Apr 26, 2011

Incredible Edible Tropicals: A selection of tropical plants that are edible as well as ornamental

Many of the beautiful tropical plants that we grow in our gardens as ornamentals hail from far away exotic lands. In the areas where they are native, their beauty is often second to their value as a source of food and medicine. We’ve just grouped our edibles together on the website as Incredible Edible Tropicals. We will be expanding it in the spring to include other edible ornamentals for the garden. Please do check back to see what surprises we have in store for you.

In this article we will be covering some of the tropical edible plants already in our catalogue, the ways they are used in the areas they are native to and ways you might use them in your own kitchen.

The most beautiful and intriguing of our edible tropical plants has to be the torch ginger (Etlingera elatior). It is also known as Bunga Kantan, Kaalaa, Asam Cekala and Laksa Flower. While any of the torch gingers is edible our Edible Pink Torch Ginger is the variety cultivated commercially for cooking. In its home territory of Malaysia it is considered a key ingredient in many dishes including Penang Laksa. The shoots and young inflorescent are eaten raw and also cooked. In some areas the crushed fruits are mixed with water to make a shampoo. It imparts an exotic aroma and spicy floral fragrance to cooking. It can either be halved lengthwise and used in curries and stews or the bud can be finally sliced and used as a topping.

Pandanus amaryllifolius is a small clumping pandanus that is useful as an edging plant along creek banks or dams but is most widely known for it's culinary uses. It can be used as a wrapper for small parcels of food that are steamed or a few leaves can be added to rice to impart a nutty flavour. Currently Southern Cross University is conducting experiments on pandanus amaryllifolius to see if they can impart the unique flavour to rice varieties that can be grown in Australia. It's with great pride that we can say they sourced their pandanus at El Arish Tropical Exotics. If you are in cooler climate we suggest keeping your pandanus as a pot plant so that you can bring it in or place in a hot house during cooler weather. Pandanus amaryllifollius is a very tropical plant that likes heat and humidity and can grown out of the tropics with care. If you are keen on growing edible pandanus then further ifo can be found here

Turmeric is another easy to grow tropical plant that doubles as both an ornamental and an edible. Turmeric is a curcuma and related to Cape York Lily. In fact, some people call Cape York Lily native turmeric . It has peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger. We stock both the yellow and orange form, they can be purchased separately or at a discounted price together in our turmeric pack. Turmeric is commonly used in Indian and Malaysian curries. It is used as a natural dye that produces a rich golden yellow on cotton. It is also reputed to have many health benefits some which you can find here: 
Galangal is a S.E. Asian ginger with a slightly different flavour to z.officiale. In the tropics it is a much larger robust plants that isn't deciduous and makes a great screening plant.The small orchid like flowers are held above the filiage in arge sprays during summer. Their lovely spicey perfume filling the air. It too can be used in curries and in wetter areas is a great alternative to z. officiale. If you are unsure how to make a curry paste from scratch check out Susan Kirk's blog : Green Curry Paste  Red Curry Paste     
Galangal is also cold hardy to below freezing and is the only Alpinia to flower on first year growth. 

Calathea lutea is a hardy, large growing calathea with large oblong waxy backed leaves. In Panama it is used to wrap and steam tamales. But can be used to wrap, steam or bake like banana leaves are used. They also make attractive plate or platter liners.

The last plant on my little list of edible tropical is Costus barbatus ( syn C. Cosmosus). Many of the costus flowers are edible but this one is a favorite at our house. The small orange flowers impart a crunchy refreshing slightly ginger flavour to salads. If you have small foraging children this is a definite winner.

There is nothing as satisfying as growing your own food. The beautiful plants listed in our Edible Tropicals section will be be aesthetically pleasing as well as pointing you to the path of self sufficiency!

Happy Gardening!! Ann & Scott

ps I will do another Cyclone Yasi update but just wanted to get a few different articles out before I bore everyone to death :)


Michael said...


shekong said...

I know you are a great lover of tropical foods! I'm glad it's come in handy :)

Anonymous said...

Ta for the yummy article scott Im heading out to harvest shorrtly but let me say micheal has bored us to death already. Shane.

shekong said...

Hi Shane! Glad you enjoyed the article. Hope you enjoyed your lunch, we saw you in the paper :)

Mark said...

The landscape in Sydney, Australia is truly amazing and wonderful tropical landscape, thanks for this interesting post....
landscape design Sydney

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