The magnificent herbs and spices of South East Asia ( part 2)

We sailed in the MV Voyager  from Singapore to the port that serves Kuala Lumpur, we then hopped onto a bus which took us to the most interesting Forest  Research institute that, at the turn of the Millennium, started work on the official establishment of the Kepong Botanical Garden.

Forest Research Insitutue

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia  ©Jekka 2014

This botanic garden has a very interesting collection of Malaysian plants from the wild including this Cucumber tree which I had not seen or eaten  on my previous trip to Malaysia.

Cucumber Tree

Averrhoa bilimbi, Cucumber Tree  ©Jekka 2014

The fruit of the cucumber tree is edible, it tastes rather like Granny Smith’s apples.  It is eaten raw or cooked and then added to curries.

Interestingly they had not had rain for 6 weeks which is, I am led to  believe, is a hundred year record. This was very noticeable when we went on to see the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens which were certainly suffering from the lack of rain.

Platycerium bifurcatum and Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns at the Botanical Gardens Kuala Lumpur ©Jekka 2014

This was made up for by this amazing Platycerium bifurcatum and  Platycerium superbum Stag Horn Ferns

The next day was a relaxing day by the sea  in Langkawi where I saw for the first time Catharanthus roseus growing wild along the seashore.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle growing wild ©Jekka 2014

This herb is extremely important in so many ways as it is used in traditional medicine to treat malaria, diarrhoea, diabetes and cancer.  Interestingly one of the passengers on the ship was a Surgeon and he told me that they used extracts from this herb in the treatment of child leukemia at Great Ormond Street.

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus, Madagascar Periwinkle ©Jekka 2014

After our relaxing day it was off to Phuket where, with friends, we found, purely by chance, the Botanic Garden.

Phuket Botanic Garden

Phuket Botanic Garden  ©Jekka 2014

It was great fun, with the plants divided into rooms, for example Fern, Aromatic and of course, Herbs where we came across this interesting edible vine.

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine

Cissus quadrangularis, Edible Vine   ©Jekka 2014

It is cooked  as a vegetable and eaten throughout Asia.   Medicinally it is used rather as we would use Symphytum officinale, Comfrey, to help heal broken bones

After these three contrasting days we had two days at sea before arriving at the unique Port Blair in the Andaman Islands which will be in the next part of this blog  .

Here at Jekka’s Herb Farm, spring has arrived and the Herbetum is flourishing.


Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Foxtail'

Rosmarinus officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Foxtail’ ©Jekka 2014

We are looking forward to welcoming all those coming to Jekka’s Herb Garden Design Master Class this Saturday.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.


The magnificent Herbs and Spices of South East Asia ( Part 1)

When the RHS asked if I would like to lecture on the Voyages of Discovery aboard the MV Voyager sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai I immediately said, ‘Yes Please’. This being the first cruise in partnership with RHS Garden Holidays.

MV VoyagerI have always wanted to visit Thailand and India and see the Botanic Gardens and the new Garden by the Bay in Singapore.  So this was a chance not to be missed despite the fact that I am seasick  even when the boat is in harbour!


Wat Phra Kaew

©Jekka 2014

In Bangkok we visited the  Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  where we were surrounded by the Tamarind Tree, Tamarindus indica,  which were not only lining the streets but were also  trained and pruned.

Tamarind tree plus fruit

Tamarind Tree plus fruit                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The young shoots and leaves are edible and are eaten dipped in ‘sambal’.  They are also used in the preparation of curry and other food in Asian cuisine where they add the sour taste.  Tamarind is also medicinal, the fruit, leaves and bark are all used in various ways  to treat many ailments.   I have seen this tree before in Malaysia, but never have  I seen them pruned and trained.

Trained Tamarind

Pruned Tamarind                                                                                                ©Jekka 2014

Our next port of call was SINGAPORE.  We started our visit at the Botanic gardens which is renowned not only for its Orchids but also for its Ginger collection.      At the entrance I saw this Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus                                                                                      ©Jekka 2014

which is native to Malaysia . It is used medicinally to treat fevers and many skin diseases.  It is also reputed to have magical powers including protection from evil spirits.

Once inside it was, for me,  an exciting treasure trove.

Torch Ginger

Etlinger elatior                                                                                                       ©Jekka 2014

This magnificent Ginger is Etlinger elatior, Torch ginger, a  native of Malaysia where it is used in traditional Malay cooking; the flower bud, flowers and flowering stem are all used.

Sadly our time there was far too short as we had to visit the stunning ‘Gardens by the Bay’.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens By the Bay                                                                                               ©Jekka 2014

It is difficult to imagine that this is all on reclaimed land and that this garden was only officially opened in 2011.

The cloud forest dome

In the Cloud Forest Dome                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Cloud Forest Dome  has the best living wall I have ever seen, it left me speechless.

However my favourite part, from purely showing how imaginative and innovative these gardens are , was the Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove

The Super Tree Grove                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Supertrees  are very impressive; they are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy and they are connected with sky walkways which give a wonderful view across the bay to Singapore.

In my next blog, after our open days which start this Friday 4th and Saturday 5th I will describe the next part of our journey from Singapore to Sri Lanka via the Andaman Island.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.

Caribbean Herbs

This time last week I was sitting outside eating my lunch of  prawn salad and freshly picked avocado, it was a delicious  28°C (82F°), I was in Paradise.

Prawn Salad

That is one of the pleasures of travelling to different countries.    Just recently I was lucky enough to spend a short time on the magical island of Nevis.

Nevis, is a very unspoilt Island, which was a privilege to visit.

While there I found some very interesting herbs, some I knew and grow in the UK, for example the Plectranthus amboinicus.

Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this herb

Plectranthus amboinicus , Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this culinary and medicinal herb.

and some like the  Blighia sapida I have never seen before.

The Akee tree was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

Blighia sapida, the Akee tree, Egg Yolk, was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible part and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

The Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Mangifera indica, the Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Gardenia taitensis , used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs.  The flowers are used in perfumery

Gardenia taitensis , Tiare Flower, used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs. The flowers are used in perfumery

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is oven served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is often served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish amd meat dishes, it is also added to curies.  It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce.  Medicinal used as a mild laxative.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish and meat dishes, it is also added to curries. It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters, it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce. Medicinally used as a mild laxative.

Sterculia foetida,Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. Some sources report the seeds to be edible raw, but other sources state should be roasted first

Sterculia foetida, Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. The flowers smell awful hence its botanical name.  The seeds are high in oil, some say they can be eaten raw, but others say they  should be roasted first; so please double check before eating!!

The last time I saw Couroupita guianensis, was in the botanical garden in Penang, where they have a spectacular example which made an indelible impression. So I was fascinated and pleased to find a smaller specimen of this rare tree on the island.

Couroupita guianensis, The flowers of Cannonball Tree have a wonderful smell and can be used to scent perfumes and cosmetics. The hard shells of the fruit are sometimes used as containers.

So if you are lucky enough to be visiting the Caribbean look out for these stunning plants for ‘Nature is amazing’.

30 organic rosemary varieties and a great big plant sale

It’s harvest time in the herb garden. August and September are months of abundance, with plentiful supplies to use fresh from the garden. It’s also the ideal time to prepare herbs for the winter months, not only to give a continuous supply of leaf, but also to give hardy perennials their very best chance of surviving the vagaries of winter.

Chocolate Peppermint

 Jekka has been busy sorting and cutting back our 30 different mint species (including Chocolate Peppermint with its ‘After Eight’ flavour, and variegated Pineapple mint, delicious and pretty in a fruit salad) to give a final winter crop. Mint cuttings can be put to excellent use in a fresh mint sauce, pea and mint soup, a jug of Pimms or a refreshing cup of mint tea.

Rosemary Sudbury Blue

Jekka has also been pruning and re-potting her rather large rosemary collection – now a staggering 30 different varieties. To Jekka’s keen eye, it isn’t difficult to distinguish R. Foxtail which has a bushy, prostrate habit (not unlike a fox’s tail) from a R. Prostrate, also, unsurprisingly, prostrate but minus the bushiness. Or R. ‘Lady in White’ from R. ‘White’ – naturally, both are notable for their white flowers, but the Lady is arching whilst the commoner is prostrate (draw your own conclusion). Cultivars such as R. Sissinghurst Blue and R. Sudbury Blue have significantly different minimum temperature requirements. Sissinghurst is frosthardy (down to -50C) , whilst Sudbury is fully hardy (down to -150C).Taste and flavour are important distinguishing factors too; for something completely different, try R. Green Ginger, which adds a mildly oriental taste to your roast lamb or barbequed fish. Other factors include the shade and shape of the rosemary’s thin needles: some are light green, some are dark, some are fatter whilst some are more pine-needle like in appearance.

Overridingly, Rosmarinus officinalis is amongst the most useful plants you can grow in the garden. It is evergreen, so can be harvested all year round; an appetite stimulant, the leaves have antibacterial and antioxidant properties; combine with meat, casseroles, soups and sauces, fish, rice, cordials vinegars etc; even the flower is edible, with a sweet taste, delicious with cooked vegetables; the leaves can be roasted at high temperatures without disintegrating; plant it companiably near carrots to help repel carrot fly; infuse it for an antiseptic tea/mouthwash/gargle – also, allegedly, an excellent cure for a hangover.

Come along, see for yourself and pick up some expert growing tips too at Jekka’s final Open Days of the season, from 2nd – 4th September, when she’ll be holding her end-of-season plant sale, including organically grown rosemary species; rare, tropical and wildflower herb varieties; essential herbs for foodies, such as Lemon Verbena, French Tarragon and Chilean Guava; dye plants Woad and Wormwood; medicinal powerhouses Arnica and Lemon Balm; aromatics like Balm of Gilead and Cat Thyme.  We’ll also have a super selection of our beautiful specimen herb plants on sale at very reasonable prices.

Jekka's Open Days - September 2nd to 4th - End-of-season plant sale

 The farm will be open to the public from 10am – 4pm. Entry is free on Friday 2nd September and charged at £2.00 per person on Saturday and Sunday, although catalogue holders, members of the RHS, the West of England Herb Group and the Soil Association also receive free entry on all days for two people.  

Jekka's FREE herb talk, 10.30 & 2.30 on each open day


Jekka’s Herb Farm is usually closed to the public, so Open Days are a unique opportunity to browse and buy, breathe in and taste the scents and flavours of our 650+, organically grown herb varieties. Pick up some expert tips from award-winning, organic herb farmer, writer and broadcaster, Jekka, and partake of locally grown, seasonal refreshments in the ‘Berry Blue’ café. Herb workshops with Jekka (pre-booking is essential) take place on each Open Day at 12pm and tickets are £15 per person.

We very much look forward to welcoming you to the farm (and a bit of self indulgence,  sharing our knowledge and passion for herbs with you)!