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.
When you introduce wild edible plants and fruits to your diet, you will not only increase your range of vitamins and trace mineral but 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. When you grow your own or forage for wild food, the availability is almost endless.
One mans weed is another mans salad. When it comes to food, diversity is the spice of life!
Foraging for Food
I’ve often seen local Thais in the hedgerows foraging for food 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 food 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.
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 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 the torch ginger 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 to 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’s 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 uses.
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 correctly identify them before you eat them. Many plants look similar to one another. Picking the wrong one to consume could result in experiencing mild stomach pains or even death.
On that dour note, happy foraging!
Wild Edible Plants in Thailand