From The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia
by Arthur Bovey


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sauropus androgynus

FAMILY: Phyllanthaceae

I find the Sweet Leaf bush is one of the most useful plants in my garden. Its great to nip a few new tips off as I walk by and enjoy their fresh flavour or pick a handful of tips or leaves just before a salad meal to eat instead of bland lettuce. The leaves and tips do not store well as they go limp but are still good to eat with midday sandwiches when bush, fishing or a field trip. If you're in a hurry, cut a stem off and take the whole thing to the table. If you close your fingers at the start of the stem and strip all the leaves off the tip, it leaves a 'rosette' of leaves in your hand, ready to pop in your mouth. What could be fresher?

The plant will grow readily from a cutting 40 mm long in warm weather. As their root systems spread, a stem with a few roots on can be detached using a sharp spade for quicker propagation. They grow little in our winter here in Mackay, but then we don't have many salads. My bushes have many flowers but very few fruit set, so I have no experience with seed propagation. The odd seedlings do grow up round the area of a well-developed bush, but mine usually get smothered by mulch which they love. I don't fertilise as such but they do get compost. It grows in most types of soil-but I think it does better in the heavier ones. It loves water, but can't swim.

During the wet, unless they are heavily harvested, they will grow over 2 m high and then they will tend to fall over or outwards. Putting a rope around [halfway up] will stop the out -spreading and a stake will stop it falling over. I find it easier to hack off half the growth, about a metre, and as the re-growth gets to a usable height, cut another half off. Also, in autumn they are cut down to a metre.

According to the information I've gathered, they will cope with 95% shade. It's native habitat is the under storey in a primary rainforest yet I grow mine in full sun. The fruit and flowers are also edible. I can vouch for the flowers, but never tried the fruit.

Culinary uses: Stir-fry dishes, scrambled eggs and any dish that calls for parsley or spinach. [I have both parsley and Ceylon spinach which we do cook, especially the latter, so I can't vouch for how sweet leaf cooks. It's great raw, so when you are onto a good thing, stick with it. Like the leaves of the drum-stick tree (Horse radish tree) it would be labour-intensive to gather enough to cook. Ceylon spinach and parsley take far less time]. In Malaysia, there are the occasional reports of headaches caused to some people after heavy consumption. Another source of information reports "excess consumption of leaves causes pain in limbs". It also says "seeds are borne in abundance". I've had no such problems. Who can define 'heavy' or 'excess'?

Young leaves can be eaten raw. [I eat leaves at all green stages and find the mature ones sweeter.]


Analysis of Sweet Leaf Bush (S. androgynus)

Moisture Content 70%
Crude Protein


(on Dry Matter basis)*



Dried Bananas 1.5%



Dried Skim milk 1.3%



Dried soybeans 0.5%

Magnesium 0.5%

199.0 PPM

Dried Parsley 410.0 PPM

Fibre 14 - 18%

Vitamin "A" high, "B" moderate, but no figures available.

* There seems to be a large discrepancy in reported 'Crude protein' content. As low as 6% and as high as 34.8%, but as a fisherman that is not a problem.

Below shows the effect of management on the plant's protein content. From the courtesy of the Department of Agriculture 'Sarawak'.

Crude protein on 'dry matter basis'. The bush is cut back, and then grown to various ages, then cut back agin.


Age Crude Protein
5 weeks 30.4%
6 weeks 26.4%
7 weeks 24.5%
8 weeks 21.0%



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Bovey, Arthur. "Sweet Leaf Bush II." The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia.  Fruity Talk, Mackay Newsletter, July 1996. Web. 12 Jul. 2014.

Published 12 Jul. 2014 KJ
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