Pisonia alba, known in English as the lettuce tree, is a small tree in the family Nyctaginaceae that originated on the Andaman Islands and occurs on islands and in coastal areas from the Seychelles in the west to Polynesia in the east. It grows to a height of about 10 meters and is often planted in hedges or as an ornamental. Its pale green to greenish-yellow leaves are 12-25 centimeters long and quite thin, with a pointed tip and a rounded base. They are used medicinally (especially in traditional Indian medicine) as an analgesic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and against dysentery. They also make good fodder for livestock. In many areas, the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach.
In the Philippines, the lettuce tree is known as kolis or maluko. It is unknown when this plant was introduced to the Philippines, but it is grown in household gardens and landscaped areas throughout the country. The leaves are used to wrap fish, which is then cooked with vinegar and spices. The leaves impart a distinctive flavor to the fish.
Until the 1970s, it was common to find kolis growing in neighborhoods in the Philippines—if the need arose to use the leaves in the kitchen, one could simply harvest some from a neighbor’s tree. Today, kolis is less common and many people do not know about its uses: It has disappeared from neighborhoods due to urbanization, and the wide availability of commercial vegetables and seasonings have led to this tree being neglected as a food source. Kolis should be cultivated for conservation.Back to the archive >