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Known for its sweet, grassy, and fragrant aroma, pandan is an essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. Whether you add it to steamed rice, use it as a flavoring for juices and desserts, or wrap meat in it for barbecue, pandan leaves are so versatile that they can elevate any dish.
But here’s even better news: pandan has lots of non-culinary uses, too!
Let’s get to know this plant better with this guide.
Pandan, also called screw palm or screw pine, are palm-like trees and shrubs that are native to the tropics and sub-tropics. It has fragrant leaves that grow in spiky, fan-shaped bunches. Some varieties also bear fruits that resemble a pine cone or pineapple.
There are over 700 accepted species of pandan. Some are used as a source of food while others provide raw materials for clothing, handicrafts, and shelter. In the Philippines alone, there are 48 species of pandan growing in various habitats, from forests and mangroves to sandy beaches and residential backyards.
The pandan plant is incredibly versatile. The leaves can be used fresh, frozen, or dried, and made into paste or powder to spice up dishes. Its fragrant and sweet aroma and flavor are why it’s sometimes referred to as the “vanilla of Asia”.
So, how can and where can you use pandan? Here are just a few ways:
The paste from pandan leaves and fruits is a good source of nutrients such as beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which is vital for eye health and immunity.
Pandan paste is also notably rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber, while it doesn’t contain fats.
While not much scientific research has been done on pandan’s health benefits, it has long been used in Ayurvedic and other traditional medicine systems for its natural healing properties. Here are some of its potential health benefits:
Boiled pandan leaves have been used to help discharge toxins and unhealthy substances from the body. It’s also known as a mild laxative so it helps with better digestion and bowel movement.
In Ayurvedic medicine, pandan leaf tea is a traditional cure for reducing fever quickly and bringing the body temperature back to normal. This is because pandan contains antipyretic and antiviral properties.
In many Asian countries, dried crushed pandan leaves are used for treating minor burns, sunburns, and other skin problems. This is because of the leaves’ tannins that provide a cooling effect.
Pandan also promotes hair health. For starters, pandan paste can be applied to the scalp to treat dandruff. It can also prevent hair loss and be used as a hair conditioner to bring back hair’s luster.
In Ayurvedic medicine, coconut oil is infused with pandan leaves and applied topically to relieve pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. Pandan leaves are said to contain essential oils, which have anti-inflammatory effects.
The same mixture can also be used to help ease headaches, ear pain, stomach spasms, and chest pain.
Pandan leaves are also said to be good for the heart because of their high antioxidant content. Rich in carotenoids, pandan can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries of the heart due to plaque buildup.
Pandan tea is also believed to help lower high blood pressure.
Drinking tea from pandan leaves is also said to help lower blood sugar. A study found that pandan has the potential to serve as a natural source of antihyperglycemic agents and may even be a potential treatment for diabetes.
Thanks to its pleasant aroma, pandan leaves can be chewed to help freshen your breath. In some non-Western medical practices, it is also used to stop bleeding gums.
To maintain the freshness of the pandan leaves, you can wrap them in a damp paper towel or plastic bag. Then, store them in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Doing this will help them last for about four days.
Pandan leaves can be also frozen for them to last longer. Arrange them in one layer on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. When frozen, you can then keep in a sealed bag and return them to the freezer. This method will help pandan leaves last for about six months.
Dried leaves and powdered can be stored in the pantry. Pandan paste or juice should be stored in the refrigerator and can last for one to two weeks.
The Philippines is blessed with plants that provide not just food but also natural sources of healing. Pandan is one of the most versatile plants that we can find in our local markets or grow in our own backyard. Now that you’ve learned more about its uses, you can tap into its endless benefits, from culinary to medicinal.