Edible Condiment Leaves of Southeast Asia

The following is a list of species whose leaves are used as condiments in Southeast Asia. The list is not, by any means, complete, but includes some of the lesser known, more obscure species.

Acacia farnesiana, Cassie flower, Leguminaceae

Achronychia laurifolia, Ketiak, Rutaceae

Aegle marmelos, Bael fruit, Rutaceae

Allium odorum, Chinese chives, Liliaceae

Ancistrocladus extensus, Ox-tongue, Dipterocarpaceae

Antidesma ghaesembilla, Sekinchak, Euphorbiaceae

Begonia tuberosa, Tuberous begonia, Begoniaceae

Claoxylon polot, Rock blumea, Euphorbiaceae

Coleus tuberosus, African potato, Labiatae

Crypteronia paniculata, Sempoh, Lythraceae

Curcuma domestica, Turmeric, Zingiberaceae

Cymbopogon citratus, Lemon Grass, Graminae

Cyrtandra decurrens, Graminae

C. pendula, Rock sorrel, Graminae

Dendrobium salaccense, Cooking orchid, Orchidaceae

Derris heptaphylla, Seven finger, Leguminaceae

Elethariopsis sumatrana, Frangrant gingerwort, Zingiberaceae

Eugenia polyantha, White kelat, Myrtaceae

Evodia roxburghiana, Sour-relish wood, Rutaceae

Gymura procumbens, Akar, Compositae

Homalomena graffithii, Itch grass, Araceae

Hornstedtia, Tepus, Zingiberaceae

Horsfieldia sylvestris, Pendarahan, Myristicaceae

Kaempferia galanga, Chekur (Galangal), Zingiberaceae

Kaempferia rotunda, Kenchur, Zingiberaceae

Leucas lavandulifoia, Ketumbak, Labiatae

L. zeylanica, Ketumbak, Labaiatae

Limnophila aromatica, Swamp leaf, Scrophulariaceae

L. villosa

L. conferta

L. pulcherrima

L. rugosa

Lycium chinese, Kichi, Matrimony vine, Solanaceae

Lycopersicum esculentum, Tomato, Solanaceae

Medinilla crispata, Medinilla, Melastomataceae

M. hasseltii

M. radicans

Mentha longifolia, Longleaf mint, Labiatae

Murraya koenigii, Curry-leaf tree, Rutaceae

Nauclea esculenta, Pincushion, Rubiaceae

Ocimum canum, Hoary basil, Labiatae

Oenanthe javanica, Shelum, Umbelliferae

Ottelia alismoides, Pojnd lettuce, Hydrocharitaceae

Oxalis corniculata, Sorrel, Oxalidaceae

Pilea melastomoides, Sweet nettle, Urticaceae

Piper lolot, Pepper leaf, Piperaceae

P. caducibracteum

P. umbellatum

Pistacia lentiscus, Pistachio resin tree, Anacardiaceae

Pluchea indica, Indian sage, Comppositae

Polygonum hydropiper, Water polygonum, Polygonaceae

Staurogyne elongata, Cross flower, Acanthaceae

Trachyspermum involucratum, Wild celery, Umbelliferae

Agroforestry species database from the World Agroforestry Center

The World Agroforestry Center recently announced and released a new multi-database search engine, or switchboard for information on Agroforestry species.

The 13 websites the Switchboard links to include The Plant Resources for Tropical AfricaThe Useful Tree Species for AfricaTree Seed Suppliers DirectoryThe UNEP-WCMC Species Database,  and The VECEA interactive vegetation map. In addition to directly harnessing information from these 13, the switchboard also provides hyperlinks to The Plant List,  Tropicos,  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and The Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The Switchboard’s main strength is that it shortens the time and energy spent on searches, and generates quality information drawn from trusted sources,” says Roeland Kindt, the senior ecologist at ICRAF who led the development of the tool. “Its creation was driven by a need expressed by users, for a “one-stop-shop” for good quality and detailed information on species of interest,” says Kindt.

Users can search for information in two ways:

– See more at:

Averrhoa carambola - Starfruit, carambola


The Starfruit is from Malaysia and Indonesia, now common throughout tropical Asia and the neo-tropics. Most of the world’s commercial cultivation occurs in Brazil, the West Indies, and Malaysia.


Averrhoa carambola.jpg

The fruit, as the name would suggest, is shaped like a star. There are multiple varieties of Starfruit, both sweet and sour. Sweet varieties tend to be lighter in color and smaller, about five inches long and three inches wide. Sour varieties are larger and more orange in color.

Starfruit is especially rich in Vitamins A, B, C, phosphorus and calcium. The vitamin C content is comparable to that of an orange. Each fruit contains between 8 – 10 % sugar.

In addition to the fruit the flower and leaves are edible. 


Averrhoa carambola flower.jpg

Starfruit can be propagated easily from seed. Germinate seeds in a well drained soil mix. Trees are often grafted to preserve selected varieties. The grafted carambola can be quite small, compact and heavily bearing, usually no larger then 12 m high. Grafted trees will begin to bear fruit when just a few feet tall. Grafted trees can be managed at four meters and, in favorable conditions, bear so much fruit the branches will break if they aren’t harvested.



Averrhoa bilimbi - Bilimbi


Averrhoa bilimbi ripe fruit.

Averrhoa bilimbi ripe fruit.

The Bilimbi originated in Indonesia and is now dispersed throughout the tropics although still not very common.


In the Philippines, where it is commonly found in backyards, the fruits are eaten either raw or dipped in rock salt. It can be either curried or added as a souring agent for common Filipino dishes such as sinigang and paksiw. The uncooked bilimbi is prepared as relish and served with rice and beans in Costa Rica. In the Far East, where the tree originated, it is sometimes added to curry. Bilimbi juice (with a pH of about 4.47) is made into a cooling beverage. In Indonesia, it is added to some dishes, substituting for tamarind or tomato. 

Additionally, the fruit can be preserved by pickling, which reduces its acidity. The flowers are also sometimes preserved in sugar.

Leaves of young Bilimbi seedling.

Leaves of young Bilimbi seedling.

In another part of Indonesia, Aceh, it is preserved by sun-drying. The sun-dried bilimbi is called asam sunti. Bilimbi and asam sunti are popular in Acehnese cuisine. It can replace mango in making chutney. In Malaysia, it also is made into a rather sweet jam.

In Kerala and Bhatkal, India, it is used for making pickles and to make fish curry, especially with Sardines, while around Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa the fruit is commonly eaten raw with salt and spice. In Guyana, it is made into achars/pickles too.

In Seychelles, it is often used as an ingredient to give a tangy flavor to many Seychellois creole dishes, especially fish dishes. It is often used in grilled fish and also (almost always) in a shark meat dish, called satini reken. It is also used to make a delicious sauce for grilled ,that consists of chopped onion, chopped tomato ,chopped chili and cooked on low heat. It is a must in our local white fish broth " bouyon blan" When in season we also curred them with salt to be used when it is not available. (Source)

For most people, the Bilimbi is too acidic to be eaten raw, it is more commonly used in the preparation of marmalades, jellies, cooked with meat and fish, and used to make vinegars and juices. Many medicinal properties are attributed to Bilimbi (for colds, inflammation of the eyes and intestines, among others). The fruit can also be used to clean copper and iron due to its high content of calcium oxalate.

Bilimbi is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorous and iron.


The Bilimbi can be propagated easily from seed. As with Averrhoa carambola (starfruit), and many other tropical species, the seed can benefit from 24 hrs in their lightly fermenting fruit prior to sewing for germination. Bilimbi is less resistant to cold and drought than Starfruit. It is not particular to soil type but it won’t grow well higher than five hundred meters above sea level.

The Bilimbi typically begins to produce after four years of growth and continues to bare fruit year round, although I have gotten fruit from two year old seedling trees. 

Edible / Condiment leaf species of Southeast Asia.

The following is a list of species whose leaves are used as condiments in Southeast Asia. The list is not, by any means, complete, but includes some of the lesser known, more obscure species.

Acacia farnesianaCassie flower, Leguminaceae

Achronychia laurifoliaKetiak, Rutaceae

Aegle marmelosBael fruit, Rutaceae

Allium odorumChinese chives, Liliaceae

Ancistrocladus extensus, Ox-tongue, Dipterocarpaceae

Antidesma ghaesembillaSekinchak, Euphorbiaceae

Begonia tuberosaTuberous begonia, Begoniaceae

Claoxylon polotRock blumea, Euphorbiaceae

Coleus tuberosus, African potato, Labiatae

Crypteronia paniculata, Sempoh, Lythraceae

Curcuma domestica, Turmeric, Zingiberaceae

Cymbopogon citratusLemon Grass, Graminae

Cyrtandra decurrens, Graminae

C. pendulaRock sorrel, Graminae

Dendrobium salaccenseCooking orchid, Orchidaceae

Derris heptaphyllaSeven finger, Leguminaceae

Elethariopsis sumatranaFrangrant gingerwort, Zingiberaceae

Eugenia polyanthaWhite kelat, Myrtaceae

Evodia roxburghianaSour-relish wood, Rutaceae

Gymura procumbens, Akar, Compositae

Homalomena graffithiiItch grass, Araceae

HornstedtiaTepus, Zingiberaceae

Horsfieldia sylvestrisPendarahan, Myristicaceae

Kaempferia galangaChekur (Galangal), Zingiberaceae

Kaempferia rotundaKenchur, Zingiberaceae

Leucas lavandulifoiaKetumbak, Labiatae

L. zeylanicaKetumbak, Labaiatae

Limnophila aromaticaSwamp leaf, Scrophulariaceae

L. villosa

L. conferta

L. pulcherrima

L. rugosa

Lycium chineseKichi, Matrimony vine, Solanaceae

Lycopersicum esculentumTomato, Solanaceae

Medinilla crispataMedinilla, Melastomataceae

M. hasseltii

M. radicans

Mentha longifoliaLongleaf mint, Labiatae

Murraya koenigiiCurry-leaf tree, Rutaceae

Nauclea esculentaPincushion, Rubiaceae

Ocimum canumHoary basil, Labiatae

Oenanthe javanicaShelum, Umbelliferae

Ottelia alismoides, Pojnd lettuce, Hydrocharitaceae

Oxalis corniculataSorrel, Oxalidaceae

Pilea melastomoidesSweet nettle, Urticaceae

Piper lolotPepper leaf, Piperaceae

P. caducibracteum

P. umbellatum

Pistacia lentiscusPistachio resin tree, Anacardiaceae

Pluchea indicaIndian sage, Comppositae

Polygonum hydropiperWater polygonum, Polygonaceae

Staurogyne elongataCross flower, Acanthaceae

Trachyspermum involucratumWild celery, Umbelliferae

Murraya koenegii - Curry Tree


The curry tree originated in India and Sri Lanka where it is widely cultivated. The species has been an important part of Indian culture for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Used as a traditional medicine, for flavoring, and as a fruit.

Over the centuries the tree has been introduced to many tropical and subtropical areas of the world by Indian immigrants who will use it daily as an essential part of their cuisine.

Curry tree is well known in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, however it remains rare and unexploited in the Americas. Curry tree is closely related to the East Asian mock orange (M. paniculata, previously M. exotica).


Rutaceae, Murraya koenegii fruit leaf.jpeg

M. koenigii serves as excellent evergreen living fence, windbreaks. The wood is very resistant and is used to make tool handles and such. The leaves and bark and fruit have numerous medicinal properties. The fruit is edible and sweet and the leaves and seeds contain an aromatic oil used in perfumes.

In my experience, people familiar with many realms of Asian cuisine are always very excited to see this tree. The leaf is essential for flavoring in many dishes.

Trees flower and fruit profusely, multiple times a year. The flowers are very fragrant, attracting honey bees and hummingbirds. Larger trees create a nice dappled shade.


Rutaceae Murraya koenigii leaf flower.jpg

Curry tree can be propagated easily and quickly from seed. The tree grows in tropical and subtropical climates up to 1,800 meters above sea level and requires well drained soils. It seems to be reasonably drought tolerant.  Once in the ground the tree grows rapidly.

Stelechocarpus burahol - Kepel fruit


Stelechocarpus burahol fruit.jpg

Stelechocarpus burahol is closely related to such species as guanabana (soursop), Biriba (Rollinia deliciosa), Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba) and Ylang Ylang. Burahol (kepel fruit, or keppel apple) is a rare and endangered member of the Anonaceae family, originating in southeast Asia, more specifically Indonesia where, it is said, cultivation is unfortunately becoming less and less common. The tree has been introduced into Honduras and Florida. In Indonesia the fruit is the object of investigation for eventual use as a perfume.

The fruit is born on the trunk of the tree. They take a while to ripen. You know the fruit is ready to harvest when you peel away some skin with your nail and it is orange underneath (rather than green). I have found one mature, productive tree growing in Panama, where it seems to do very well. Despite this it is by no means commonly grown. Whenever I have the opportunity, I collect and propagate seed.

The tree grows up to 20 meters tall, with a straight trunk, brilliant foliage, spectacular bright pink leaves that flush out all at once over the entire tree.

Pinkish cream colored flowers bloom in abundance directly out of the truck and develop into fruits the size of a small orange. The fruit has a brown, leathery skin and contains numerous, l0ng, oval seeds in a creamy, light orange flesh.


Stelechocarpus burahol new leaf.jpg

Kepel fruit is edible and of a very agreeable flavor, aromatic, with undertones of coconut. It is said that the consumption of this fruit will perfume ones excretions (such as urine or sweat) with the smell of violets.

The Kepel tree is considered to be one of the most beautiful of all tropical ornamental/fruit trees.


Kepel fruit grows in a hot, humid climate and can be planted at sea level, up to 300 m. It is propagated from seed, which typically germinate quickly, but can take up to 12 months to develop the seedling shoot. The tree will begin to bear fruit in around eight years and produces year round.

I am curious if there has been any success grafting this species? Any comments to that effect would be greatly appreciated.

Mangifera indica - Mango

Mangos, thought to be native of somewhere in South East Asia, have been in cultivation for well over four thousand years. Due to their ability to live in a variety of habitats, hundreds of cultivars have spread all throughout the tropical world. Some varieties even tolerate short winters and a light frost. Mangos are widely cultivated in tropical Africa, India, the PacificIslands, throughout tropical regions of Latin America, and in the warmer parts of Australia, California and Florida.  

Mangos vary greatly in fruit size, texture and quality, ranging from smaller than an apricot to five pound grafted varieties. Most mangos have a large seed covered in fiber. Superior Mango varieties are often considered to be those with less fiber and a smaller seed. Seedless varieties do exist as well as varieties with extremely small, thin seeds.  Although mangos can be found in a variety of tropical climates, in Panama they seem to thrive best in the dry tropical regions of the Pacific coast where there are two alternating wet and dry seasons. Often the origin of the Mango will determine its climate and soil preference, however, varieties adapted to the wet, humid tropics can be grafted onto a rootstalk from a dry adapted variety, and vice versa. Grafting mangos is beneficial for many reasons. A tree grown from seed can take twenty five years or more to bear fruit, and when it finally does, the quality of the fruit cannot be ensured. Additionally the seedling tree grows up to be an extremely large tree, with branches so high up it is often difficult to harvest all of the fruit. Grafted mango trees are dwarfed and will begin to bear fruit as early as two years after grafting. It can beneficial to remove the first flowers on a grafted tree so the tree can save its energy. Additionally, with grafted trees, one cultivar can be cloned onto a suitable rootstalk thus ensuring the quality of the fruit. Because grafted trees are dwarfs, they can be planted closer together and their branches can be trained laterally so as to enable easy harvest.

Mangos are related to both Poison Ivy (Rhus sp.) and Cashew. Some varieties have been reported to have highly irritant properties. The sap of some species has been reported to cause blistering of the skin and inflammation of the eyes. Breathing the smoke of burning leaves and branches or even standing under the canopy of some mango trees can cause irritation. Thus it is important, as always, to treat Mangos with moderation, and become familiar with unique characteristics of the many different varieties.

Ebenaceae, Diospyros blancoi, velvet apple, mabolo

Mabolo, or velvet apple is an attractive tree, closely related to the persimmon and ebony.

As the English common name would suggest, the fruit is covered in a fine, velvety skin, usually reddish brown. Inside is a soft, creamy flesh with a unique taste and aroma. The species is native to the Philippines where the tree is referred to as kamagong. It is strictly a tropical tree, drought tolerant growing well in a wide variety of soils, from sea level to 2,400 feet. Planted from the seed the tree can take up to six years to bear fruit. Trees propagated from cuttings produce fruit in three to four years.