Discover the healing power of local herbs
PETALING JAYA, Oct 23 — How often have we dismissed the pile of local herbs or ulam on offer at the nasi campur stall? We may not realise it but munching on those greens will nourish our body as they are packed with all kinds of health benefits.
Look for the ulam raja which is known as the king of herbs as it’s good for purifying your blood. It is also good for growing children since it is rich in calcium and helps strengthen your bones.
Or try the Thai basil that is believed to cure colds and is good for those suffering from diabetes and heart disease. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as you will find a myriad of these good-for-you herbs when you wander around the wet market.
Confused about what to get? Maybe you need to enrol in a class taught by Mandy Leong about ulam. A strong advocate of all things natural, the class also touches on jamu or the Indonesian way of healing that uses natural plants.
According to her, these plants are the perfect way to keep you balanced in mind, body and spirit especially if you lead a stressful life.
Her class kicks off with a walk around the PJ Old Town wet market, the oldest one in the city. Mandy has her favourite vendors who are familiar with her troop of participants.
It’s an eye-opener for participants like Michelle Woo who rarely frequents the wet market. You have the friendly Sharibuddin or Din who is all smiles and information about the herbs stocked in his stall.
Amidst the usual ulam, you will find the unusual tenggek burung with thick frilly leaves that is usually eaten raw. Mandy tells us it’s often used as a natural aphrodisiac. Din says the tenggek burung is the younger sibling to the pucuk gajus or the young shoots of the cashew tree. It is often consumed to help you digest better.
We move onto another stall run by second generation owner, Rohani Hassan. Her selection of items has all of us fascinated since they are out of the ordinary, like the kerdas.
If you love petai or stink bean, these crunchy brown skinned kerdas bears the same strong aroma but its texture is akin to a crunchy nut. She also has melinjo leaves, another rarity. The tree’s nuts are used to make emping, those popular Indonesian crackers with a slight bitter taste. The stall also sells the delicate cendawan sisir, a type of forest mushroom that is rarely seen.
Once the herbs are all picked, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and work. One of Mandy’s recipes is her Rainbow Healing Rice — an amalgamation of nasi kerabu and nasi ulam — literally a rainbow of flavour and goodness.
The dish draws inspiration from Mandy’s mother, Lana Lee. She recalls that her mother would make nasi ulam on rare occasions and would always ensure the whole family be home to enjoy the dish. “It never occurred to me how tedious it was to make the dish until I attempted to make it on my own.”
Even though the base for her dish is a traditional one, she fuses her edible creations with Western styled ideas to make it more appealing and acceptable to others. Mandy adds her own touches, using dried fruits, nuts, fresh fruits and edible flowers to making it look more appetising.
The dressing includes a citrus element (either lime or lemon) since this helps to break down the tough plant fibres in the fresh herbs. She also adds a touch of extra virgin olive oil.
Her first version of the rice salad saw only sambal being mixed into the colourful rice and finely chopped herbs. After she came out with her own pineapple chilli jam that is fragrant with torch ginger flower or bunga kantan for her Chinese New Year yee sang dish, she now uses it in the Rainbow Healing Rice. For those who are following a non-carbohydrate diet, you can also substitute the rice with cauliflower rice.
As you help pluck and chop the herbs, you can sip on Mandy’s homemade green smoothie, one of her jamu creations. The fruit-based smoothie uses the ulam raja herb that imparts a fresh taste akin to green mangoes to the drink. It’s one of the drinks that is good for you, just like her slimming tonic that uses turmeric. She also teaches a cleansing herb infusion drink in class.
Mandy’s foray into jamu started back in October 2014 when she attended a jamu wellness class in Singapore. “I have always loved the ginger tea served at spas but could never replicate it at home so I decided to join this workshop to learn how to make it,” explained Mandy.
She was taught by Ajuntha Anwari who calls herself the “Medicine Woman of Asia.” Ajuntha teaches the benefits of using jamu in your daily life. As Mandy explains, Ajuntha advocates that “live” plant essences should be taken daily to cleanse, nourish, revitalise and maintain one’s health.
In that class, she introduced Mandy to a raw pegaga or pennywort salad and advised that a side of raw ulam should accompany all meals. Bowled over by the salad’s tasty flavours, Mandy started adding it to her morning routine or even as a side salad for dinner.
Soon she was eating it as a main meal and that would keep her satisfied. As the pegaga on its own can taste rather “green”, she adds ulam raja and dried krill (tiny shrimp) or geragau to make a tastier bite. Mandy also adds that, “The pegaga salad is good for improving memory and will keep us steady and alert.”
As she researched more about jamu and the healing benefits of herbs, she realised that one can heal one’s body through tasty food and drinks. “I am never one who likes to take medication in the form of liquids or pills as they taste nasty,” she said. With this in mind, she started teaching these classes to introduce others to the benefits.
It’s not only limited to food as the herbs can also be used for beauty purposes. The plant-based beauty products are literally raw healthy food for the skin and even your hair. Mandy’s foray into the cosmetic side was by accident… she had purchased a homemade kaffir lime shampoo and decided to experiment with her own.
Even though it’s primarily used as shampoo that works well for normal to dry hair to prevent hair loss, she also uses it as a refreshing body wash and insect repellent. Next on her agenda is a shampoo that works well for oily hair. Give her more time and we reckon she’ll be rolling out more DIY items that will be all-natural and good for the body.
For more information on Mandy Leong’s classes, follow her on Natural Remedies by ArtisanalBunny (https://www.facebook.com/ArtisanalbunnyRemedies/) or email her at email@example.com She also teaches classes to DIY your own kefir drinks, lacto-fermentation vegetables, kimchi and Korean food.