Angela ( in black) during the introduction
Such a welcoming 'foyer'
Angela Hijjas was our perfect guide and host on the morning the MCG (Malaysian Culture Group)members visited Rimbun Dahan. For most of the visitors, it was a first time experience that will stay in their memories for a long time. The 14 acre Rimbun Dahan with its art studios, restored village house, underground art gallery, artist's accommodation, a classic car garage, the Hijjas family home, staff quarters and garden of indigenous plants can only blow your mind away with all it has to offer.
After a brief introduction by Sue, the coordinator of the tour, Angela Hijjas guided us to to Taman Sari, the herb and spice garden near the main house.
As a garden enthusiast myself, I know that it's a labour of love to keep a garden thriving. Angela certainly has her pulse on the plants growing there. Her knowledge of the 100 species of herbs impressed us.
'Here smell this. It's the nutmeg.' We stood by the tree, lush with dense foliage and the fruits, globular -like. The fruit was halved and passed around the ladies. The red mace is indeed attractive! Looking around, it was an awakening of senses ! The exuberant expressions told me so. Personally, I love the nutmeg and never fail to bring home some nutmeg products during a visit to Penang.
A garden nurtured to this stage is a blessing. Wow, so many herbs and spices at her disposal without having to run to the local market and not finding it there. I plant a few myself - serai, kesum, curry leaf, limau purut, mint, limau kasturi, misai kuching, kunyit, chili, kayu manis, cananga odorata, papaya, mulberry That's all my garden space can fit, I think! The main thing is to keep everything growing and alive.
In this serene haven, Angela shared her knowledge. Gardeners in Malaysia struggle with the clayey soil but Angela has succeeded in making compost in the early days of Rimbun Dahan to create a good balance for a promising start to Taman Sari.
Now and then, Angela sprinkled some spicy info about Malay customs with regards to herbs.The sepenoh/euricles amboinensis is a magic plant. Malays use leaves in magic brush to sprinkle consecrated rice gruel in harvesting, fishing and wedding ceremonies. The plant is believed to expel ghosts and evil spirits from the house. The medicinal and culinary wealth of the herbs and spices is evident in this garden space.
Having spiced our walk in Taman Sari, Angela kept up the tempo in the other areas of Rimbun Dahan. What's a forty five minute drive to Angela's Rimbun Dahan? Nothing to speak of! We enjoyed such a nourishing morning for the soul in the arts and the plants! Thank you, Angela!
What's inside is indeed attractive. The lacy red mace is so lovely. So much to enjoy from the pala or nutmeg / myristica fragrans) : fruit pickled as food, shoot eaten as vegetable with rice and to treat hypertension; red mace for flavouring fish and cakes ; kernel gives commercial nutmeg ; oil is medicinal . The nutmeg originating from the Banda islands of Indonesia were grown in plantations on Penang island by the British when the spice was one of the most valuable commodities in the world.
As we walked round the garden, we smelled the different herbs shown to us.Tear a little of the leaves or crush them lightly, then smell -the daun kesum, the limau purut, etc. Of course, it smelt strange and new to some of the ladies who have not come across these herbs in the tropics. The consensus among the visitors is Malaysia is blessed super rich in flora. Indeed, our biodiversity is one of our natural treasures.
All eyes up for the pinang sireh / betel nut/areca catechu. The seed treats diarrhoea. The sliced endosperm of the seed is eaten with betel leaves, lime, gambier. I remember an old Indian maid of ours who used to have red lips chewing on this! It used to give her the little 'highs'.
For the Malays, the offering of the pinang sireh symbolizes the purity of the bride. Should it be discovered after the wedding, the bride is not a virgin, the pinang sireh is overturned! This precise function of the pinang sireh does not exist today.
The limau purut/citrus hystrix under the nose . The leaf is an essential ingredient in cooking. The rind is used in ubat jamu to drive away evil spirits, worms in children and headaches.
The pegaga/ Indian pennywort,(centella asisstica) in Malaysia is synonymous with ulam /salad herb. A ulam dish is not complete without it. The pegaga is valued all over the world both for the fresh consumption in stimulating appetite and the medicinal properties like treating sores, ulcers and skin problems.
Ulams/salad herbs add variety to meals and are a major source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Do not be deceived . Some of the ulams are 'weeds' in our garden while some are ornamental or garden plants which never crossed our minds they can be eaten!
The mulberry fruits
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