This is a blog post on growing and harvesting Pandan (Vanilla Grass) leaves. Pandas leaves or Vanilla grass grows well in tropical countries. The leaves are used a lot in South East Asian cuisines. From main courses to desserts. It’s a natural green leave vanilla flavoring hence the name Vanilla Grass. I love cooking with it as well that is why I was looking to grow it at home.
Growing and harvesting Pandan plant (Vanilla Grass)
It is impossible to grow from seed as pandan (vanilla grass) plants hardly ever produce seeds. It is normally grown from offshoots or rhizomes from its mother plant.
In Asia, it is not a problem as they grow like weeds. However, to get hold of it in the UK is quite rare. I manage to find a UK-based seller that sells pandan plants. While I am not against international sellers buying a live plant is different. Try to source it locally. The pandan plant would not grow as rapidly well as it would in the tropics. The reason is that the growing conditions are not optimum enough. Not unless one has got a special grow cupboard (you will be surprised what you can kind find nowadays) for tropical plants. Therefore it will yield a lot less than it can use in desserts. In order for the pandan to produce flavor, the mature the plant the stronger the flavor and color. So try to source a more mature plant however it would definitely cost more.
The plant I ordered from eBay arrived well-boxed up with no hassle. However, growing in the UK can be an issue as the pandan plant crown doesn’t like cold and moisture trapped in the leaves. I grew it in a pot of manure compost in a sunny spot. The only way to water it is just by watering the soil, not the leaves. I have kept it indoors over winter. However, after a few months, the leaves were eaten by some bugs. I put the pandan plant outside in late springtime for some outdoor time. This lasted for the season it was happy it even produce some offshoots/ young plants. However, come autumn I left it in a drafty greenhouse. The pandan crown didn’t like the trapped moisture and that was the end of its life.
It’s a tricky plant to grow outside the tropics, it likes filtered sun and humid conditions. A sunny bathroom will be the best place. I have tried to grow it again last year this time in a sunny bathroom. No such luck it did not survive the winter UK season. I have seen some gardeners successfully grow it well but it is rare. One of the tips is to treat mealy white bugs as soon as you see them. Water once/ week in the winter. Grow lights help as well.
So for the moment, I am giving growing pandan a rest and try to grow other types of plants instead.
Buying pandan plant
Would I grow it again yes if I can get hold of some young shoots on the cheap? The average price for the pandan plant in the UK is around £15 to £25. Not unless I am desperate to grow them, I will then try to get hold of them. Even with the current pandemic, it is possible to get hold of the Pandan plant. Facebook groups like Malaysian Food in the United Kingdom small independent sellers do post their imported plants (mostly from Thailand) for sale from spring to early autumn. If you are based in Europe sellers in Germany do sell them try to search using google image search. It doesn’t come cheap with delivery it set back 32 euros.
Nowadays they are very good pure pandan powder and essence available online. It is an alternative to growing pandan. But nevertheless, I just love the smell and look of the pandan plant as it brings back memories of home. Even there is no chance to ever going to use the leaves for cooking.