We are studying Bauhinias in Hong Kong for a variety of reasons but we hadn’t really thought about the benefits of understanding their nutritional value… until we came across Bauhinia chutney!
It appears that many people have been using various Bauhinia species as a ‘wild edible plant’. Although this practice is most commonly found in India and Nepal, the internet has blogs by people in Europe and America that claim to use the flowers in salads or indeed for making pickles and chutneys.
We knew that Bauhinia is a ‘legume’ i.e. from the Leguminosae family of plants and that this includes many common food crops like alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts and so we’d been wondering if the seed pods (which look a bit like runner beans) might be edible. What’s really fascinating is that the flower petals and buds seem to be the most popular part.
Now it’s true that you should be very careful about eating wild plants but it’s also true that modern life has led us to ignore many edible things because they don’t come in plastic containers from the supermarket. With these two things in mind we’ve done some investigation to try to work out if this is just some nonsense off the internet or a potentially beautiful side-dish.
The most scientific review of these uses that we’ve found is a journal article by Uprety et al in 2012. They don’t analyse the content of the plants but they do record how it is used by people in several areas across Nepal.
Bauhinia uses in Nepal
|Common name (Nepal)
|Flowers and young shoots eaten as vegetable.
|Leaves used as fodder.
|Pods eaten as vegetable. Fruits edible.
|Stem bark used to make ropes. Leaves used to make umbrella “Ghoom” and traditional plates “Duna” and “Tapari” for ritual functions. Bark juice used as fermenting material and to cure blood dysentery.
|Young shoots and leaves eaten as vegetable. Flowers eaten as vegetable or used to make pickle.
It seems that they don’t use Bauhinia blakeana, the Hong Kong Orchid Tree, but they do use the two varieties that we believe are its parents, Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata. It’s really interesting to see the other uses of Bauhinia valii: rope, medicine and ritual items. As we learn more about the biology of the Bauhinia family we’ll be able to look into things like medicinal uses for it.
Over at the tasteofnepal blog, Jyoti Pathak has some excellent pictures of huge bundles of Bauhinia variegata at the market, ready to be bought for cooking. In the picture below (borrowed with kind permission from Jyoti), you can see the flower buds are popular for eating and so are the young opened flowers themselves (click for larger image).
We reckon that pickling the flower buds or using the petals in salads would be a pretty cool experiment so we’re working on finding a recipe and we’ll get back to you with any success… or with warnings. Be careful always when eating wild plants and take note that some of these websites state you must boil certain parts of the plant before eating.
If you have any experience of cooking with this plant, please do get in touch!