The other day I was discussing sweet potatoes with fellow Master Gardener, Edward Kla Brewer. Brewer shared with me in Africa (as well as some Asian countries) sweet potatoes are grown for the leaves. I had heard of this before but I have yet to eat the leaves of my sweet potato plants although the deer eat them whenever they can get to them.
As we continued our garden conversation Edward brought up a plant or leaf he was growing and selling, Lalo or more commonly called Jute in America. I say more commonly called Jute but I had not heard of it at all. After we talked a little more I decided I should find out a little more about this plant, this is what I found out.
Jute leaves are a part of the jute plant that's mostly cultivated in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Jute leaves are used as a food source in these regions., They add a distinct flavor to food and also act as thickeners in soups, stews and sauces. Jute leaves are also known as saluyot, ewedu or lalo, depending on the region they are being cultivated or cooked in. The leaves have slightly toothed edges. When harvested young, jute leaves are flavorful and tender while older leaves tend to be fibrous and woody. Other parts of the plant like the stems are used to make rope, paper and a variety of other products, jute leaves are not just for culinary uses but also are known for their medicinal properties.
Jute leaf is considered a vitamin-rich super food that's reported to be a sleep and digestion aid as well as to improve eyesight. The leaves are also said to help lower cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory properties, which may prevent conditions like arthritis.
Jute is occasionally consumed as boiled vegetable with lemon and olive oil. It is truly an international food. It is a popular dish in the northern provinces of the Philippines, where it is known as saluyot. Jute leaves are also consumed by the Luyhia people of Western Kenya, where it is normally known as 'mrenda' or 'murere'. Japan has been importing dry jute leaf from Africa and is using it as the substitute of coffee and tea. In Europe, jute leaves are used as soup.
It can be steamed and pureed, mixed with chicken, or prepared into soup like how the Japanese prepare it as molohiya.
Leaves and tender shoots are eaten in India. Like spinach as well as other leafy greens, jute leaves can be cooked whole as a major component of a dish, or loosely chopped so that they can blend better with other ingredients. Dried jute leaves can be used as a thickener in soups. The young leaves are added to salads.
Although jute is a tropical plant it can be grown in Mid-Missouri as Brewer has demonstrated. The seed can be hard to find but can usually be found on the internet. It seems Tossa jute might be the best variety for our area.
If you decide to grow some of this wonder plant pick a spot in full sun. Sow the jute seeds on top of the soil, separating them by at least 1 inch. Cover the seeds with the thinnest possible layer of soil.
After the plants are about a foot high you can start harvesting some of the leaves but not to heavily. As the plant grows and matures you can begin to harvest larger amounts.
It is always fun to grow something new in the garden. I hope you will put jute in next year's garden plan.
Peter Sutter is a life long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener Program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]