Amazing! Highly Ornamental and Nutritious!
The Malabar Chestnut is one of those very special trees. Also named the Provision tree by the U.N, this tree is an important source of tasty, nutritious nuts and can withstand the often harsh conditions in developing countries. Native to an area from Southern Mexico to Guyana and northern Brazil, this tree is well suited to tropical and subtropical regions as well as mild inland and coastal areas. Although native to naturally wet areas, it is extremely adaptable and will grow very well in most conditions.
What does the Malabar Chestnut look like?
It is a stunning tree. Foliage is shiny deep green, with lighter green new growth. Leaves are palmate, or finger-shaped. It gives away its distant relative - the Boabob with a distinctive swollen trunk base. This makes it very suitable as a bonsai or house plant, as well as a beautiful shade tree for parks, gardens and bush blocks. The Malabar Chestnut grows up to 18m tall in its tropical native habitat, but in subtropical areas a maximum of 6-7m tall is more likely.
Flowers are quite showy, like a creamy yellow powder puff or shaving brush! Being self- fertile, you can expect a seed pod to form following each flower. The seed pod is very woody, 5-7 cm in diameter, and contains the yummy edible nuts.
Malabar Chestnuts are Delicious!
Although this tree would look fantastic in any garden, it is mainly grown as an edible tree. Anyone looking at planting trees for self sufficiency or to develop their permaculture block would be well advised to include these amazing trees in the plan. The nuts, formed in the pods, are about the size of a peanut, and I think taste like a slightly milder version when raw. The Malabar Chestnut starts producing after only a few years, growth rate will depend on conditions.
Eating and Cooking Malabar Chestnuts
Malabar Chestnuts can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted. They are also useful to grind into a flour. The nuts are very easy to harvest; simply wait for the pod to burst open and collect the nuts. They can be eaten straight out of the pod, or you can cook them!
I have tried using them in a number of ways. They are great to add to a stir-fry. Roasting them in a heavy-base frying pan, either dry or with a bit of oil and salt before adding to the dish. Avoid burning them by keeping the heat on low and stir continuously. Roasting them in the oven on low to medium heat with a little olive, peanut or sesame oil works well. Sea salt or even some organic honey drizzled over makes a nice snack. Be very careful to keep an eye on them, from my experience, they don't taste good burnt! The nuts can then be eaten hot (soft) or cool (crisp).
If you have a good harvest year, store your Malabar Chestnuts in a cool, dry place and they will keep for months! In a sealed jar in the refrigerator if you are in the warmer climes like us.
How to grow the Malabar Chestnut
Pachira aquatica / glabra is a very adaptable tree. It is native to tropical, moist conditions, but is very drought hardy once is has established itself. It is also resistant to disease and flood. It is best suited to frost free areas in full sun to part shade. When the tree is young, it benefits from being adjusted to full sun gradually to avoid sunburn to its foliage.
Although it performs best in mild climates, it will handle brief periods of cold weather. Make sure you mulch well (keeping mulch away from the trunk at least 10cm to avoid rot) and plant in fertile, well draining soil for best growth results.
Watch out for pesky Possums, they like to eat the nuts, but you can prevent this by bagging the pods, or, once the tree is larger, adding a possum barrier to the trunk. Possums have not been a problem for us, as they prefer the mangos, but it may become a problem once other fruit and veg run out and weather dries up, leaving little else for them to eat.
This tree is also grown as an indoor or pot plant. Trunks can be braided for an extra ornamental effect. (Photo on the right)
The Lucky Tree
The Malabar chestnut is highly popular in Asia as an ornamental and symbolically associated with good luck and prosperity. They can be seen in homes and businesses decorated with auspicious symbols.
Feng Shui elements are reflected in the number of leaves signifying Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth.
Beauty, nutrition, good fortune and prosperity!
Other common names of the Malabar Chestnut:
Malabar Chestnut, Saba Nut, Provision Tree, Guiana Chestnut, Guyana Chestnut, Monguba, Munguba, Mamorana, Pumpo, Money Tree, patchira aquatica, patchira glabra.
Related species: patchira insignis