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The pandan leaf is found on the screwpine, a tropical plant that grows in certain European and Asian regions and is particularly popular in Southeast Asia. The leaves are approximately 4 inches (10 cm) long and are green, slender, shiny, and pleated. Commonly used to wrap foods like fish or shrimp, a paste made from the leaves can also imbue a dessert with sweetness and bright green coloring. Pandan leaves have been used to make thatched roofs, baskets, and grass skirts as well. This plant is believed to have medicinal properties and is an effective and natural cockroach repellent.
When used in cooking and baking, the pandan leaf is often pounded into a sweet paste that is diluted with water. The paste adds citrus and pine overtones and a green tint to cakes, crepes, ice cream, and curry sauces. When making rice, pandan leaves can be placed on top of the boiling grains to add flavor and sweetness. It is also traditional to deep fry or grill chicken wrapped in these leaves.
The leaves and other parts of the screwpine contain alkaloids and glycosides, organic compounds that can provide health benefits to humans and animals. The plant's flowers are often chewed as a laxative, while the pounded roots produce a juice that is said to ease chest pain. Screwpine bark can be used in a bath to treat skin irritation or brewed in a tea to relieve a cough.
Chewing a pandan leaf is believed to freshen the breath and reduce gum and mouth pain. The leaves can also be brewed with lemongrass or safflower to make a tea used to treat stomachaches and to revitalize women who have recently given birth. Sunburns and other skin irritations or diseases can be soothed by taking a bath in water with boiled leaves. The foliage is used as an arthritic pain reliever and an antiseptic for healing wounds and skin disorders, including leprosy and acne. Diabetics and those that suffer from ulcers may also find it to be beneficial.
Screwpine foliage is rich in antioxidant flavonoids and, as a result, is thought to have anti-cancer properties. This benefit is attained by consuming the leaves in rice, soup, as a wrap, or in desserts. Sweet ice tea that has been boiled with three or four pandan leaves is an additional way to enjoy the screwpine's health benefits. It is important for individuals to consult with a medical professional prior to taking any herbal supplements to avoid potential side effects or interference with other medications.