Sweet Leaf

Sauropus Androgynus

An important tropical staple its many names include katukstar gooseberrymani cai (马尼菜 China); cekur manis, sayur manis, or asin-asin (Malaysia); pak waan (Thailand); rau ngót (Vietnam). In Kerala-India it is called Malay cheera. Also known as peanut bush for its nutty flavoured leaves and tropical asparagus for its spring and summer top shoots which are the tastiest part of the plant.

Sweet leaf is one of the most important greens in the tropics. It is tasty, nutritious, productive and tolerates extremes of heat and humidity. It can be knocked flat in a storm and then stands up once the storm is over. Annual greens can't compete. Its one failing is that it wilts soon after picking which makes it hard to get to market and keep presentable but this does not stop the Malay's. Can be seen often in Malaysian markets. Don't let it's wilted appearance put you off, it will still cook up well.

Can be eaten raw but young leaves and tips are best in salads and older leaves cooked. Can be frozen for storage. Can also be dried and is easily crushed and sprinkled over your dinner as a garnish, very tasty.

When harvesting cut the canes in 15 to 20cm lengths, remove the leaves and the canes can be replanted. The plant with its roots is difficult to transplant but the cuttings grow very easily. One plant picked and planted this way can become a large productive patch of greens in a relatively short time.

Can be recognised by its berries which can be white or salmon pink when ripe. The berries can be eaten like peas when they are small and pea sized.

Can also be grown from seed but cuttings are quickest to produce. In spring its fast growth makes beautiful asparagus like top shoots that are easily broken off for a salad or cooking.

Can be cooked like any green, here is my favourite tropical recipe. Boil up leaves and tips with some onion and casava in coconut water. Take off boil and add coconut cream, chilli and soy sauce to taste. Delicious! Couldn't be more simple. I have lived on this dish. The smell of sweet leaf cooking is a savory delight.

I have read that there can be medical side effects from eating to much sweet leaf but I have eaten masses of it and only wanted more.

Left. It's not easy to find a meal of sweet leaf for sale in Thailand but you can try it, in season, at the Chatuchak farmers market in Bangkok. A simple dish of sweet leaf tops (pak waan), tofu and noodles.

Some gardeners prefer to keep sweet leaf as a single short upright plant which they maintain by breaking off canes when harvesting. It can grow into canes 2m high which then fall over and creep along the ground growing up and then falling over again. It can become a big patch. 

The long canes can be weighed down with branches which makes them sprout shoots along the canes creating a big bush.

It can have problems with spiral white fly. Remove affected leaves and put them in the compost.

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