The search for tropical salad leaves

Mesclun salad mix - already being attacked by leaf miners.

Mesclun salad mix – already being attacked by leaf miners.

When we think about salads, the first things that come to mind are those leafy greens like rocket, lettuces and mesclun mixes. I think most of us want to grow what we like to eat – but some of those things just don’t grow well in our tropical climate.

I’ve tried growing these salad leaves. They start out fairly well, but when they get bigger, our hot, humid weather seems to sap the strength out of them. In my experience, when this happens, pests are attracted to the struggling plants, and then it goes downhill from there. I came to the conclusion that these plants are probably best grown as microgreens.

In the meantime, though, I still want to grow leafy plants that we can eat raw like salad leaves.

My friend Mother Weed (not her real name :-D ) gave me some cuttings of cranberry hibiscus or false roselle. I had heard of this plant, but not seen it before. The pretty red leaves made me think that it would be more of an ornamental plant, but tasting them changed my mind. They were tart and a bit sourish – not unpleasant, and something I wouldn’t mind mixed in a salad. I think it also serves well as a palate cleanser. Best of all, I can “graze” on it as I go around the garden, which is what I ideally want of plants growing in our garden.

Cranberry hibiscus or false roselle - I love those burgundy leaves!

Cranberry hibiscus or false roselle – I love those burgundy leaves!

I’ve also heard good things about the moringa plant, known locally as the drumstick tree or keloh. We usually eat the seed pods, cut in short lengths and added to curries. However, I didn’t realise that the leaves are nutritious too. They are so packed with nutrients that it is hailed as a superfood and is used to combat malnutrition in third world countries. I recently obtained a cutting and am awaiting its growth.

Yet another local salad consideration is the sweet leaf bush, also known here as chukur manis. I recently learned that it’s also called katuk, and that has put to rest one curiosity for me after watching a few videos on Youtube about this intriguingly named plant. Our neighbours kindly provided a few stem cuttings that didn’t take long to take root. More people prefer to eat it cooked than raw.

I’m sure there are many other similar salad plants that grow locally, and hope to find more. The search continues…

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