Pandan leaves are the large elongated leaves of the Pandan tree, also known as Screwpine. These beautiful palm-like trees have been domesticated since 3500 BC and are grown in abundance across countries like Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and many others.
There are many varieties of pandan, some more commonly used depending on their location. Pandanus Amarilifollius is more often found in Southeast Asia and is commonly used in cuisine and cosmetics due to its potent aroma and flavor. Other varieties, such as Pandanus Tectorius, are more commonly used for textiles across the Philippines, Hawaii, and Australia.
This ancient plant is cultivated through cuttings and grows well in both tropical and sub-tropical climates. All processing done to the raw, renewable material is eco-friendly, making Pandan leaves an incredible multi-purpose and sustainable material.
Along with textile, cosmetic, and culinary use, there are many powerful medicinal benefits for Pandan as well. Keep reading to delve deeper into these aspects of the legendary Pandan leaf.
1. Powerful Health Benefits
Image by Ross Helen
Along with a complex nutrient density showcasing high levels of iron and beta carotene, Pandan leaf has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and is associated with a plethora of potential health benefits*:
- Reduces arthritic pain: The oil in Pandan leaves is said to hold anti-inflammatory properties. For arthritis, the oil is mixed with coconut oil and applied topically.
- Regulates blood sugar: Consuming Pandan leaf after a meal can help regulate blood sugar, according to a small study conducted on 30 healthy adults.
- Prevents heart disease: Beta-carotene is a carotenoid and a powerful antioxidant. It is also the most dominant nutrient in pandan leaf. Carotenoids are proven to help prevent plaque build-up in the arteries, otherwise known as atherosclerosis.
- Treats minor burns: Pandan leaves contain tannic acids which are said to have a protective effect on the skin. Crushed Pandan can be used topically to soothe burns, sunburns, and other inflammatory skin ailments.
- Relieves headaches: Known for its pain-relieving properties, the Pandan leaf can be used to effectively treat mild headaches along with other aches and pains.
- Improves oral health: The scent and flavor of the Pandan leaf are said to help freshen the breath when chewed on and when chewed or applied as a paste, the leaf is also said to help relieve sore or bleeding gums.
With the potential for so many health benefits, it is no wonder the leaf is so widely used in cuisine and health tonics around the world. Often made into a paste, or directly cooked into the food source, there is a wide range of delicious ways to enjoy Pandan leaf.
2. Popular Eastern Cuisines and Teas
Image by Bank LT
Even though Pandan is well known for having medicinal properties, the cultures that traditionally enjoy adding the leaf to foods and beverages do so for more reasons than this: they also love its appetizing taste and smell.
Pandan leaf has a distinctive aroma that draws in the senses, enticing you to have a second helping. The smell is likened to that of white bread, or basmati rice due to a common aroma compound found in these foods. Pandan is so commonly used in dishes across Southeast Asia that it is considered the “vanilla of Asia.”
One of the most basic uses for the leaf in food is to liven up plain rice. Adding Pandan to plain white rice can transform the flavor into what tastes like quality basmati rice, which is often paired with curry. In some curries, like Indian Briyani, a knotted piece of whole Pandan leaf is thrown directly into the pot to contribute to the flavors and aromas.
Pandan is also used to wrap food items to help hold in the moisture and add to the delicious food smell. A great example is a popular dish in Thailand called Gai Hor Bai Toey which includes coconut and chile-marinated chicken wrapped in Pandan and steamed before being fried.
Image by Tachjang
This popular cuisine enhancer is also used to spruce up other things including water, alcoholic drinks, and desserts. The leaf is often chopped up and made into a fine emerald paste adding flavor, aroma, and a lovely green tint. Common desserts made with pandan include chiffon Pandan cake, sticky rice dumplings, and a traditional Thai jello-type dessert called Khanom Chan.
The pleasant smell and refreshing green tint make Pandan leaf very popular in the cooking sphere. However, these unique traits bring popularity in other areas too, including perfume manufacturing and cosmetic products.
3. Perfumes and Cosmetics
Image by Triocean
Pandan makes for a perfect natural addition to cosmetics and perfumes with its refreshing smell and health benefits along with its soft green coloring. The most popular Pandan cosmetics are extracts used for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Studies have shown that Pandan’s antioxidant levels are high enough to have a noticeable effect on the body and skin making its prominent use in cosmetics no surprise. Along with other natural ingredients, the extract is commonly used in cosmetics and herbal medicines designed to treat skin ailments of all kinds, including dermatitis and sunburn.
Thanks to its wonderful fragrance many people also use Pandan as air fresheners and perfumes. In Thailand, some cab drivers will even place fresh Pandan leaf in their vehicles to make use of the refreshing natural scent. The uses don’t end there either, Pandan is also used to craft and create exquisite handwoven fashion accessories and home items.
4. Sustainable Handwoven Accessories
Image by Studio Philippines
Possibly the most well-known use for Pandan leaves is the crafting of beautiful handwoven goods. Pandanus Tectorius is the most commonly used pandan variant for processing and using for crafts. It grows natively in countries like the Philippines, Hawaii, and Australia.
Some of the most popular items made from Pandan leaf include baskets, mats, handbags, hats, and bowls as well as planter boxes to reduce plastic while gardening. The process used to harvest, dye, and weave Pandan is highly sustainable. Pandan is a renewable resource and grows in abundance in areas where artisans process their leaves, which is done by hand.
Image by yykkaa
First, the leaves are harvested from the base of the plant and carried back to the work area. Next, crafters cut away the thorns and center ridge from each leaf before splitting them into strips of the desired width. The strips are then boiled for 30 minutes to get rid of the sap and brought out to dry in a shady area.
Image by Hemera technologies
Once the Pandan strips are dried, they are sorted into equal sizes and soaked in cool water for up to 4 hours. The strips are softened, then they are either dried in the sun or processed with bleach to try and lift their natural color as much as possible. Lastly, the strips are dyed the desired colors with a natural plant-based coloring called “Jobos” and once dried, are carefully woven into beautiful items.
Most artisans using Pandan to craft items fully rely on their handiwork to support their families. It takes a lot of hard work and skill to craft with Pandan leaf and goods are often available to buy both in-person and online.
Help Support Local Pandan Leaf Artisans
Image by Studio Philippines
Pandan leaf is one of the most useful and sustainable resources available in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Hawaii, Australia, and many other countries. With wonderful health benefits, delicious ways to compliment food, and gorgeous eco-friendly fashion and household accessories it is certainly clear why pandan leaf warrants so much attention.
The handwoven eco-friendly accessories are often made by women artisans in marginalized communities around the world. These women use their craft to support their families and often have no other form of income.
ShopatMAP is supporting women like these in the Philippines by purchasing their dazzling eco-friendly Pandan leaf purses, available in the handbag section of our store. Each purchase brings economic prosperity to emerging and struggling artisans while helping to provide education and essential provisions to impoverished children.
*The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.