Rungi - Rainforest Floor Vegetable
About a 3 minute read
A vegetable from the tropical highlands of Papua New Guinea, rungi is an attractive, edible, nutritious year-round ground cover for the tropics and semi-tropics that tolerates a wide range of growing conditions.
Rungi or Mushroom Plant (Rungia klossii) is a ground covering, many stemmed, perennial plant that grows up to 60-100cm high.
It can be leggy and sprawling, but regular harvesting keeps it compact and in the right conditions it’s an attractive, productive year-round ground cover.
Its glossy green leaves are larger, softer, and paler if growing in shade; smaller, darker, crisper, and with a yellow line along the vein in a sunnier spot.
In spring and autumn, rungi forms a stiff flower stalk with delicate little lavender-blue flowers.
History and uses
Rungi originated in Papua New Guinea. It's a common vegetable particularly in the highlands of PNG, where it is said to be sometimes grown together with sweet potato. (I haven’t tried that; my experience with sweet potato is that it wants to keep all the space it can find to itself…)
Rungi is listed by Plants for a Future as occurring in Asia, Indonesia, Australia and Tasmania, the Pacific, Africa, and the USA; I also found an article about it on this UK gardening website.
It’s handsome enough to be grown as an ornamental, as seen in these images from the Sydney Botanic Gardens, although I think that to grow rungi purely as an ornamental and not eat any of it would be to waste a very useful resource!
Nutritionally, rungi is described as very rich in chlorophyll and a good source of plant calcium, also rich in Vitamin C, beta-carotene and iron, higher in protein than mushrooms, and with traces of other minerals.
Harvesting and eating rungi
To harvest rungi, I snap off the leggiest stems or those that are heading in the wrong directions, and bring them to the kitchen. They’ll keep like that in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few days.
When I’m ready to use my rungi leaves, first I give the stems a rinse under the tap – there are sometimes bits of grit or garden soil on the undersides of the leaves.
To remove the leaves from the stem, I grip the top of the stem and strip the leaves downwards off the stem, then twist the tip to snap that off too.
Next, if I have a moment to do so, I tuck the now leafless stems into a bit of potting mix or back in the garden, where they’ll usually re-root at the leaf nodes and form new little rungi plants – a self-renewing food source.
I drop the leaves into soups, stews, and stir-fries at the last minute. They keep their crunch and don’t go at all slimy or mucilaginous like so many tropical greens do.
Many writers also suggest using rungi in salads, but I enjoy it so much as a vegetable, and have so many other salad options, that I haven’t done that.
Now, the mushroom flavor thing. Everyone who describes rungi says it has a mushroom flavor which gets stronger when you cook it (hence the common name of mushroom plant).
In my opinion, saying rungi tastes like mushrooms is not inaccurate, but it’s a bit lazy. For me, rungi tastes like rungi: a crunchy, green, forest floor sort of taste that’s particularly suited to deeply nourishing dishes like soups and stews.
Mind, don’t let that stop you from dropping it into a salad if a forest-floor flavor in your salad is your thing!
I know of no cautions at all for rungi as a vegetable or salad green.
In my garden, rungi is a big favorite. Things I love about it are that it thrives in shade with just a bit of attention to watering and a bit of added compost now and then, but it can also tolerate sun and it persists if I neglect it entirely, ready to be bountiful again as soon as I give it some attention.
I also love that although it’s a slow grower, the more rungi I use the more I have, so long as I remember to replant the stems and keep it moist and shaded and fed.
Rungi tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and pH levels. More sunshine will produce handsome dark green leaves with the striking yellow stripe. It will also hang on through dry times, although it won't be bushy and prolific.
The best conditions if you want abundant, large leaves for eating are shade with some dappled sunlight in the morning and/or afternoon, moist, well drained, slightly acidic soil, and some added compost now and then.
Rungi will root from every leaf node, so it’s very easy to propagate from stem cuttings laid into moist soil and kept moist at least until the plant is fully rooted.
If you can’t get it from a neighbor, GreenHarvest.com.au and many other sources sell it as a tube stock.
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Do you have rungi in your garden? Or know of a spot in your garden where it might fit, after reading this post?