key to good health.

Katuk Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Katuk Leaf

Scientific name: Sauropus androgynus

Common names: katuk, star gooseberry, sweet leaf, Singapore spinach

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: China, India, Japan, Malay, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam

Cooking method: fry a teaspoon of mustard in oil, stir fry the shredded leaves with sliced onion, and green chillies till cooked and then add some grated coconut and mix.

Nutritive/medicinal value: good source of Vitamin K, provitamin A carotenoids, vitamins B, vitamin C, protein and minerals.

Warning: has high levels of alkaloid papaverine which if consumed regularly can cause lung damage.

As this plant grows fast, in rural areas of South India, saplings are planted close to each other to grow into a natural fence. This also gives a regular supply of edible leaves.

Water Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Water Leaf (and tender stem)

Scientific name: Talinum fruticosum (a herbaceous annual and perennial plant)

Common names: Ceylon spinach, Florida spinach, Surinam Purslane, cariru

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: West Africa, Asia, and South America

Cooking method: Added to different dishes to get sliminess.

Nutritive /medicinal value: rich in vitamins, lipids and protein.

Warning: has high calcium oxalate and hydrocyanic acid content. Both are destroyed during cooking but moderate consumption is recommended.

For many rural African farmers, the cultivation of this leafy vegetable is not only a nutrition source but also a livelihood as they sell it in rural markets.

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Brazilian Joy Weed Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Brazilian Joy Weed Leaf (tender leaves)

Scientific name: Alternanthera brasiliana

Common names: large purple alternanthera, metal weed, blood leaf, parrot leaf, ruby leaf, Brazilian joy weed, purple alternanthera, purple joy weed

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: in South India, immature leaves are cooked as a leafy vegetable

Cooking method: fry a teaspoon of mustard in oil, stir fry the shredded leaves with sliced onion, and green chillies till cooked and then add some grated coconut and mix.

Nutritive /medicinal value: Not known

Warning: the use as a leafy vegetable is very localised and is prevalent only in certain parts of South India

This plant with its iron brown coloured leaves is grown in gardens as an ornamental plant.

Punarnava/Spreading Hogweed Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Punarnava/Spreading Hogweed Leaf

Scientific name: Boerhavia diffusa

Common names: punarnava (meaning, that which has rejuvenating properties; an important herb in Ayurveda), red spider ling, spreading hogweed, tarvine

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: India

Cooking method: shred the leaves, stir fry and add grated coconut

Nutritive /medicinal value: Magnesium, Sodium and Potassium

Warning: has lead and cadmium in trace amounts. Not to be consumed daily.

Stinging nettle Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Stinging Nettle Leaf

Scientific name: Urtica dioica

Common names: stoning nettle, common nettle.

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: worldwide

Cooking method: cook shredded leaves with lentils and add coconut paste. Add fried mustard seeds and curry leaves. (Indian recipe)

Nutritive /medicinal value: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, linolenic acid, and beta-carotene

Warning: The hair-like barbs on the stem and the leaves sting and cause discomfort and itching on the skin for about 10-20 minutes.

Consuming this plant can reduce blood sugar levels and provide relief from arthritis. It also improves respiratory and prostate health.

Green Taro Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Green Taro Leaf (and stem)

Scientific name: Colocasia esculenta (leaves and stem are used for cooking)

Common names: Colocasia, green taro, elephant ear, cocoyam

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: Asia

Cooking method: cook shredded leaves with lentils and green chilly, once cooked, add tamarind, a pinch of fenugreek powder and cook again; add coconut paste. Add fried mustard seeds and curry leaves. (Indian recipe)

Nutritive /medicinal value: phytochemicals useful in resisting fungi, bacteria and viral infections

Warning: If tamarind or lemon juice is not added while cooking, the leaves may cause itching in the mouth.

Purslane Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Purslane Leaf (and stem)

Scientific name: Portulaca oleracea

Common names: pigweed, little hogweed, fatweed and pusley

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: worldwide

Cooking method: used in salads and sandwiches; can be cooked in similar ways to amaranth

Nutritive /medicinal value: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Omega-3 fatty acids.

Warning: has oxalates in it which will cause kidney problems. Moderate consumption is not harmful

This plant is also used as an ornamental plant in gardens

Elephant Foot Yam Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Elephant Foot Yam Leaf (and stem)

Scientific name: Amorphophallus paeoniifolius

Common names: elephant foot yam, white spot giant arum

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: South India

Cooking method: shred the leaves, stir fry and add grated coconut

Nutritive /medicinal value: Protein, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium

Warning: use gloves while shredding as it will cause mild itching. However, after cooking, it is perfectly harmless and delicious to eat.

Madras Pea Pumpkin Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Madras Pea Pumpkin Leaf

Scientific name: Mukia maderaspatana

Common names: Madras pea pumpkin, rough bryony

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: South India

Cooking method: fry mustard along with a handful of raw rice in oil; shred the leaves, stir fry along with the mustard and rice once they crackle; add coconut paste

Nutritive /medicinal value: anti-microbial, controls blood sugar levels

Warning: The seeds also can be added to the recipe if they are tender and unripe. Ripe seeds are bitter in taste and are better to be removed in cooking.

This plan has great medicinal properties including an anti-diabetic effect.

Pepper Elder Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Pepper Elder Leaf (and stem)

Scientific name: Peperomia pellucida

Common names: pepper elder, shining bush plant, man to man, silver bush, clear weed, rat-ear

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: South America, Asia

Cooking method: used in salads and sandwiches; can be cooked in similar ways to amaranth

Nutritive /medicinal value: potassium, protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, beta carotene and ascorbic acid

Warning: The leaves when crushed have a mustard scent which may cause asthma-like symptoms in hypersensitive people.

In South India, children used to take the stem and leaves of the plant to schools to wipe their writing slates clean owing to the rich water content of the plant.

Climbing Indian Nettle Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Climbing Indian Nettle Leaf

Scientific name: Tragia involucrata L.

Common names: climbing nettle, Indian stinging nettle

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: South India

Cooking method: cook shredded leaves with lentils and add coconut paste. Add fried mustard seeds and curry leaves. (Indian recipe)

Nutritive /medicinal value: not available

Warning: Use gloves when plucking the leaves as hairs on the leaves and the stem sting and cause severe itching and burning sensation. Applying curd to the stung area of the skin gives some relief and the effect will subside in 20 minutes.

Sickle Pod Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves
wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Sickle Pod Leaf (tender leaves)

Scientific name: Cassia tora

Common names: sickle Senna, sicklepod, tora, coffee pod, foetid cassia

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: Asia

Cooking method: cook shredded leaves with lentils and add coconut paste. Add fried mustard seeds and curry leaves. (Indian recipe)

Nutritive /medicinal value: Antiseptic, Anthelmintic, Carminative, Purgative

Warning: may cause loose motion if consumed in excess.

Moringa Leaf

wild-tropical-edible-leaves

Moringa Leaf (and flowers)

Scientific name: Moringa oleifera

Common names: moringa, drum stick tree, horseradish tree, ben oil tree, benzolive tree

Places where they are cooked as a leafy vegetable: Asia, Africa, South America

Cooking method: cook shredded leaves with lentils and add coconut paste. Add fried mustard seeds and curry leaves. (Indian recipe)

Nutritive /medicinal value: B vitamins, vitamin C, provitamin A as beta-carotene, vitamin K, manganese, and protein.

Warning: may cause loose motion if consumed in excess.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Deepa

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