Pakis, an edible fern that grows in peatlands and along riverbanks, is a daily source of nutritious meals in Central Kalimantan. In Tumbang Nusa village, people will travel downriver for about an hour just to collect the ferns – and to later serve a bowl of pakis in their kitchen.
Garinda (48) is a housewife who often gathers these edible ferns along the riverbank with her family. She says the hot weather just does not bother her much, and that her mother and all the older generations have always harvested pakis in the same way.
She did not say much while in the canoe, not even to her son. She just relished the cool breeze while keeping an eye out for a good patch of ferns. She seemed to have a keen sense for that.
“It is growing nearby, we will stop here,” she said to the motorist.
Then suddenly she leapt from the boat and sprinted halfway into a patch of overgrowth. Under the burning sun, she picked off the shoots with lively movements of her quick hands.
“We can only harvest from a pakis patch once every three days. If we keep doing it every day, it is not good for the ferns and the texture of the fern leaves gets hardened,” she added.
She explained that the villagers identify three types of edible pakis ferns: bajai (Diplazium esculentum), kelakai (Stenochlaena palustris), and lampasau (Diplazium esculentum Swartz). The distinction is that the former is green in color and only grows along the riverbank. The latter, on the other hand, is red in colour, and is usually found growing only in the peat soils.
“For us, the tastiest is bajai, then kalakai. Lampasua is also good but the texture is somewhat harder than the others,” she said.
The roots of the edible ferns are also considered to be herbal treatments for a variety of illnesses. The Dayak people of Tumbang Nusa believe the roots to be useful for treating asthma and heart disease and have used them in this way from generation to generation.
Apart from foraging these ferns to help feed her family, Garinda also sells some of her harvest at the local vegetable market. She can harvest 100 to 200 bunches of ferns in a single day.
After 30 minutes of picking bajai, she asked the canoe driver to move on to a different location. And her face brightened when she discovered another patch of even more succulent ferns in the next location. Ferns soon filled her bucket to the brim, so it was time to go home and cook.
Garinda explained that the recipe for cooking pakis is very simple. Just add salt, chilli, and onions. And some of the older generation also use coconut leaves to get a saltier taste.
The ferns can be sautéd or simply boiled. Bamboo shoots may also be mixed together with the fern shoots. And coconut milk is also used by those who prefer a savory gravy.
According to Irawan et al. (2006), kalakai contains a high concentration of Fe (41.53 ppm), Cu (4.52 ppm), vitamin C (15.41 mg/100g), protein (2.36 percent), beta carotene (66.99 ppm), and folic acid (11.30 ppm).
References: Irawan, Daisy & Wijaya, Christofora & Limin, Suwido & Hashidoko, Yasuyuki & Osaki, Mitsuru & Kulu, Ici. (2006). Ethnobotanical study and nutrient potency of local traditional vegetables in Central Kalimantan. Tropics. 15. 10.3759/tropics.15.441.