By Heidi Bornhorst
Working at the Honolulu Zoo, we were helping move and relocate plants for the community gardens from behind the zoo on Paki, to a new garden on Leahi and Paki. As we were helping the (unhappy) gardeners, I heard Victorino Acorda, one of our best Gardeners and true plantsman exclaim in delight!
‘Pandan wangi! Makes the rice taste so good Heidi! I’ve been looking for this plant since I moved here from the PI!’ He was almost crying; he was so happy!
Then the other day I was stuck in morning traffic on Mo`oheau St in Kapahulu. To amuse myself I looked closely at gardens along the street. There was a really nice garden with a southeast Asia flavor. First, I noticed nice clumps of lemon grass and some healthy papaya trees.
What was the clumping bright green plant in front of the lemon grass? PANDAN WANGI! So attractive in this landscape design and so useful.
We have it growing in the southeast Asian plant section at Ho’omaluhia Botanic Garden. One year it was a featured plant at our plant sale, and we hope to feature it again once we can open up our gardens safely once again. It is fairly easy to grow. You can divide the clump and make new plants.
Those who know this plant usually just call it pandan. There are many ways you can cook with it. Some call Pandan, the Vanilla of the East, or the Vanilla of Southeast Asia. You can boil with whole leaves and combine them with other ingredients. You can wrap foods in them and then cook them (like we do with Ti leaves).
If you’re handy with your blender, grind some fresh leaves with water and then freeze the juice in a mold or ice cube tray and use it for drinking or cooking later.
You could also add it to GREEN SMOOTHIES Some just buy a bottle of pandan paste. Lexi had some from Singapore, she had it quite a while I smelled it and then read the label. It smelled really ono. The ingredients not so much. How do we make it from the fresh leaves that we can grow in our Gardens? You can just chop it up and add to the rice pot as you cook your rice.
You can make tea with the leaves. You can add your favorite tea like jasmine to the pot. Pour hot water over both and let steep for five minutes. I made some with just hot water, poured over and steeped over leaves. it tasted ok.
Or trying strip leaves lengthwise in threes, add olena and ginger powders, and three mamaki leaves, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or so. It smells really good!
There are lots of Creative and Foodie things you can do with pandan:
Twist the leaves into Roses like we do with Ti leaves
Little cups for deserts
You can make green smoothies with it
Pandan Chicken and Pandan Rice
Grilled Fish stuffed with Pandan are just a few recipes that are popular.
And many desserts, variously featuring coconut milk, and various sugars like palm sugar.
If you look online there are lots of recipes, some quite layered and complex. Some really pretty drinks and you insert a leaf tip to give it that final Flare of Gourmet Drink décor. It gives the dish a lovely green color and subtle flavor.
I took some in mixed arrangement as a hostess gift for Lexi Hada and Barney Robinson. One of their guests, Teua from the Cook Islands admired it, drew it out of the arrangement and sniffed it. As he ran his hands over the glossy thornless leaves, we talked about it. He recognized it as a Pandanus, or HALA relative but NO THORNS! We all wondered how it would be for weaving.
The Latin name, Pandanus amaryllifolius refers to this. The growth is much like a hala, but the leaves are soft and shiny with no thorns. Besides being ONO, it is a very attractive garden accent or spotlight plant in your garden. I also like it as an exciting and exotic foliage element in a Tropical Flower arrangement.
Propagation: it may set seeds in other locales, but we haven’t seen seeds in Hawai'i. Grow it by division. Look for sections with aerial roots and cut a piece with those roots. Nurture them and grow the plant in a pot of moist potting mix to get it started.
Air layers are another option. Wrap moist sphagnum moss around the section with aerial roots. Let the roots grow out into e sphagnum then cut off that piece and pot it up. Water daily until fully established.
We plan to feature it at a future Covid-19 safe FHBG plant sale.