Samet, Phak Mek (Syzygium gratum)

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Gathering handfuls of wild food plants like young Phak Mek (Syzygium gratum, Samet Chun, Maak mek, ຜັກສະເມັກ, Punk Tree, Paperbark Tea Trees) simply brings a sense of empowerment. In Southeast Asia, plants like Syzygium gratum grow in agricultural ecosystems, which develop as a result of farming and horticultural systems. Syzygium gratum also occurs naturally in tropical and subtropical ecosystems from India to the Pacific Islands, where it can be found as medium-sized shrubs, or giant trees. Young shoots and new growth have a red tint, maturing into woody red stems with flaky bark, and glossy evergreen leaves. Flowers are small, round, and plentiful, and give way to white, fleshy berries.

When young Phak Mek plants sprout in Southeast Asian villages, paddy fields, plantation areas, and secondary forests, farmers seize the opportunity to harvest and cook them. In fact, seventy percent of wild Phak Mek plants are found growing as weeds in rice fields. Here, women farmers are tasked with tending to fields by weeding out unwanted plants, serving their communities by cooking meals. Phak Mek plants are especially important to rice farmers in the rural Northeast region of Thailand, where food security can be an issue.

You can grow Phak Mek without much trouble if you can mimic its native and naturalized growing zones. Phak mek plants can be found and consumed year-round in regions with sandy loam soil, poor drainage, and high salinity. Young shoots can be eaten cooked and served in combination with other vegetables. In homeopathic medicine, the plant is used as a natural antiseptic and stomach aid for its tannic taste. It is also eaten raw with nam phrik, vermicelli or with any Southern Thai food.  

Root Meanings: In Thailand, the prefix ‘Phak’ is used to name edible vegetable plants, including shoots, leaves, stems, and whole aerial parts. 

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