Pak Tamlueng or Ivy Gourd: Natural Medicine That Literally Grows Like A Weed

by Marike van Breugel

I had started pulling the invasive creeper out by fistfuls before I even saw them: small cucumber-like fruits hiding behind the leaves.

The extremely vigorous vine was choking out my pretty double blue butterfly pea on the side fence. I enjoy to gather and dry blue butterfly flowers (in Thai called Dok Anchan) for herbal teas. Not wanting to harm my pretty Clitoria ternatea, I had discarded my usual machete, and was pulling it out by hand instead.

“C’mon have a look at this!” I called out to my 15 year old Thai daughter. “You think they’re edible?”
After a brief look-see and shrugged shoulders, my daughter picked one, snapped a few pics and went off to ask our Thai staff. And the answer came back unequivocally: “Cannot eat. Thai people not eat.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 17 years here in Asia, it’s that we western people glorify “local knowledge” and assume local Thai people just know. I have learned, over and over, that oral culture may be traditional and worth preserving for some reasons, but often it’s like Chinese whispers: i.e. the ‘knowledge’ that is passed from one generation to the next is sometimes blatantly wrong. And this day was one of those times. It took me not more than 5 minutes on a search engine to identify my vigorous “weed”.

Coccinea Grandis. Commonly called the Ivy Gourd. In Thai: ผักตำลึง Phak tamlueng (Central); แคเด๊าะ Khae-do (Karen-Mae Hong Son); ผักแคบ Phak khaep (Northern). A potent natural medicine which grows right across the equatorial-tropical regions from Africa to Australia. Common, well studied, thoroughly edible and a potent natural medicine.

The fascinating thing is that this fruit-plant is SO WIDELY used across many countries, it’s really quite bewildering how our Thai staff immediately declared it inedible – especially in light of the fact that Thai people eat EVERYTHING and think nothing of eating cockroaches, spiders, ants eggs and weevils. LOL. You gotta wonder.

So what to do when life gives you lemons? Right. Use them.

My reading thus far has suggested two simple uses I’m going to try. The first is a simple raw probiotic salt pickle from the immature green fruits with a few young leaves added. And the second? I’m going to let some ripen and then use them to make a spicy Indian chutney, together with tomato.

Stay tuned for follow up “how to” posts, and our verdict as we eat the Natural Medicine abundance from our “weed filled” old organic Thai garden. Appreciating the endless discoveries.

Instagram: @purethainaturals

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