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Sauropus androgynus (L.) Merr. 1903
pronounced: SOUR-oh-puss an-DROJ-ih-nuss
(Phyllanthaceae – the phyllanthus family)
common name: Sweet Leaf
Sauropus is from the Greek σαυρος (sauros), a lizard, and πους (pous), a foot; androgynus is from ανδρογυνος (androgynos), hermaphrodite, androgynous.
Sweet Leaf is one of the most popular leaf vegetables of southern Asia. In Malaysia it is a wild perennial herb, and it has been used there (especially in Borneo) for many years; it was introduced into India in the 1950s. It is prolific, heavy yielding, nutritious and appetizing. It is a bush with upright multiple stems, growing to about 2.5 m high, with alternate dark green, oval leaves 5 – 6 cm long. Flat round orange to red flowers form in the leaf axils, on the underside. In tropical climates, a small purplish fruit capsule forms, with small black seeds. In subtropical climates, the bushes will flower, but rarely set seed.
The leaves and the top 15 cm or so of the stem tips have a sweet pleasant taste, similar to fresh garden peas, with a slightly nutty flavour. The young leaves are normally eaten raw in salads, and the older leaves steamed, or added to stir-fry, rice and egg dishes, soups or casseroles. Eating fully mature leaves should be avoided, as they contain the alkaline papaverine. The leaves retain their colour and firm texture when cooked. The flowers and fruits can also be eaten. Leaf shoots are also dipped in a light tempura batter and fried, to be served with fish or chicken.
The plant grows easily either from seed or from cuttings of soft wood, and will tolerate full sun or semi-shade. It should be watered well during establishment (it is said not to taste sweet unless this is done) and then about once a week. It should be cut back a couple of times a year. It can, in fact, be cut back right to the ground if desired, and it will resprout with fresh young leaves.
Chickens do well with the leaves of this plant in their diet, and will produce eggs with a vibrant orange yolk.
A poultice made from the leaves is used in some places to treat fevers and ulcers. Snoring and teeth grinding during sleep are thought by some to be cured by eating Sweet Leaf regularly. There is some evidence, however, that eating too much of the plant can cause pain in the limbs and headaches.
In eastern Asia, the bushes are often planted close together to form a food hedge around the house, and, with regular cutting for eating, the hedge is well maintained.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2013
Page last updated 19th February 2018