I came face to face with 5 wild herbs in Brunei recently. I was attending the "Pesta Ulam Ulaman' , or, the festival of herbs. The Malay word 'ulam' means an appetising herb that is also medicinal , that is eaten together alongside a regular meal.
It was not a first meeting with these herbs. I am acquainted with each and know where to get them, even in urban Singapore. Apparently, many young people of Brunei are not so acquainted with these traditional medicinal herbs that their grandparents ate, and instead are very partial to a more western diet , which is contributing to the obesity epidemic.
I was invited by the Brunei Ministry of Agriculture to present a series of talks at the festival to highlight the ways people can use these herbs in their daily lives and diet.
Eating a side dish of ulam at meals or drinking herb or spiced teas can make a difference in addressing may chronic ailments like constipation, bloating, indigestion or acne. Small steps to include these foods along side a family’s meal can make a more healthier and happier family.
ULAM RAJAH ( Cosmos caudatus )
A pleasing taste that reminds me of biting into a green mango fruit. The herb has an astringent after taste which feels like the mouth is being cleaned. Eaten together with other dishes, especially oily food, it seems to lessen the effect of grease. The Malay culture in Brunei and Malaysia have used the herb in their cuisine as an appetiser and ulam along with their meals. I shred some of the attractive leaves on vegetable salads and fruit salads. The herb has a good amount of nourishment like vitamins, minerals and essential anti-oxidents.
PUCUK PAKIS ( Wild Fern )
This species is one of a few species of ferns that is enjoyed in stir fries. It is not eaten raw, as it has a slight mucus texture. Also , some species are said to be indigestible raw. I sprinkled a few chopped heads into a mixed salad with a strong dressing of garlic, limes, palm sugar, ginger and coconut oil. It worked well, the ferns sounding a nice crunch when eating the salad. The fern is harvested on the fringes of jungles and along mountain sides. It boasts a good supply of omega 3 fatty acids and a good amount of minerals.
CASHEW SHOOTS ( Anacarduim occidentale )
I had never eaten these shoots before my visit to Brunei 2 weeks ago. I was impressed with the neat bundles of fragile looking young shoots. They looked easy to eat, soft and meaty, much like blanched green cabbage leaves. In Brunei, the shoots are slightly blanched and eaten with a chilli dip. Every meal time at various tables, a varied selection of ulam were spread on a platter with a dipping sauce of chilli and shrimp paste, called belachan. I read in a book, " Herbs of malaysia" that 100 grams of the leaves can provide at least 35kcal of energy. So it is a useful herb that also has all added important minerals and enzymess for good digestion.
DAUN PEGAGA ( Gotu Kola )
A popular herb that is a regular on most tables at meal times in some homes. The sad fact remains, that today, most modern people in South Asian countries like Brunei, are oblivious to the natural remedy that this herb affords. Firstly, Ayurveda recommends its use to cut down the sugar in blood ( diabetes ) and consider it as superior brain food that improves memory. I love the slightly bitter taste that is a good balance for rich foods. It is an excellent digestive improving the passage of food through the gut.
SAYUR BEREMI ( Purslane )
The plant is a close relative of the ornamental called, Japanese Rose. The taste is bland , much like a starchy and slimy vegetable. But it is much appreciated herb in Malaysia in a Nonya stir fry dish. Another plant that is not eaten raw. I tasted it after learning of its powerful healing properties. Blanched, it has a delicate bitter taste. This is it, the bitterness denotes a medicinal property. Stock full of anti-oxidants and minerals, it keeps blood quality at alkaline and helps reduce sugar in the blood.
All wild plants fit for the table and a great asset to one's health.