Wednesday, April 16, 2014

San Vicente IS Series: Wild Food Plants

Papait, Saluyot and Others
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday
Papait (Mollogo oppositifolia) growing habit

Here is one for the book of Guinness. What is more bitter than ampalaya, Momordica charantia?

Answer: It is an unassuming slender, spreading, smooth, seasonal herb, Mollogo oppositifolia, a relative of a number of wild food plants belonging to Family Aizoaceae, locally known as papait (Iloko ), malagoso or sarsalida( tagalog), amargoso-damulag (Pampango).

Anyone who has tasted this green salad that goes well with bagoong and calamansi or vinegar, plus a lot of rice to counteract its bitter taste, would agree that papait is probably the bitterest of all vegetables. Ampalaya comes at its heels when you gauge the facial expressions of those who are eating them.

Papait belongs to the same family - Aizoaceae – as dampalit, talinum, gulasiman, spinach, and alugbati- all wild food plants.

As a farm boy I first saw papait growing on dry river beds, the very catchments of floodwater during monsoon. There along the length of a river that runs under an old wooden bridge( now a flood gate made of culvert) which divided the towns of San Vicente and Sta.Catalina then, three kilometers from the capital town of Vigan, grew patches of Mollogo. It is difficult identify it among weeds- and being a weed itself none would bother to gather it. Wild food plants do not have a place in the kitchen - and much less in the market - when there is a lot of conventional food around. I soon forgot the plant after I lelt my hometown for my college education in Manila. In fact it was not in the list of plants which Dr. Fernando de Peralta, a prominent botanist, required us in class to study. That was in the sixties.

It was by chance that I saw the plant again, this time in the market at Lagro QC where I presently reside. Curiosity and reminiscence prompted me to buy a bundle. It cost ten pesos. What came to my mind is the idea of cultivating wild food plants on a commercial scale. The potential uses of dozens of plants that are not normally cultivated could be a good business. They augment vegetables that are not in season, as well as provide a ready and affordable source of vitamins and minerals.
Annual plants start sprouting soon after the first heavy rain ushering the arrival of the monsoon habagat. It seems that this year’s summer is short. In some places rains have started. A proof for this is the early appearance of papait in the market. From it I planted a few hills of papait in the backyard in anticipation for the May and June season which greatly favors the growth of annual plants.

For its food value, I found it in the book of my former professor, Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing, Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, and from that of William H. Brown, Useful Plants of the Philippines. As fresh food, it contains, among others
  • Phosphorus, 0.11%
  • Calcium, 0.11%
  • Iron, 0.003%
Its bitter taste, old folks say, is good for skin. And it makes the skin "glow" for reasons we have yet to know other than its high vitamin and mineral contents. It is also good for those who have problems with high cholesterol and diabetes. Of course, the general rule in whatever we take is that, let’s take it with moderation.

Its bitterness is associated with bitter medicine, an impression most of us have. And yet many relish the taste of papait. It reminds us also of the sacrifice at Golgotha. Take a bite of Mollogo.~

In my research I found out that a number of popular wild edible species are related to Mollogo. They all belong to Family Aizoaceae. In one way or the other, the readers of this article may find the following plants familiar, either because they are indigenous in their locality, or they are found being sold in the market.

Lemon Grass or tanglad (Baraniw Ilk) and Sorosoro or karimbuaya (Ilk) are the most popular spices to stuff lechon - baboy, baka, manok, and big fish like bangus.

Tanglad - Andropogon citratus DC
These are wild plants that do not need cultivation; they simply grow where they are likely useful, indeed an evidence of co-evolution of a man-plant relationship. Tradition and culture evolve this way. Scientists elevated this knowledge to what is called ethnobotany, a subject in the graduate school. Retrieving and conserving traditional knowledge is as important as beating a new path.

For tanglad, all you have to do is gather the mature leaves, sometimes roots, make them into a fishful bundle and pound it to release the aromatic volatile oil. Stuff the whole thing into the dressed chicken or pig or calf to be roasted (lechon). Chop the leaves when broiling fish. Crushed leaves are used to give a final scrub. Tanglad removes the characteristic odor (malansa) and imparts a pleasant aroma and taste.

Tanglad is also used to spice up lemonade and other mixed drinks. It is an excellent deodorizer for bathrooms and kitchen. It is also used in the preparation of aromatic bath.

Soro-soro or Karimbuaya (Ilk) Euphorbia neriifolia

Not so many perople know that sorosoro makes an excellent stuff for lechon. The mature leaves are chopped tangential and stuffed into the dressed chicken or bangus for broiling.It has high oil content in its milky sap. It leaves a pleasant taste and it serves as a salad itself. It has a slight sour taste. Like tanglad, sorosoro removes the characteristic flesh and fishy odor. Add chopped ginger, onion and garlic as may be desired.

One word of caution: The fresh sap of sorosoro may cause irritation of the eye and skin. Wash hands immediately. Better still, use kitchen gloves.


Perhaps the first wild food plant placed under commercial cultivation is saluyot (Corchorus olitorius ). The technology lies in breaking the dormancy of its seeds, which under natural condition, will not germinate until after the first strong rain. Today saluyot can be grown anytime of the year and is no longer confined among the Ilocanos. It is exported to Japan in substantial volume. Doctors have found saluyot an excellent - and safer - substitute to Senecal for slimming and cleansing.                                 Saluyot (Corchorus olitorius)

Wild varieties of ampalaya (Momordica charantia), eggplant (Solanum melongena), patani (Phaseolus lunatus), and the male flower of himbaba-o or alukong (Ilk)
Gulasiman or ngalog (Ilk)
                                                      Bagbagkong flowers
Edible fern (pako)

Dampalit (Portulaca sp)

Talinum (Talinum triangulare)
  • DampalitSesuvium portulacastrum- it is found growing along the beach, around fishpond and in estuarine areas. It is prepared as salad or made into pickles.
  • New Zealand Spinach, Tetragonia expansa- it is known as Baguio spinach. It is sold as salad vegetable. The leaves are fleshly and soft, typical to other members of the family.
  • Gulasiman, Portolaca oleracea- also known as purslane, a common weed cosmopolitan in distribution, rich in iron, calcium and high in roughage. Cooked as vegetable or served as salad.
  • Talinum, Talinum triangulare- a fleshy herb that grows not more than a foot tall. It is excellent for beef stew and sinigang. It was introduced into the Philippines before W W II.
  • Libato, Basella rubra- it is also called alugbati, a climbing leafy vegetable that is much used in stews. It makes a good substitute to spinach. The young leaves and shoots are gathered, and when cooked the consistency is somewhat mucilaginous.
Dampalit (Sesuvium portulacastrum) is found growing along beaches, around fishponds and in estuarine areas. It is prepared as salad or made into pickles.

Living with Nature, AVR

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