By James Tababa
Plants are called indigenous if they are naturally found in a particular location and also highly adapted to their geography and climate. Some of the indigenous crops in the Philippines have been domesticated, but there are some that are still only available in the wild.
The use of flowers for most major crops is unheard of because it is more economical for the flowers to develop into fruits or use them for aesthetic purposes. In Philippine native dishes, flowers from some indigenous crops are traditionally used as part of the main ingredients. The edible flowers are usually part of the traditional mixed vegetable stews such as dinengdeng, law-uy, linapuhan, linapuwahan, inabraw, and pinakbet.
These indigenous flowers are often eaten as a salad. The fresh young flowers are harvested, washed, blanched in hot water, then flavored with bagoong (fish paste), chopped tomatoes, and a squeeze of calamansi.
Malunggay (Moringa oleifera)
Malunggay is a common tropical perennial tree found in the Philippines. It Is called a superfood and “miracle vegetable” because of its nutritional benefits. The leaves of this plant contain high amounts of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, protein, and iron.
The flowers of malunggay are clustered on a branch, and colored white. Flowering usually begins around eight months after planting. The moringa tree blossoms once or twice a year.The consumption of malunggay flowers is less common than its leaves and pods. Malunggay flower is a popular vegetable in the northern part of Luzon.
Malunggay flowers are not usually found in markets because they are seasonal, and the flower cluster is very fragile.
Katuray (Sesbania grandiflora)
Katuray, also called sesbania, is a tropical perineal tree that can be propagated by seeds or cutting. The flowers are often foraged in household backyards and forests. Katuray flower is commonly consumed in Ilocos Norte, Capiz, Iloilo, La Union, South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Bohol, Batangas, Rizal, Leyte, and Nueva Viscaya.
White flowers are preferred as vegetables over pink and fuchsia ones. But colored flowers can also be eaten, usually as salads. The stamen part of the flowers is removed before cooking because of its bitter taste.
Aside from the mentioned dishes, katuray leaves can be sautéed (ginisa), cooked in a stew (nilat-an), boiled (linambong), or braised in vinegar (paksiw).
Kalabasa (Cucurbita spp.)
Squash, or kalabasa, is a vine usually planted at the onset of the rainy season. It is generally grown for its fruit, and is a good source of vitamin A and lutein, which prevents cataracts.
The orange or yellow flowers we see at the market are usually male blossoms. The primary function of the male blossom is to fertilize female flowers. After fertilization, when the female flowers start to develop into a fruit, the male flowers are harvested as vegetables.
Kalabasa flower is a common ingredient in ox tripe stew in peanut sauce (kare-kare).
Kapas kapas (Telosma procumbens)
Kapas kapas is a woody vine that usually grows in forests and densely vegetated areas, but it can also be found in gardens and agricultural areas. Aside from its white clustered flowers, its lance-shaped fruit can also be eaten. It is commonly consumed as a vegetable in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, and Bohol.
Kapas kapas is usually served as a salad crop with bagoong dip. It can also be boiled with bamboo shoots (labong) and saluyot leaves flavored with fish paste.
Kapas kapas usually flowers during the rainy season from September to December.
Kakawate (Gliricidia sepium)
Kakawate is a tree commonly used as a living fence or hedgerow. It can grow 2-15 meters tall. Farmers use kakawate leaves as green manure. Because it is a leguminous tree, it improves the quality of soil by providing nitrogen. It is also used as a natural ripening agent for bananas.
The flowers of kakawate tree are purple or pink. The flowers are clustered at the end of leafless branches. It has been reported to be eaten as a vegetable in Ilocos Norte, La Union, Abra, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo, Guimaras, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur. However, even in these places, the consumption of kakawate flowers is becoming uncommon because of changing food preferences.
The unopened main petals of the flower are the ones only consumed, and the other parts must be discarded before cooking.
The Indigenous Vegetables of the Philippines by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) can be downloaded for free from the DOST-PCAARRD eLibrary at https://elibrary.pcaarrd.dost.gov.ph/.