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Wild spiderflower

December 10, 2012

An edible wild and native Asian plant I briefly mentioned when making a jungle salad is ‘wild spiderflower’ (Cleome gynandra, Cleomaceae), ‘pak sian’ in Central Thai language:

Cleome gynandra.72

The flowers are ‘three-dimensional’ with male (stamens) and female (pistil) parts resembling a harvestman spider (Opilionidae).

It grows like a weed at Dokmai Garden and my efforts to transplant it to a permanent site in the sunny vegetable section has failed. It likes the gravel and partly shaded area around the gardener’s house.

Cleome gynandra fruits.72

The plant is short-lived (weeks) but the fruits contain many seeds and so it reproduces quickly. I have used the leaves straight in jungle salads, while Ketsanee likes to pickle any young part of the plant, later to be used as a condiment with sticky rice.

This is another species described by Swedish gentleman Linnaeus in Species Plantarum from 1753. According to his notes, this plant was also kept at Clifford’s private 18th century botanical garden outside Amsterdam and treated by Dutch Governor Rheede in Hortus Malabaricus from the 17th century. Any VIP card holder interested in continuing the pursuits of a gentleman is welcome to Dokmai Garden to pick seeds for free. Unfortunately we have no time to send seeds by mail.

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Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. David Cooke permalink
    December 10, 2012 1:33 PM

    so Pak means that you can eat it? My wife seems only to know the names of stuff that is medicinal or is edible (or poisonous). We have Cleome growing as a weed here in my garden in Isaan also.

    • December 10, 2012 9:56 PM

      Yes, pak means vegetable. To some Thais, spending time, space and money on ornamental plants is a terrible waste of resources. To other Thais, spending time admiring farmer’s plants and ‘weeds’ is a waste. Anything you do in your garden which you like is correct.

  2. December 10, 2012 3:07 PM

    I will be trying to track down some of those seeds online. I imagine it would do well here in so. florida.

  3. December 10, 2012 9:49 PM

    Ketsanee gave me another recipe later today: pick the plants and put them in cheese cloth and squeeze out the sap. Ferment the squeezed plants for three days in the water used to prepare sticky rice (sticky rice should be soaked in water for six hours prior to steaming). The plants will turn yellow, and then they are good to eat. Ketsanee says she does not like to eat the raw leaves, which I believe is due to the mustard oils and garlicky compounds which I like.

  4. December 11, 2012 2:14 AM

    A multi climate happy plant indeed. A weed here around Darwin, as well as in Adelaide, which I believe is like Florida. We can never pick enough of this weed in our market garden, not so much as for the local Thais (lots) as well as for the Timorese Hakka expats. As for myself, I roundup the stuff, so it will grow again, Ha.

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