For developing my fascination with the food plants of Papua New
I am deeply grateful to past students,
and for many kind village people who have shown me their gardens.
Thankfully many specialists have gone before me
and allowed me to benefit from their experience.
I appreciate the assistance of my daughter
born at Vunapope 1975
for helping compile the information.
My special acknowledgement is to God
the Creator of all good things.
If you locate a copy of this book in electronic form
you may copy it for your own use or for giving to friends.
You are welcome to print it out!
For commercial or large scale distribution,
please contact the author
This publication has been made available as a
computer based pdf book
Bruce R French
38 West St
Ph (03) 64321080
The following tables are provided as an initial attempt to collate some of the information about the food composition and food value of edible plants
in Papua New Guinea. To the best of my knowledge all of these plants occur in Papua New Guinea or at least in New Guinea including the
Indonesian province, but they may not all be used as food in these countries. There remain many important food plants for which I have not yet
been able to find suitable food values. For references and other details it will be necessary to use the computer database that I am in the process of
compiling and making available.
Certain parts of plants are used in one country and not used in another country, or are eaten in one part of the country and not in another places.
Many of these food plants need processing before they are eaten. Some should not be eaten in large quantities. Many spices and flavouring plants
would be poisonous if eaten in large amounts. Other plants should become a more regular part of the diet. It is very important to be sure you have
the correct plant and to be sure it is processed and prepared the correct way before simply eating plant foods.
It is not possible to put all the information about these plants in one booklet. To find descriptions of the plants and other information about how to
grow and use them it will be necessary to look in other publications. For this purpose I have produced both a book, and a computer database, on
Food Plants of Papua New Guinea. The book gives descriptions of the plants and where they are best grown as well as pest and disease lists. It has
line drawings. The database had coloured photos and other information, names and references.
In recent years many scientists and other specialists have been increasingly realising that food plants that are often indigenous have been overlooked
and many of these are very nutritious. Around the world people are trying to look again at traditional plants and trying to learn more about them.
One advantage of a traditional food plant is that is has already survived the droughts, floods, frosts, pests and diseases that occur in that area. (If it
hadn’t it would have already disappeared!). But many of these traditional food plants contain 10 or 20 times the food value of introduced plants.
They are one of God’s amazing provisions to feed a hungry world.
Some plants are poisonous
Unless properly prepared and cooked many plants can be poisonous. Often in markets I have seen (European) potatoes that have turned green.
These are poisonous. They are a special danger to pregnant women. Giant taro used near Rabaul has special methods of peeling so that the oxalate
crystals that burn the throat are removed. Some self-sown Taro tru plants also have this chemical. Several ferns need to be dried first before they
are cooked and eaten. The drying removes a poison. Cassava can be bitter due to a chemical called cyanide. This same chemical poison can occur
in several other plants including beans and makes them both bitter and poisonous. Thankfully, this chemical is broken up and disappears if food in
cooked well. Boiling the food for 2 minutes will mostly destroy this poison. As a general rule it is wise to cook food. So with all foods, but
especially the less well known and less commonly used wild and traditional food plants please make sure you have the correct plant and that you
have learned how to prepare and cook it properly. Local people in villages are often the experts, having learned from long experience. Pangium
nuts or “Sis” seeds are very poisonous unless prepared by a long and detailed process to remove the poison. The details vary throughout SE Asia
and Papua New Guinea, but then people enjoy the food once it is safely prepared.
Food plants contain many important chemicals and nutrients that keep our bodies healthy and growing well. It is not possible to list all of these
chemicals for each plant. What I have tried to do is simply choose the ones that are known to be often in short supply causing people to become
sick because their bodies do not have the right amounts of the right foods. These days most people concerned about food and nutrition are
recommending people eat a wide range of plant foods. Then if one plant is short in one nutrient, another plant may well contain it. Rather than
spending lots of time counting lots of numbers about the nutrients in different food plants, eating as wide a range as possible will normally ensure a
healthy diet is maintained.
Many traditional tropical plants are very good quality food. For example people grow Citrus fruits like lemons and oranges to get Vitamin C.
These are plants that suit subtropical climates, not tropical climates. Many tropical plants like Guava and dark green leaves contain far more
Vitamin C than Citrus fruit.
The biggest majority of people in tropical countries, but especially women, are short of iron in their diets and this makes them become anaemic.
Many vegetables introduced into the tropics from temperate countries are low in iron and many dark green tropical leaves are very high in iron.
Sometimes changing diets can make people’s health worse.
Foods are normally grouped into 3 groups. These are energy foods, growth foods and health foods. Everybody must have some from each group to
In Papua New Guinea the food plants that are good for energy are the root crops like sweet potato, taros, yams, potato and cassava. Bananas and
sago are the other two big energy foods. Rice is an energy food but most rice in Papua New Guinea is still imported and not grown within the
country. Unfortunately sometimes agricultural research workers have measured the weight or yield of different varieties of these plants and
recommended people grow these varieties. People in villages have often complained that these are the varieties they feed to the pigs because they
are not dry enough and do not contain enough energy to do a days work! Energy food is easy to understand because if you do not have enough of it,
you lack energy! Cassava has less protein than other root crops but thankfully the young leaves if well cooked are a very nutritious food. Sago is a
good energy food and especially suits swamps where few other foods will grow but it is very short in other food groups such as growth food, or
protein and health food including Vitamins and minerals. It is absolutely essential to supplement sago diets with other foods, especially fish if they
are available, or other seeds, nuts and dark green leaves. Several nice ferns will grow in sago swamps.
Meat and fish are good growth foods but most people in Papua New Guinea do not eat meat on a regular basis. Those near the sea and large rivers
often eat fish regularly. Insects such as sago grubs are good sources of protein. Most of the protein or growth foods come from plant foods. The
root crops contain some protein or growth food and many edible leaves and nuts have good protein levels. Often the introduced vegetables from
temperate climates are low in protein. Beans and other legumes are usually high in protein. Proteins are made up of chemicals called amino acids.
Sometimes plants can have sufficient protein but still be short of one amino acid. For example corn is often short in lysine, one of these amino
acids. People in Papua New Guinea do not live on corn as their main food, but the easiest way to fix this lysine deficiency is to simply eat a few
more beans or other foods rich in lysine. Some beans in Papua New Guinea are very good quality food. Winged beans are an extremely good
quality food and should be used much more in the areas of the country where it will grow. It also helps improve the soil.
Our bodies need vitamins, minerals and many other kinds of nutrients to stay healthy. In Papua New Guinea diets most of these come from dark
green leaves, vegetables, nuts and fruit. Thankfully Papua New Guinea has an amazing variety of food plants that can be grown and used.
Sometimes it is not that these foods are not available, but that for different reasons they are not fed regularly to the family, especially the children.
Mothers come home from their gardens and then cook an evening meal, but by the time it is ready the young children have fallen asleep. Next
morning the children have some of the root crop or starchy staple that is left over but miss out of the leafy greens that were eaten the night before.
All good Papua New Guinea farmers and families should have a small plot of highly nutritious leafy greens growing near their houses especially to
use on the days when it is too wet or people are sick or too tired, to go to the garden or market. Several of these edible leaves such as Tu-lip,
Valanguar, Kumu Musong and others can be grown as an attractive hedge around the house. But eating a root crop, rice or starchy staple such as
sago or banana is not enough. People need health foods everyday. (Noodles from a packet are not a health food!)
Although there are many different nutrients in foods that are called Vitamins, only a few of them cause problems in diets in Papua New Guinea.
Many of the vitamins are named using letters of the alphabet. For example Vitamin A is common in dark green tropical leaves and is very
important for eyesight. In Indonesia many children go blind each year because they eat lots of rice but not enough dark green leaves. Papua New
Guinea has so many beautiful edible dark green leaves that this should never happen in this country. The leaves that do not have much taste, can
easily be improved, by adding a few chilli leaves or some other sweet tasting or spicy plant. People should eat about a fish tin full of dark green
leaves each day to get their Vitamins and protein. Many vitamins are called Vitamin B so now they have different numbers attached as well. They
serve many different and important functions in the human body. Most of these can be gained from a mixture of plant foods except one called
that mostly comes from meat or seaweed. In Papua New Guinea people should not suffer from Vitamin B deficiency unless they are
other Citrus fruit but 3 times as much can be found in Tu-lip leaves or cooked cassava leaves or Guava fruit. There are some fruit in southern Papua
New Guinea with 50 times the Vitamin C of Citrus! Thankfully, Vitamin D is provided free to our skin in sunlight and for most people in Papua
New Guinea their outdoor jobs mean this one is never in short supply! For more detailed information on the important role of Vitamins it will be
necessary to look in other books. Some vitamins, for example Vitamin A, are more soluble and therefore more available if they are cooked in oil
rather than boiled. Frying some leaves such as Aibika and Okra makes sense because they are not then slimy!
There is a range of minerals needed regularly by our bodies. One of the very important ones that is often in short supply, is iron. Iron is needed by
our blood and helps produce the red colouring. People who are short of iron are called anaemic. Health workers look under our eyelids to see if
they are too pale, which indicates we are short of iron. People who are short of iron lack energy and have less inclination to do things and can think
less clearly as well. This deficiency is very common around the world and women and children and old people are much more likely to suffer from
iron deficiency. Eating dark green leaves is the most useful way of getting sufficient iron in Papua New Guinea. Eating round head cabbages can
make iron and protein levels much worse. Cabbages have almost no protein, nor iron, nor Vitamin A. Because children have small stomachs and
the kaukau almost fills them up they should not be fed cabbage but should be fed some traditional greens like amaranth or rungia that have better
food value. Calcium is very important for bones and teeth but also affects many other things within our bodies. Zinc has now been recognised as
very important especially for the growth of children. Zinc is used in our bodies in chemicals called enzymes that control how our bodies work.
Several seeds and nuts are important sources of zinc. The coastal almond nut that is often eaten by children along seashores in all tropical countries
is a good source of zinc.
For details on healthy foods you will need to talk to your health worker.
Acacia aulacocarpa var. macrocarpa
Fruit - raw
Aleurites moluccana 2
Aleurites moluccana 3