Saturday, November 13, 2010

Homegrown Greens: Taro Leaves (Colocasia esculenta)

Taro Plant - 2010
Taro has been grown for human consumption since antiquity - some estimates say that it was in cultivation in tropical India before 5000 B.C.E. Taro is grown and eaten in many countries around the world. It was a popular food in Europe during the Roman Empire and many ways of preparing them are found in the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius. These "tropical potatoes" are known as Chembu in Malayalam, Cheppankizhangu in Tamil, Arbi in Hindi, Satoimo in Japanese, dasheen/eddo/callalloo etc. in the Caribbean/Polynesian islands and other parts of the world.

Taro is more nutritious than the regular potato; comparatively taro contains more protein and higher amounts of calcium and phosphorous in addition to goodly amounts of Vitamins A, B6, C and E. It is easily digestible and so good for people with delicate digestive systems.

Although the corms (modified stems) are the most prized parts, the leaves and stems are also eaten. I grow taro for the leaves and stems as the they are not readily available in markets. The leaves are even more nutritious than the corms with a lot more protein. But as with the roots, all parts of taro must be cooked well in order to make them edible - they contain calcium oxalate crystals and other compounds which cause irritation and itching that are rendered harmless by cooking. For more information on taro click here.

The leaves and stems are cooked together or separately to make different dishes. In southern India, the leaves are wrapped around a lentil filling, steamed, and seasoned to make a delicious dish called Chembilai Palaharam or Patravade. People from western India make a similar dish called Patra. My grandmother used to make a delicious stew with the stems flavored with coconut and spices.

Here are a couple of recipes for a start: Taro Leaf and Red Lentil Stew; use taro leaves and stems in the following recipes instead of the radish leaves or Malabar spinach - Radish leaves Thoran, Malabar Spinach Stew.

Taro Root (Corms)
How to grow:

Choose firm, hairy, unwrinkled corms. They should feel heavy and not light. Place one or more of the taro corms in slightly damp (but not wet) soil with the wide end up in a sunny spot. The plants will grow after a few days. To speed up rooting, taro corms may be loosely wrapped in a plastic bag and kept in a dark cupboard; after a few days, you will notice them sprouting. Once they start growing, plant them in the ground or in a pot.

When the plants have a few leaves, the outer leaves can be harvested while still young and green; carefully cut the stem at the base without injuring the inner stalks or leaves. I like to leave a couple of leaves so that the plants can keep growing. Taro also makes a beautiful container plant with its elephant ear shaped leaves - in fact it is called "elephant ears" when grown as an ornamental plant!

 Taro plants Then and Now

Taro in 2013
I had planted about 5 or 6 corms of taro (arbi) in 2010 and have left them in the pot - only harvesting the leaves and stems.  Every year I add compost and soil - that is it.  Water and abundant sunshine helps them grow!


Anonymous said...

I just added your blog site to my blogroll, I pray you would give some thought to doing the same.

Anonymous said...

Yes, probably so it is

Geetha said...

Anons, Thank you for your visits and comments. Taro does better in direct sun - in the shade they seem to attract aphids. I love the taro plants with their large velvety leaves on graceful slender stems. If the purple variety can be found they would be fun to grow as well. - G

Poo said...


Where can I buy these bulbs? Are they same as Arbi available in Indian store? Normally one bulb would produce one leaf?


Geetha said...

Hello Poorva, Taro and arbi are one and the same although there are different varieties. They may be purchased from Indian, Asian or other ethnic markets. Taro is a perennial plant and once established, each corm will produce many leaves for years. I hope this helps :) Happy gardening and cooking!

Anonymous said...

Geetha, thanks for ur posts. After they have sprouted in bag, how deep in soil should we plant them? Thanks a lot☺

Geetha said...

Hello, You are welcome. Plant the taro with its crown of leaves just above soil level with the tuber in the soil. I hope that helps. Happy cooking and planting!

Anonymous said...

I have grown thegreen stem variety how do i cook them

Geetha said...

Hello Anon, How exciting to have grown Taro or Arbi! You can cook the leaves with the stems in a Sambar recipe or this one:; add the chopped taro stems along with the leaves. Delicious! Let me know how you like it. Happy cooking!

Unknown said...

Hi: Got plenty of Taro, but not sure if I can eat the stem. How do I know? I have eaten the roots - Joey

Geetha said...

Hello, glad to hear you are growing taro! and better yet, eaten them :). Here is a recipe for a stew:
The leaves and stems may be finely chopped and cooked similar to radish greens too:
Happy growing and cooking!

Unknown said...

Growing arbi or taro requires partial shade or direct sunlight. I have planted 5 corms one month before, leaves came out well,but leaves are wilting. Can anybody suggest me.

Geetha said...

Hello Unk, Taro is fine whether you have full or partial sun. I have mine in full sun for most of the day especially in the hot afternoon sun. Perhaps your plants need more water. Initially, if you have planted the newly sprouted plants outside, they may need time to adjust to the new conditions but should grow fine once established. Happy growing and cooking!

shwetha said...

Is it possie to grow taro using its stem.

Geetha said...

Hello Shwetha, I don't think the stems will grow new plants. I have only seen the big/little corms only being used to grow new plants.