‘Queensland Greens’ is a name given to this wonderful plant by a famous singer who was visiting Isabell Shipard’s herb farm on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. The leaves of this plant are so valuable in nutrition, she decided it needed a more meaningful name than its other common names; Aibika (PNG), Sunset Muskmallow, Sunset Hibiscus, Pele (Polynesia), Ailan Kapis (Vanuata), Lettuce Tree, Bele (Fiji), Beli (Tonga), and Slippery Cabbage (Solomon Islands).
Aibika, or Queensland Greens, is part of the Malvaceae family, with Latin name Hibiscus manihot (syn. Abelmoschus manihot). It grows 1-3m tall and is evergreen. There are a few different varieties, as leaf form and size (from 10-60cm in length) varies. The leaves on my plants are huge, only slightly lobed. Other plants may have leaves similar to Paw Paw trees, or fully round. There is a variety with red stems and red leaf veins. Queensland Greens is widely grown in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, India and Japan.
Leaves are beautiful, very dark shiny green, an indication of all the glorious chlorophyll they contain! Chlorophyll is essential in photosynthesis – a process in which plants turn light into energy for growing. The common name ‘Slippery Cabbage’, which is used in the Solomon Islands, refers to the slimy texture of the leaves, which is reduced when cooked.
Aibika has a potential yield of 65 tonnes per year, which makes it one of the highest yielding leafy vegetable. This, combined with its high nutrition profile and ease of growth, makes it one of the most important, most understated food plants.
How to grow Aibika – Queensland Greens
Queensland Greens is quite tough, provided enough moisture is provided. It will grow in full sun to part shade. Provide lots of fertiliser, in the way of organic chook poo or similar. This plant likes a fertile soil with available moisture. It is adaptable to most climates, growing as a perennial in subtropical and tropical climates, and annual in cooler climates. It will grow well in a large pot, which can be moved to a warm spot in winter if needed. Aibika is not frost tolerant.
I have found it may require support in wet conditions, such as the recent downpour we’ve just had. The garden filled up with water for an extended time, and 3 of my 2m tall plants fell over. They didn’t seem to mind too much though; I propped them back up, piled mulch around and over the exposed roots, and they are looking great so far.
These plants can be slow to start from tubestock or small plants, and moisture is everything. Grow in rich soil, with plenty of thick mulch piled around the base. Grasshoppers love this plant; I haven’t worried about them as they is such an abundance of foliage I figured we could share, but it’s worth mentioning.
I haven’t noticed the wildlife eating Aibika, which is a little surprising as the kangaroo’s and wallabies usually have their eye on anything green and tasty that’s at their level. Maybe they do not like it, or maybe they have had enough food elsewhere, as the grass has been growing (finally!).
Either way, whether you need to share it with other creatures or not, there will be plenty for everything. Leaves are huge, and once plants establish themselves they shoot up to 2m pretty quickly where most furry creatures can not reach. They may be helping, in a way, as they keep it pruned, which encourages new leafy growth!
How to propagate Aibika (Abelmoschus syn Hibiscus manihot)
Queensland Greens is propagated similar to other Hibiscus varieties; by cuttings, 15-30cm long. Cut just under a node, remove all large leaves and the leaves on the bottom 2/3rds of the cutting. Plant in well draining potting mix, perlite and sand, or other propagation mix. Keep the cuttings moist but not wet. Cuttings are best taken in spring and summer.
Medicinal uses for Aibika / Queensland Greens
Cooked leaves, shoots and Aibika soup are used throughout Papua New Guinea to cure colds, sore throats, stomach aches and diarrhoea. The rich mucilage content has a soothing effect on inflammation (internal and external) and irritation of the respiratory and urinary system.
Aibika tea, made with 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh leaves, steeped in 1 cup of boiling water, is useful for easing sore throats, mouth ulcers, digestive upsets and other stomach complaints. It can be used externally for inflammation, wounds, bites, burns and eczema.
In Vanuatu and Fiji, tea (or soup in some cases) is used to increase milk production in lactating mums, as well as menstrual problems such as excessive bleeding and to shorten the menstrual cycle. It is believed to induce abortions so I do NOT recommend Aibika for pregnant women, but it’s worth conducting further research.
Culinary uses, How to eat and cook Aibika
Hibiscus manihot is full of protein, at 29%, as well as having a good balance of amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It contains the essential amino acids isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine and histidine, which cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from foods.
Its high protein level makes it a great plant for adding to vegetarian or vegan diets! Add them to everything; sandwiches, quiches, salads, coleslaw, casseroles, soups, stews, smoothies… The possibilities are endless really! Here’s my Minty Aibika Green Super Smoothie Recipe!
Aibika leaves can be eaten raw, steamed or stewed. In Papua New Guinea, leaves are often mixed with Taro leaves, possibly to reduce the itchiness which can occur when eating Taro leaves. Leaves and young shoots can be boiled in water or in coconut milk, for no longer than 5 minutes. Aibika’s high mucilage content helps thicken sauces.
Tender young tops of the plants, and small leaves, are nicest to eat. The more mature leaves can be eaten also, but may be tougher and more slimy. Large leaves can be used as wraps for foods like rice, fish, vegetables and meats.
A couple of yummy PNG recipes can be found on the PNG Traditional Vegetables website at Charles Darwin University: http://traditionalvegetables.cdu.edu.au/recipes.html. There’s a recipe for Cream Aibika, with coconut cream, turmeric and garlic, and Steaming Aikir, with coconuts, tomatoes, onions and chicken.
Aibika / Queensland Greens in a Smoothie
You can use Aibika like you would spinach, and it is great in smoothies. Mix a handful of Aibika leaves (nice young ones + young shoots) with a handful of grapes or berries, an apple, some yoghurt (natural vanilla yoghurt is yum, or use natural greek yoghurt with a tablespoon of honey) and a splash of milk for a wholesome, high protein Aibika smoothie. Here’s my Minty Aibika Green Super Smoothie Recipe!
Aibika is one of the most important plants in my garden – it produces year round, is highly nutritious and easy to use.
Common name: Queensland Greens, Aibika
Hardiness: perennial, ever green. Frost tender.
Culture: Fast growing. Full sun or shade. Needs a warm, sheltered position in temperate climates. Well draining soil, regular fertilising and watering. May drop leaves during very cold weather.
Appearance: Thick, soft-wood main trunk, side branches, and large leaf canopy. Several varieties, some with large, lobed leaves, some with elongated heart shaped, some red veined. Yellow hibiscus flowers in summer are followed by seed capsules with 5 segments and brown seeds. May not flower in temperate climates.
Contains: Protein 29%, Vitamins A, B1, B5, B6, C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium
Uses: Valuable for its source of vitamins, minerals, proteins and a good balance of essential amino acids. Use leaves as salad greens, sandwiches, coleslaw, casseroles and stir-fries. Large leaves can be used as wraps. Leaves are dried, crushed to a powder and stored to use as high-protein sprinkle.
Pest & disease: Leaf eating insects. May be subject to traditional Hibiscus pests