Always interesting to talk about edible plants in Indonesia. The abundance of plant species in Indonesia is one of the greatest blessings for peoples who live here. Without a doubt, here we have a wise word that mentions Indonesia as gemah ripah loh jinawi nation. The meaning of this sentence is a nation with fertile land and sufficient food and peace and prosperity.

The Origin of Diversity

Geographically, Indonesia is located between two continents and two oceans. Because of the location, Indonesia becomes a crossing point for some civilizations. From the east to the west and vice versa. As a result, a lot of interaction and also traffic of human (including plant materials) which contribute to the recent diversity we have.

genetic diversity hot spot
Indonesia as a hot spot for world genetic diversity

In fact, Indonesia becoming a crossroads of world trade routes. The path between east and west. In fact, trading activities also contribute to the exchange of plants between regions for various reasons.

Intensive agricultural activities also became a reason, why the plants become more diverse. Gradually lines/cultivars have been exchanging and introducing among regions, and finally slowly taking place and contribute to the variation.

legionbotanica
Spice Trading route Between The Ottomans Empire And Indonesia

Another factor is Indonesian territory as an archipelago. The islands of Sumatra, Java, and Kalimantan have similarities to mainland Asia. Sulawesi is the intermediate region. And finally, the eastern islands are more similar to Australia.

Types of Edible Plants in Indonesia

What about the types of edible plants in Indonesia?. Generally speaking, is always interesting to talk about edible plants in survival conditions. especially because of the species abundance, and many food choices. Finally, we will realize that the plants are not only bamboo, banana, and coconut

Edible plants in Indonesia can generally be divided into several criteria. Of course, the classification is not scientifically based. It is only to make it easier for ordinary people. Easier to understand and memorize the edible plants in Indonesia. The classification is not standard and very subjective, of course.

Plant vs Crop

In Indonesian language, we found tumbuhan and tanaman. Luckily there is the same term in English. The term tumbuhan or plants refers to the plants in general. While tanaman or crops are plants that are deliberately cultivated

Cultivated crops as common edible plants in Indonesia

The term of cultivated crops is all plants which commonly used as a source of food for Indonesian peoples. In general, These plants are known as food crops, vegetable crops, spices, fruit plants, and other plants as sources of vegetable oil.

Carbohydrate sources crops

Rice is the most common carbohydrate source for Indonesian peoples. That is the reason why there is a famous joke for Indonesian peoples, which is “you haven’t eaten if you don’t eat rice“.

Potatoes, cassava, corn, and yams are other sources of carbohydrates but less common than rice. Sago (Metroxylon sp) also common but it has not yet been intensively cultivated.

Vegetables crops

muryanto paiman
Common Vegetables in Indonesia

Vegetables in Indonesia can be divided into the part they consume, such as:

  • Fruits:  Cucurbitaceae (cucumbers, bitter gourds, luffas, pumpkins), Fabaceae (yard-long beans, French beans), Solanaceae (peppers, eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes),
  • FlowersCruciferae (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, Kailan, radishes),
  • Leaves and stems:  Amaranthaceae (beets and amaranths), Asteraceae (lettuces, Cosmoses), Lamiaceae (basils), Convolvulaceae (Kangkoongs), Cruciferae (cabbages)
  • Root/underground part:  Amaryllidaceae (shallots, garlic, onions, leeks), Umbelliferae (Wortel)

Spice crops

Historically, The Ottomans empire had controlled the world pice trading in ancient times for a long time. During this era, the spices trading was very intense between the Ottoman empire and some local kingdoms in Indonesia.

legion botanica
Spices of Indonesia

European countries finally reach the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and found the route to the spices islands, Indonesia.  Since that time, they were able to seize control of the spice trade route to be traded in Europe.

Some spices which common in Indonesian recipes are:
Fruits/seeds spices
  • Adas/ Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Andaliman/Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium)
  • Asam Kandis/dried yellow mangosteen (Garcinia xanthochymus)
  • Asam Jawa/tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
  • Bunga lawang/star anise (Illicium verum)
  • Jintan/Cumin seeds (Trachyspermum roxburghianum)
  • Wijen/Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
  • Vanili/Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)
  • Lada/black pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • Pala/nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
  • Jeruk nipis/lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
  • Kemukus/Cubeb (Piper cubeba)
  • Kemiri/candle nut (Aleurites moluccana)
  • Ketumbar/Coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum),
  • Kluwak/Pangi (Pangium edule)
Flowers spices

Cengkih/cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

Leaves and stems spices
  • Daun salam/bay leaves (Syzygium folyanthum)
  • Jeruk purut/kaffir lime (Citrus x hystrix)
  • Kayu manis/cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
  • Pandan/screwpine leaf (Pandanus amaryllifolius)
  • Sereh/lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus).
Root and underground part spices
  • Jahe/ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Kapulaga jawa/cardamom (Amomum compactum)
  • Kencur/cutcherry (Kaempferia galanga)
  • Lengkuas/galangal (Alpinia galanga)
  • Kunyit/turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Fruit crops

Fruits for daily consumption in Indonesia is one of the important agricultural commodities. Especially for fruits that came from 4 season areas that do not exist in Indonesia. In general, fruit crops in Indonesia consist of:

legionbotanica
Traditional Market of Indonesia Fruits
Common local fruits
  • Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum)
  • Durian (Durio zibethinus)
  • Pineapple (Ananas comosus)
  • Mangostene (Garcinia mangostana)
  • Salak (Salacca zalacca)
  • Manggo (Mangifera indica)
  • Duku (Lansium domesticum)
  • Star fruit (Averrhoa carambola)
  • Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
  • Guava (Psidium guajava)
  • Banana (Musa paradisiaca)
  • Water rose (Syzygium aqueum)
  • Dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus).
Common imported fruits
  • Anggur (Vitis vinifera)
  • Aple (Malus domestica)
  • Pear (Pyrus sp)
  • Orange (Citrus sp)
  • Kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa)
  • Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera).

Vegetable Oil crops

We only put the two most important oil crops in Indonesia, coconut and oil palm.  But even with only 2 plants, Indonesia is the biggest producer in the world.

Prefiously coconut (Cocos nucifera) is the first common crop for vegetable oil for Indonesian peoples far before oil palm.  We can found coconut everywhere on every island in Indonesia.  Coconut is a lowland plant and becomes one of the symbols for the Indonesian beach.

edible plants in Indonesia
Coconut Oil, common oil for Indonesian peoples

During 2000, the palm oil industry develops massively. Actually, oil palm plants were originally from Africa.  But the can grow well here.  Nowadays Indonesia is the largest exporter and control over 60% of the world palm oil market. 

oil palm Indonesia
Oil palm Plantation in Indonesia

Common Cultivated Crops But Grown Wild

Many crop plants were found growing wild. Animals or humans carry their seeds while their activities. Some plants that are often found such as: bananas, papaya, cassava, sugar cane, guava, rose apple, jackfruit, star fruit, and many more.  Many edible plants in Indonesia easily found in the wild.

Closely Wild Relatives Species

When there is an opportunity to share about edible plants with various groups, I always say that the easiest way is to learn from the family level.  I did this method for the reason that in general, local people often use the family level for naming the plants around them.  some examples that exist and are easy to remember are Fabaceae, Musaceae, Poaceae, Amaranthaceae, Cruciferaceae.

Just remember the characteristic of these groups and then use them as guidance to recognize their family in the wild.  The abundance of the species in the wild will increase when we knew that the family is originally from Indonesia. 

For example Musaceae, there is a lot of wild banana in the Indonesian forest.  In general, they were edible and become one of the favorite survival plants.

edible plants in Indonesia

Another example is Amarathaceae.  Besides commonly cultivated amaranth, There are many wild amaranths in Indonesia.  Overall, Amaranthaceae is wide-spread species, and easy to find in the garden, paddy fields, or backyard.

Plants Which Commonly Used In The Past But Become Uncommon For Today

There is one old book that mentions Indonesian vegetables.  The title is Indiche Groenten written by J.J. Ochse in 1931.  A complete review of more than 700 vegetable plants in Indonesian.

Indonesian Vegetables
Indische Groenten Book Written by J.J. Ocshe in 1931. books containing more than 700 types of vegetables in Indonesia

But unfortunately, many species now become uncommon.  It because many plants a commercially is not profitable. The taste is not commonly liked. And these plants also was only familiar to some people in certain areas. Many plants become also only known as usual plants. Some peoples knew that these plants are edible, but people never use them to put in their recipes.

Some examples are:
  • Antanan (Centella asiatica)
  • Beluntas (Pluchea indica)
  • Bongborosan/kunci (Boesenbergia)
  • Jinten (Plectranthus amboinicus)
  • Calingcing (Oxalis corniculata)
  • Huni (Antidesma bunius)
  • Jampang carulang (Eleusine indica)
  • Jotang (Acmella paniculata)
  • Karet munding (Ficus elastica)
  • Kastuba (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  • Kawung (Arenga pinnata)
  • Loa (Picus racemose)
  • Puring (Codiaeum variegatum)
  • Tempuyung (Sonchus arvensis)

Wild edible species plants

Actually in this part that really needs to be focused on and studied. There are so many wild plants in Indonesia that are edible. For example Nangsi (Villebrunea rubescens), cantigi (Vaccinium varingifoliumm), rattans, pines, Cemplonan (Drimaria cordata), Hydrocotyles, Cadsuras.

Closing

This article is based on experiences during browsing and examining plants in several places in Indonesia, as well as the results of discussions with several outdoor activities and food foragers. Hopefully, the article is useful.

Categories: Edible

Muryanto Paiman

always love to learn from nature.  Passionate on studying plants in some aspects: the DNA, Identification, propagation, and their uses

6 Comments

Michael Somero · August 13, 2021 at 8:19 pm

Hello,my friend has 3 hectares of land in Aek Godang.
We are trying to find the best crop to grow to make living there.
Any advice is appreciated.
Thank you

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