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Akatthi leaves are small to medium in size and oblong to elliptical in shape, ranging 15-30 centimeters in length. The deep green leaves are elongated, narrow, and pliable and are covered in a powdery grey blue dusting. They grow in pairs pinnately along a long stem and each stem average 10-20 pairs of leaflets with one odd leaf at the end of the stem. Akatthi leaves are bitter and mildly tart in flavor. They grow on a small perennial tree with open, sometimes drooping branches and the tree is also identified by its red or white flowers and thin green to brown pod fruit.
Akatthi leaves are available year-round.
Akatthi leaves, botanically classified as Sesbania grandiflora, are also known by a number of other common names including Agatthi, Agate, Scarlet wisteria, and the Hummingbird tree. In Malaysia, Akatthi is referred to as "Turi." Akatthi trees are indigenous to Southeast Asia and are known as a home garden plant rather than a commercial variety. The leaves, flowers, and pods of the Akatthi tree are all used in culinary and medicinal uses in traditional Eastern applications.
Akatthi leaves are considered an excellent source of vitamin C and calcium.
Akatthi leaves are best suited for cooked applications such as sautéing, pressure-cooking, and boiling. They are often used in curry-based dishes, coconut milk soups, and lightly fried or steamed. Akatthi leaves can also be juiced or dried and used in tea. The bitterness of the leaves is best balanced with coconut milk or with chiles, and Akatthi leaves are traditionally cooked for ten minutes before they are ready to be consumed. The flowers can also be cooked and consumed as a vegetable. Akatthi leaves should be used immediately for best flavor or will keep for a couple of days when stored in the refrigerator.
The Akatthi leaf is particularly widespread in India and is used in traditional Ayurvedic 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 also 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.
Akatthi trees are believed to be indigenous to Southeast Asia and have been grown since ancient times. Since they are grown predominately in home gardens rather than for commercial use, only a few records have been kept on the history of the plant. Today Akatthi trees can be found in local markets in Northern Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Sri Lanka.