Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Top of the Crops! Top 10 nutritious leafy vegetables in the Pacific

An ACIAR-funded study on nutritionally rich leafy vegetables in the Pacific region has identified the ‘Top 10’ and produced a series of fact sheets to promote them to indigenous communities. The study’s goal is to encourage the production and consumption of these important food crops, to help combat the current epidemic of diet-related diseases in Pacific islanders and indigenous Australians.
Aibika for sale in markets in Suva, Fiji
Photo R Goebel

The fact sheet series, Leafy green vegetables in the tropics, will help raise awareness of the nutritional value of leafy vegetables in Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Torres Strait Islands and the Northern Territory of Australia. Some of these vegetables are already very popular with the locals for their leaves. Others have been traditionally grown for their starchy corms (e.g. taro) or are familiar for their fruits (chilli, choko and pumpkin) but their leaves are also edible and nutritious.
woman looking at watercress in market
Buying watercress in Suva markets, Fiji
Photo R Goebel
One fact sheet describes the study itself, and outlines the problem of diet-related disease and the value of eating leafy vegetables. Another highlights an innovative project that is already promoting fruit and vegetable gardening on Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait. The remaining fact sheets cover the Top 10 leafy vegetables, including traditional Pacific plants such as aibika, taro leaf and ete, as well as more recent introductions such as Ceylon spinach, sweetleaf, amaranth, and the curiously named drumstick tree. The sheets include information on the plants’ characteristics (such as growth and flavour); their main uses (food for people and livestock, green manure, etc); and how best to propagate, grow, harvest and store them. There are even some recipes included for tasty salads and soups.

The study included biochemical analyses of locally collected plants, looking at their nutritional and medicinal properties. These Top 10 plants are outstanding in their nutritional value, particularly Ceylon spinach. The key nutrients in each vegetable are outlined in the fact sheets (including minerals and carotenoids), as is their importance to human health. European cabbage is included as a comparison in each case—and most of these Pacific 'greens' score significantly higher!

The study is being led by the University of Adelaide. It has the interest and support of many partner institutions and people in the Pacific islands. As the work continues, there will be scope for further activities, including an expansion of school food garden programs, further research on propagation methods by local businesswomen, and establishment of plant nurseries to make plants more accessible.
people and leafy vegetables at market

Aibika and sellers at Honiara markets, Solomon Islands
Photo G Vinning

More information 

Fact sheets and project information are available from ACIAR.

Project Leader Dr Graham Lyons, University of Adelaide

By Dr Wendy Henderson (ACIAR Science Communicator) and Dr Richard Markham (Research Program Manager, Pacific Crops)


  1. Hi. I would like to request for the electronic version of the said factsheet series. I would appreciate if you could email it to info[AT] . Thank you very much!

  2. Thanks for sharing the information, Crops for the Future. We look forward to seeing what you do with it on ! The information will also be shared by the Remote Indigenous Gardens Network at


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