Balinese Trees – Vegetables – and Spices

Balinese Trees – Vegetables – and Spices

Banana trees

abound and grow easily. There are many varieties of bananas in the tropics.

Flamboyant trees

With their scarlet blooms and long seed pods they contrast strikingly with a tropical blue sky. They originated in Madagascar, an island that was populated by Indonesians 1,500 years ago.

Banyan or waringin trees

are places where powerful spirits reside – a belief common in many Asian countries. The tree is easily recognized from its thick twisted multiple trunk and numerous secondary aerial roots. Buddha received his enlightenment under a bodhi tree, a kind of banyan, in Benares, now called Varanasi in India, so it is sacred to his followers. In Indonesia the banyan is symbolic of the cosmos and society itself. There are always banyan trees in temples and usually at crossroads. There is a fantastic banyan tree on the way down to the Campuan Temple opposite Murni’s Warung.

Kepuh trees

are a feature of graveyards and temples associated with death. These trees have bare limbs and a desolate appearance and are very tall.

Manioc or cassava

is called ubi or ubi kayu in Balinese. When it is ground, it becomes the source of tapioca. It is a root plant and grows in dry areas. It is very common in lrian Jaya. Almost pure starch, it has little taste, except if cooked imaginatively. It can be steamed or boiled. The roots, which are long and slender, must be cooked thoroughly. The large lobed leaves, when young, are eaten as a vegetable. The older leaves are fed to cattle. Manioc flour is the principal ingredient of Indonesian crackers, Krupuk, of which there are many kinds. The manioc chips are put in very hot oil for a few seconds, swell enormously and curl up. Sometimes as a snack manioc is boiled with the skin on, then peeled, and eaten with grated coconut. Or it can be sliced and fried and served with salt.

Morning Glory

a green vegetable, much favoured in Asian cooking.

Coconut (kelapa) 

These are one of the most common trees in Bali. Indeed the Malay archipelago is thought to be the coconut’s first home. All parts are useful. They can be made into bowls and the shell fashioned into salt and pepper holders. They provide food and drink, vessels, clothing and houses – although you can die if a coconut falls on your head. They tend to drop without warning.

The Javanese revere the coconut palm as the symbol of knowledge. In Bali, it is the symbol of life and fertility. In the old days, women were not allowed to touch a coconut tree in case they ruined its fertility. Newborn Balinese babies used to be given coconut juice after birth.

It contains potassium and natural lecithin and is a good source of fibre. Oil is extracted from the dried fruit flesh and is used for soap. It is the preferred cooking oil in Bali. It has a distinctive flavour and tastes good with spices. Olive oil is not suitable for Asian cooking as it has a low smoking point, whereas coconut oil has a high smoking point.

Young coconuts are used for water and the jelly-like white flesh is eaten as a snack. The mature flesh is grated to extract coconut milk, mixed with warm water and then strained, and used in many Indonesian dishes. Unfortunately it is high in cholesterol.

Generally, the Balinese use a light, standard coconut milk, whereas the Thais use coconut cream. In choosing a coconut, ensure that it is heavy with juice and that there are no cracks.

The hard shell is used to make utensils and fabulous furniture. The wood of the tree is used for beams and rafters in houses. The hard shell can also be used as charcoal and is very good for barbecues. The coarse husk fibre is woven into ropes, mats and brushes.

There are 18 varieties growing in Indonesia. In Bali the small nyuh bulau or moon coconut is used in. Its skin is saffron yellow, which is a holy, symbolic colour.


There are more than 700 species of bamboo in the world and approximately half grow in Southeast Asia. There are many colours. Black and yellow are particularly striking. It is one of the most important building materials in Southeast Asia, valuable for its strength, being used for scaffolding and roof supports. Much furniture in Bali is bamboo. It can also be used to make musical instruments. The tender young shoots are eaten as vegetables. Long strips are woven into mats and baskets. Very fast growth is normal: on average one foot a day.

Palm trees

serve many uses. They provide woven walls in temporary huts. The tall palm is the source of strips of palm dried and carefully treated for traditional lontar books, on which are written religious texts. Another type of palm provides the alcoholic drink, tuak, and palm sugar. The areca palm nut forms part of the mixture for betel chewing, a practice enjoyed all over Asia, but now mostly among the older generation.

Giant tree ferns

grow all over Bali: the cooler climate in the north encourages their growth. Staghorn ferns grow wild on tree trunks and branches.

Umbrella plants

are common.

Sweet basil

grows well – the leaves are used to flavour food and are cooked with vegetable or fish dishes. The leaves are very fragrant.


grow and we use them for pumpkin soup, which is a fairly new thing in Bali.

Balinese Trees – Vegetables – and Spices