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Akatthi leaves are small to medium sized and oblong shaped. They grow in pairs along a long stem, averaging around ten to twenty pairs of leaflets, often with one odd leaf at the end of the stem. Akatthi leaves are deep green in color and the best leaves for culinary purposes are fresh, rich in color, and pliable. The leaves are bitter and mildly tart in flavor.
Akatthi leaves are available year-round.
Akatthi leaves are botanically known as Sesbania grandiflora and are also known by a variety of other common names including Agathi, Agate, and Hummingbird tree leaves. In Malaysia, Akatthi is referred to as "Turi." The leaves, flowers, and pods of the Akkathi tree all have many culinary and practical uses in traditional medicinal applications. It is not widely grown commercially, and is known as a backyard plant.
Akatthi leaves are considered an excellent source of Vitamin C and calcium.
Akatthi leaves are often used in curry dishes in India and in Malaysia in coconut milk soups. The bitterness of the leaves is best balanced with coconut milk or with chiles. Home cooks say that the leaves don't have to be cooked for long, 10 minutes at the most, before they are ready to be consumed. Akatthi leaves are best prepared sautéed, pressure-cooked, juiced, or boiled.
The Akatthi leaf is used in Southeast Asian cuisine, and is particularly widespread in India. The plant is widely used in traditional Ayuvedic medicine. The Akatthi tree is said to be named after the revered Vedic sage, Agastya, who is believed to have lived and practiced Ayurveda in the Himalayas in the Rigveda period (1500–1200 BC). On certain holy days, sacred cows are fed Akatthi leaves, which were fabled to be created for Agastya by the Indian deity Shiva. The leaves are commonly cooked in a traditional southern Indian curry to break religious fasts. Although they are used in remedies for everything from bruises to fevers and throat infections, the leaves are mostly known as a digestive aid.
The Akatthi tree is believed to be indigenous to Malaysia as well as North Australia and to many parts of India. The fast-growing tropical plant can now be found in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. Akatthi trees can live up to 20 years. They thrive in hot, humid conditions and are intolerant to cold and frost. Akatthi leaves are available in local markets in Southeast Asia.