Also named coix seeds, Chinese pearl barley, pearl barley, semen coicis, yokuinin, and vavegelu in Taiwan indigenous dialects, Adlay Job’s Tears belongs to the family Gramineae and it is an annual or perennial erect herb of 100-180 cm high, flowering from July to September and fruiting from September to October.
It mainly grows around the riversides, creeks, and humid river valleys. It has lanceolate leaves with a slightly heart-shaped bottom and the tip is hard and short, which is different from other Poaceae, also called grasses. Compared with other Poaceae, Vavegelu is featured in the unique pattern of inflorescences and spikelets.
The tribal people in the early days husked Vavegelu with a pestle, and it is harvested when 80 percent ripe. Taking out the seeds from the hollow husk is very time-consuming hence it was rarely eaten but made for ornaments instead.
When the fruit is ripe, the texture of the husk becomes shiny and similar to leather which can be made for some ornaments. For example, the traditional bracelets, anklets, rattan ornaments, and also “Tabba Sang”, an instrument that means “hip bells” that tied around the body while dancing during Pastaay, the most important festival of the year for the Saisiat tribe.
In addition, the leaves of Vavegelu used to be one of the materials to build the roof in the tribe as well.
The usage of Vavegelu, already reported in “The Divine Husbandman’s Herbal Foundation Canon”, is very diverse. The fruit is an edible grain and also is used as Chinese medicine in Taiwan.
As for the indigenous people living in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung, they pestle it to make congee or medicine. They will cook it with rice, or ground it to powder for making breads or desserts.