How To Grow and Care for Katuk (Sauropus androgynus)

If you live somewhere that gets warm weather and enjoy growing edible plants, katuk might be the next thing you should try. As long as you grow it somewhere warm, keeping it thriving is a simple task.

It also helps that this plant has an interesting appearance which changes depending on the season, producing both flowers and fruit.

Katuk is a popular plant in many parts of South Asia, and it has numerous uses, but it’s not well-known outside these places. Here’s everything you need to know about Katuk. 

At a Glance: What You Should Know About The Katuk Plant

Katuk is a perennial shrub which remains evergreen no matter the season, provided that it is in a warm climate. In colder parts of the world, it will become deciduous, and regrow its foliage in spring, provided that the weather doesn’t kill it. 

It’s grown throughout parts of Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, and Indonesia. 

In its natural habitat of evergreen rainforests, it can reach 2 meters tall, growing upright.

You can recognize it by its deep green, oval leaves, and its yellow or red blooms in summer. 

During the autumn, these flowers will be replaced by edible fruit.

You may also see the katuk plant under the name star gooseberry, or sweet leaf, but there are also many other names. It’s also referred to as the multivitamin plant, chekkurmenis, changkok manis, chekup manis, and Singapore Cheera.

The Flowers of a Katuk Plant

What’s interesting about this plant is that the katuk grows both male and female flowers on the same plant, and this is known as a monoecious plant.

The katuk plant produces female flowers first, and the first sign of these are short flower stems appearing from the base of the leaves. Once the female flowers have finished, the male flowers follow.

White, or white with a hint of pink berries soon follow the flowers, and it’s worth mentioning that both the flowers and the berries are edible. 

Like many fruiting plants, these fruits also act as the vessels for the seeds, which are black and white.

How To Grow Katuk

Katuk is fairly easy to grow, and you can either raise it from seed or from cuttings, whichever you prefer.  

As with a lot of plants, using cuttings is the fastest and most reliable way of raising new plants, and they are essentially clones of the parent plant. The more cuttings you take, the better your chances of success. 

Sunlight and Soil

Katuk is used to growing in the lower part of rainforests, so mimicking the light levels by giving it partial sunlight is a good way to keep it healthy. It can stand stronger sunlight, as long as you’re vigilant with watering it, and you never let it dry out completely.

In terms of soil, it’s not a very fussy plant. You can grow it in sandy, or loamy soil, or soil which has a high clay content. Whichever you choose, it needs to be soil that drains well, otherwise you risk root rot killing the katuk.

For the best soil possible, pick soil which is slightly acidic, or that which is neutral, if you’re growing it in a pot, or if the soil in your garden is naturally made up of one of these two.

If you plan on growing katuk as a food source, select the most nutrient-packed soil possible, preferably organic where you can. This will ensure the most leaves, flowers, and fruit possible.

Temperature

In cool climates, katuk will go dormant once the temperature drops. You can avoid any damage by overwintering it inside, in a greenhouse, or by the side of your house to help protect it from frost.

If you do want to overwinter katuk, it’s worth growing it in a pot. This way, you don’t have to dig it up every autumn, and risk shocking the plant just before it goes dormant. 

Should You Feed a Katuk Plant?

It is beneficial to fertilize a katuk plant, especially if you plan on using it in the kitchen. Use a general fertilizer fortnightly during the growing season, but make sure you water the plant before you feed it, and don’t feed it at all in autumn or winter.

Once growth has restarted in spring, you can begin to feed it again. 

When Should You Water Katuk?

The best time to water your katuk depends on the growing conditions, really. How much sunlight, what kind of soil it sits in, and the temperature all plays a role in how often you should water the plant.

Generally speaking, katuk plants are from the rainforest, and as such, they prefer never drying out. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, as this can lead to root rot and plant death. 

Always check the soil to make sure the plant needs watering before drenching it.  

How to Use Katuk

In the Garden

Katuk is not the biggest show-stopping plant out there, but this is an advantage. Having too many highly ornamental plants can confuse your gaze, and even make you a little anxious, if there’s too much going on within your garden.

Katuk is both attractive and edible, while you can also use it as a privacy screen, a hedge, or a border plant. 

Because it loves dappled shade, it’s perfect for those tricky areas under large shrubs, trees, or buildings, as long as you make sure the soil is relatively damp.

It also adds a tropical element to any garden, and because it’s not very well-known in other parts of the world, it can be a real talking point in your garden. 

Using Katuk in Food

Katuk is an edible plant, and nearly all of the plant parts are safe to eat. In South Asia, it’s treated as a leaf vegetable. The new leaves and shoots don’t need to be cooked before they are eaten, but mature leaves do.

This plant contains huge amounts of protein, vitamin A, C, and B. In terms of the level of vitamin B, katuk has a higher concentration than most traditional leafy greens. 

Katuk also has useful levels of iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.

While other leafy greens such as spinach wilt completely when cooked, katuk leaves keep their shape, and taste a little like a pea.

While this plant is absolutely packed full of vitamins and minerals, it is worth noting that you must only eat it in moderation. 

There are several compounds within the plant that are harmful, including papaverine, which is known to cause lung damage. Cooking the plant will help reduce the risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it completely. 

Medicinal Applications

In Asia, the katuk plant has various medical applications, although there hasn’t been extensive research done on the effects of the plant, so always consult your doctor before trying anything. 

It can be used to treat heart complaints, topical skin problems, and to help weight loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Katuk an Invasive Plant?

Katuk is not classified as an invasive plant, but you should be careful of introducing non-native plants into your garden, as they can contain pests or diseases which are difficult to detect, and these could decimate the local wildlife.

Always buy plants from reputable sellers, preferably those that provide a plant passport with the plant itself. This ensures that the plant has been checked for both disease and pests before it was sent, going a long way to ensure the ecosystem stays safe.

It’s also worth noting that you should check with your local authority. Some places will consider a plant invasive, where others are more lenient. 

How Do You Root Katuk Cuttings?

You can root katuk cuttings in water very easily. As soon as you’ve taken or acquired the cuttings, put them into a glass of water, in a bright but indirect position.

It may take a few weeks for them to root, and you should change the water every week or so.

Is Katuk Poisonous?

In large doses, katuk is poisonous. It’s worth remembering that too much of anything can be extremely harmful to your health, so always eat a varied diet where you can.

Katuk, as mentioned above, contains papaverine, which lowers blood pressure, and if it’s taken in large amounts, it can cause permanent lung damage, among a host of other problems.

If in doubt, consult your doctor before you start using anything new. A five-minute question that seems a little odd will be much better than a hospital visit.

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