Wild edible plants and fruits are easily found in Thailand once you know what you are looking for. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.
These leafy plants and flowers are among the most prevalent in this category, such as agasta, sesbania, neem, banana blossoms, pumpkin blossoms, coccinia grandis and pandanus leaves. For example, Thai desserts often contain boiled pandanus leaves and sesbania flowers steamed together with ground coconut and palm sugar. Alloy mak!
When you introduce wild edible plants, edible weeds and fruits to your diet, you will not only increase your range of vitamins, trace mineral and countless medicinal benefits, but also discover new flavours you wouldn’t normally experience from supermarket products.
Most people have a limited range of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets, mainly due to modern farming and transportation methods. Much of the food produced by big Ag is also nutrient deficient. When you grow your own or forage for edible wild plants, the availability is almost endless.
One mans weed is another mans salad! When it comes to food, nutritional density and diversity is the spice of life!
Foraging for Wild Edible Food
I’ve often seen local Thais in the hedgerows foraging for wild food and edible weeds, but never knew what they were collecting.
Lately, I’ve took it on myself to self-educate my way round wild edible plants. The more I look, the more I find. There really is an abundance of edible plants here and I doubt that I’ve even scratched the surface yet.
Below, I share some wild edible plants and fruits I’ve discovered in our permaculture garden, down on the farm and beside the local roads while walking the dogs.
Identifying Wild Edible Plants Correctly
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Many plants have poisonous lookalikes or have only selective edible parts. It’s important to identify the plant you are going to eat raw or cook. One incorrect ID could end up being your last meal.
Today there are a number of plant identification apps available for your mobile phone. While they have their place and certainly help, identifying plants with an app is not 100% accurate, not to risk your life on them anyway.
Seek out a local field guide who can take you on a forage in the woods and hedgerows to discover and identify the plants that are wild and edible in your area.
Read books, search online and talk to the old folk in your area. Their knowledge of the local wild edible species is invaluable and needs to be preserved. Acquire that knowledge and then share it with your friends and family.
The History and Cultural Significance of Foraging for Wild Edible Plants in Thailand
The history and cultural significance offor edible plants in Thailand are closely tied to the country’s history and traditions. For many centuries, people in Thailand have relied on wild plants as a source of food, medicine, and other resources.
Foraging foredible plants was an part of daily life for many rural communities, and these plants were regularly incorporated into traditional dishes and remedies. Today, foraging for edible plants is still an part of Thai culture and is often seen as a way to connect with nature and the country’s heritage. Many people in Thailand continue to for wild plants as a source of food, medicine, and other resources, and this tradition is often passed down through generations.
The Role of Foraging in Sustainable and Self-sufficient Living Practices
Foraging for wild edible plants can play a role in sustainable and self-sufficient living practices by providing a source of food and other resources that is not reliant on modern agriculture or transportation systems. Byfor wild plants, individuals and communities can reduce their reliance on grocery stores and other sources of food that may be processed, chemically treated, or transported long distances.
Foraging can also help to diversify the diet and provide access to a wider range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. In addition, foraging can help to reduce waste and make use of resources that may otherwiseto waste, such as weeds or plants that are considered undesirable. Overall, foraging can be an invaluable part of a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle, to decrease reliance on external resources and promoting a more holistic and eco-friendly approach to living.
Wild Edible Plants in My Neighbourhood
Hibiscus flowers not only bring in beneficial insects and sun birds to any garden, they are also edible and have a cranberry-like flavour with totally tropical notes
Chopped hibiscus flowers add a tangy taste to any salad. They are also made into iced tea or infused into other cold drinks.
Roselle or Red Sorrel
Roselle is also in the Hibiscus family. All Hibiscus flowers are edible. And can be eaten raw or made into a refreshing cold drink or hot tea. You can also eat the leaves.
From a nutritional view, roselle contains good amounts of carbohydrates, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and trace amounts of vitamin A and B2.
Nipa Palm Fruit
Nipa palms grow profusely along our local river banks and grows freely in brackish water and even mangroves.
The fruit of the palm nut isn’t the easiest thing to get to but when you do, it’s worth it.
The sweet jelly-like fruit is more commonly consumed as a Thai dessert but is equally delicious on its own.
The River Tamarind AKA Lead Tree is common around Thailand.
The shoots, young pods and young leaves are all edible and are often eaten raw with chilli paste. The uncooked leaves are strong due to the tannic acid and taste better cooked.
Bilimbi is a small sour fruit that is available throughout the year. It is said to have a wide variety of medicinal properties such as eliminating phlegm, reducing body heat and also have anti-inflammatory properties too.
Bilimbi in the Oxalidaceae family of herbaceous plants, and contains oxalic acid, which surprisingly is very good for removing rust.
I personally like to dry the fruit and eat them as a healthy snack.
Hairy Fruited Eggplant
The hairy fruited eggplant (Solanum ferox) is a shrub that can be found in the wild across Asia. The plant has also been domesticated and produces larger fruit with less thorny prickles.
In Thailand this yellow fruit with a light green center is made into a sauce called ‘nam prek’.
Wild figs are rich in beta carotene, vitamin A, C, E and K, with additional minerals such as iron, calcium, copper, potassium, zinc, phosphorus.
I bought this fig tree (photo above) for our garden as an ornamental but soon discovered many more growing wild locally on my walks
. Another fig has since self-set itself in our food forest.
Figs contain Tryptophan which helps with sleep by triggering the body to release serotonin.
Fig (Ficus) II
The young leaves of this particular ficus species are edible. They don’t have a strong taste. I’m sure they would have some nutritional value. They are plentiful, so they would be a good choice in a survival situation or if you are looking for extra leaves to wild up your salad.
Maprang AKA ‘Ma Yong’ in Thai, is a sour when green or very sweet when yellow and ripe wild fruit.
The leaves of the Maprang tree (Bouea macrophylla) are also edible. They contain a good amount of carbohydrate and are low in protein. It also has vitamin C, B Complex, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, and a trace of iron.
Not only are water lilies (Nymphaea pubescens) a beautiful sight to behold, but you can also eat most of them. The young leaves and unopened flower buds are edible but need boiling first.
The seeds are high in carbohydrates, amino acids, and oil. They can roast and then grind them into a flour if you wish. The roots of the water lily are also edible.
Every part of the sacred lotus flower is edible including the roots, stems, leaves and seeds.
The seeds can be eaten raw or popped like popcorn
Blue Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea) or ‘Dok Anchan’ in Thai makes a refreshing tea that has a calming effect.
When you add boiling water to the butterfly pea flowers it makes a lovely blue tea. If you then add a squeeze of lemon or lime, the PH value changes and makes it turn into a delicate pink/purple coloured tea.
Butterfly pea tea also has rich antioxidant properties that help boost your body’s natural immune system. They are great on a salad too.
Pandan Grass (Pandanus amaryllifolius) ‘Bai toey’ leaves in Thai are common in Thai kitchen gardens and on local markets.
The leaves can be boiled to make a refreshing sweet tea. An extract is made from the leaves and put in to assorted breads, snacks and even candles.
Assorted types of meat and fish are also wrapped in pandan leaves when grilling to add additional flavours.
Pandan leaves contain a little carbohydrate value, some C complex and B vitamins. It also has antioxidant and liver detoxing properties.
This is a wild native plant of Thailand but is also found in many gardens. It grows in abundance in moist area, especially near water.
Torch Ginger flowers (genus Etlingera) can be eaten when the buds are closed or partially closed and have a light, crisp, citrus flavour.
Torch ginger flowers come in a variety of colours from red to pink through to white. They are a good source of fiber and contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help boost the immune system.
The buds of torch ginger are the edible parts that also provide carbohydrates, antioxidants such as vitamin C and contain some magnesium, vitamin K and calcium.
Wild Betel Leaves
Wild Betel (Piperaceae family) is called ‘bai chaphlu’ in Thai. This green leaf is a key ingredient in a traditional Thai snack called ‘Miang kham’. The leaf is formed into a bowl and a mix of chopped chilies, onions, roasted coconut, dried shrimp, ginger, peanuts, and a sweet sauce are added. Each bite releases an explosion of flavours.
The Fishtail Palm’s inner core offers a sweet starch in the form of a carbohydrate along with a refreshing taste.
To obtain this bounty the tree has to be cut down to get at it. In Trat where we live, it is a very common plant and can be found on our farm and many dense hedgerows.
Taro is common plant found growing in the wilds of Thailand.
The root or corm is the part that you eat, although the stems and leaves are also edible. The stems and leaves must be cooked before consumption.
The taro root is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. One hundred grams of root contains about 26 grams of carbohydrate. This is about 20 percent of your recommended daily requirement.
Taro is also a good source of B-complex vitamins and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium.
The leaves, flowers, seeds, sprouts and roots of Wood Sorrel (family Oxalidaceae) are all edible. It is very similar in look and taste too clover.
Wood Sorrel is packed with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, lecithin, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, B2, B3, C and E.
Why not try some on your next salad.
The Turkey berry is a spiny, flowering shrub that produces clusters of yellow-green, pea-sized berries that are most often used in Thai green curries.
It is also reported the turkey berry contains many medicinal properties as well as a wide range of vitamins and minerals including: vitamin A & C, calcium, zinc, manganese and copper.
Ivy Gourd is a vine (Coccinia grandis) known as ‘Pak Tamlueng’ in Thai. The leaves, young shoots and even the berries are all edible. This wild edible plant is very common and it is used in popular Thai soups.
Wild bananas can be found in abundance across Thailand. The fruits can be small and full of hard black seeds between 1 and 2mm in diameter. If you can deal with the seeds you will have a good source of complex carbohydrates.
The flower of the banana plant, which is actually an herb, is also edible. The banana plant is 75% water, so in a survival situation you can cut the tree down near its base and scoop out a cup formation. It will self-fill with water which also contains electrolytes.
Coconuts grow abundantly in coastal regions and on land in poor quality soils. They are great source for fresh water and also prized for their meat or copra.
Coconut water contain Lauric acid, Chloride, and Iron, along with other essential electrolytes like Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, and Phosphorous.
The potassium content in coconut water is close to twice the total amount as found in a banana.
The dhobi tree (Mussaenda frondosa) is a rounded, evergreen shrub that grows between 2 to 3 metres in height.The plant is grown in Thai gardens as an ornamental and gathered from the wild for its edible leaves and medicinal benefits.
The white, leaf-like segment of the calyx is eaten as a salad vegetable.
Bamboo shoots are another wild edible plant easily found in Thailand. However, not all bamboo is edible and some taste better than others.
It’s important to note that before eating, bamboo shoots should be boiled for between 20 minutes to 2 hours to reduce the harmful compounds it contains, including cyanogenic glycosides. Boiling the shoots reduces taxiphyllin so you wont have any problems.
Also in a survival situation, cutting bamboo is an excellent source of fresh water.
I’m sure I’ve only started to discover a few of the many wild edible plants in Thailand. If you know of more, please share them in the comments section below.
As with any wild plant, fruit, berry, flowers, mushrooms or nuts, get expert advice to positive ID them before you eat them. Many plants look similar to one another.
Can you tell the difference between a toxic plant and and edible weed? Picking the wrong one to consume could result in experiencing mild stomach pains or even death.
We recently published a guide to the best plant identification apps, but even using these applications do show caution and if in doubt, go without!
Jim Kennedy‘s book ‘The Forager’s Harvest Bible‘ (click the image above) is a good to start and build your knowledge on where to locate, identify, harvest and prepare edible wild plants to eat.
Your Frequently Asked Questions… Answered
Is it Legal to Forage for Wild Edible Plants in Thailand?
It is generally legal to forage for wild edible plants in Thailand, as long as it is done on public land or with the permission of the landowner or village elder. However, it is critical to follow local laws and regulations, as some areas may have specific rules or restrictions on foraging.
How Do I Know if a Plant is Safe to Eat?
It is imperative to properly identify any plant before consuming it. This can be done by using plant identification guides or apps, or by consulting with a local field guide or expert. It is also a idea to start with small amounts of any new plant to test for any potential allergic reactions.
Can I Forage for Wild Edible Plants in Urban Areas in Thailand?
While it is generally easier to find wild edible plants in more rural or natural areas, it is possible to find some edible plants in urban areas as well. However, it is wise to be cautious when foraging in urban areas, as plants may have been exposed to pollution or other contaminants.
Can I Sell the Wild Edible Plants That I Collect in Thailand?
It is generally not legal to sell wild plants in Thailand without the appropriate permits and licenses. However, it may be possible to sell wild edible plants that you have grown or cultivated yourself.
What Should I Do if I am Unsure About the Safety of a Plant?
If you are unsure about the safety of a plant, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming it. You can also consult a local field guide or expert to help identify the plant and determine its edibility.
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Wild Edible Plants in Thailand