Wild pepper, cha plu, sirih dudu, daun kaduk
Origin: Thailand and Vietnam
PLANT DESCRIPTION What is not to love about this plant.? A fabulous looking emerald green sprawler that loves the shade – AND YOU CAN EAT IT TOO!
THIS PLANT IS NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH Betel pepper which is chewed with betel nut – a nut from the arica palm – beloved by the poor in most Asian countries. It is a mild narcotic which is chewed and then spat out producing a lot of red spittle and red gummy smiles.
This plant looks very similar, but has smaller leaves. It is an evergreen perennial creeper to 90cm. It has shiny, heart-shaped leaves with small white flower spikes. It prefers a rich, well-drained soil with partial shade. It likes to be kept fairly moist but will tolerate some drying out. It makes a good groundcover under trees ( I have it around my banana plants) in subtropical and tropical areas.
It grows vigorously in the right position and because of its habit of rooting from nodal joints, can spread fairly rapidly. But, I see this as a bonus and it is not hard to control.
The mildly peppery leaves are popular in South East Asian cooking, mostly used raw, but sometimes cooked. Typically, the young, tender leaves are used to wrap bite sized mouth-fulls of prawns with coconut and lime chilli dressing – ‘mieng kum’ in Thailand. But, you could use anything from shredder duck to tofu. The leaves have a pleasing crunch and then just seem to melt.
Soaking the leaves in water for two hours with a little sugar subtly alters the flavour. I use them shredded in a green papaya salad.
The very attractive leaves are also commonly used as a base to line platters with foods arranged on top – using the leaves to pick up and pop in the mouth – because, I have to repeat this as a lot of folk are sceptical – the leaves are edible.
Here I have used the betel leaf for an entree platter, topped with stir fried prawn, green mango, toasted coconut with a lime, chilli, palm sugar and fish sauce dressing.
The white flower spikes develop into a small fruit that is also edible. Betel leaf has many traditional medicine uses.
Recommended Planting Time: It is easy to propagate from cutting during the warmer months of the year.
Planting Depth: You will see, from the photo below that runners of Betel Leaf readily root from the growing points (nodes) – which are easy to cut and propagate. Plant the rooted cutting to a depth of about 25cm in a rich well drained soil. It grows vigorously in the warmer months and becomes semi-dormant during the colder months.
Frost: Cold nights and frost will kill the leaves, but not the plant. It is possible to grow Betel Leaf in a hanging basket inside in colder areas.
For me, this plant ticks many boxes – it looks great, is easy to grow, pest free and YOU CAN EAT IT. Give it a go – you won’t be sorry