Oenanthe javanica is an uncommon leafy vegetable. Available occasionally in the wet market in Geylang Serai, it is called ‘daun selom’ by the Malays and known via a variety of common names in English such as water dropwort, water celery and water parsley.
Native to this part of the world, Oenanthe javanica is a marginal water plant that grows naturally in freshwater marshes and, along ditches and streams. A member of the celery family, Apiaceae, Oenanthe javanica features hollow stems which help it to float on water. Its pinnate to tripinnate foliage is celery-like and emits an odour similar to that of carrot tops.
The plant spreads via creeping stolons that produces long, threadlike rootlet at the nodes. Dainty, fragrant, white flowers are produced in compound umbels. The genus name, Oenanthe, is derived from the Greek words oinos and anthos, which mean ‘wine’ and ‘flower’ respectively, with reference to the wine-like scent of the flowers. I tried to smell the flowers of this species up-close but could not detect any obvious odour.
The ornamental version of this plant can be on sale in selected plant nurseries in Singapore. Known via the cultivar name ‘Flamingo’, it features variegated leaves with green, pink and cream.
The young shoots and leaves of Oenanthe javanica are eaten raw as ‘ulam’ and added to ‘laksa’ in northern Peninsular Malaysia. They are also steamed with rice, or chopped and boiled as greens. Oenanthe javanica possesses antihypertensive properties and contains high amounts of antioxidants such as ascorbic acid and carotenoids. Unlike other species that belong to the same genus, it does not contain the poison, oenanthotoxin.
Oenanthe javanica grows best in a cool, semi-shaded area with fertile soil that is kept moist at all times. New plants can be started easily via rooting stem-cuttings obtained from material bought from the market in some water. Rooted cuttings can then be transferred into a pot of soil.
A fast-growing plant, Oenanthe javanica can remove excess nutrients from water bodies and hence has the potential to be a phyto-remedial plant. It can be grown as a border plant around a natural pond or inside a water-tight container but don’t grow this plant in a koi pond as it is a very attractive food for these fishes!