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Edible Wild Food Source - The Sago Palm

Sago Palms (Metroxylon) -- Non-Poisonous

Sago palms are the most like palm to be found here in Florida and many other parts of the world, especially the lowlands of Malaysia and throughout Southeast Asia. They are generally found in fresh water swamps, along streams, likes and rivers.  That said, it is absolutely important for you to understand that there are two types of Sago palms. One is edible and the other is poisonous. First, let's talk about the one that is edible. It is the Sago palm, known scientifically as Metroxylon.

Like most palms, this kind of Sago palm contains starch in mature trees that are not flowering. Since getting at the sap would involve cutting down the palm, it is only recommended for a food source in an emergency. To do so, the palm would be:

  • Cut down
  • The outside hard shell removed
  • Core is then sliced into small fragments
  • Then boil these or wrap them in leaves and bake
  • Chew the starch out

Additionally, the pith can be made into a flour by crushing it, washing and straining it through cloth to remove the fiber.  The terminal bud, like in many palms can be cooked and eaten. Also, from this type of Sago palm, a flour is made that is pure carbohydrate, with very little other nutritional value.

Generally, it is a baked food in the form of a bread, a paste, or a pancake. Some make a plum pudding from it, some cooks use it as a gravy thickener. In Asia and India, Pearl sago is made from it. and it is popular for use in many recipes.

The female reproductive structure of the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) - from the Montreal Botanical Gardens.  Source: Photographer: Nadia Prigoda, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
The female reproductive structure of the sago palm (Cycas revoluta) - from the Montreal Botanical Gardens.  Source: Photographer: Nadia Prigoda, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Other Uses of the Sago Palm

  • Traditional Maluku houses are primarily made from sago palms.
  • The fronds are used to make walls.
  • The midribs are used for making brooms.
  • The midribs are used for making baskets.
  • The bark is woven into mats.
  • It is used in the textile industry to strength other materials

Cycas circinalis - sago palm - Male plant, top of trunk with cone - Source: Photographer: Phyzome, GNU Free Doc, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Cycas circinalis - sago palm - Male plant, top of trunk with cone - Source: Photographer: Phyzome, GNU Free Doc, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta) -- Highly Poisonous

The other Sago palm, the highly poisonous variety scientifically known as Cycas revoluta, is the most common Sago palm sold in the U.S. This palm is actually a cycad. Cycads are evergreen seed plants, with a large crown of compound leaves and fat trunks. They are often mistaken for palms.  The seeds are highly toxic and the rest of the plant is also not safe to eat. Many dogs have died from chewing on this plant across America.  Be aware of this because they are a popular landscaping plant in Southern states, especially Florida.

A Warning and a Few Thoughts!

First A Warning! -- The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Be sure you have properly identified a wild edible plant BEFORE you consume it. Remember that some palms, like the Sago palm have look-a-likes, that are poisonous.  Additionally, you can be allergic to some edible plants, just like you can be allergic to foods that others can consume safely. If you at all unsure, just eat a little at first.

Bottom line -- you are 100% responsible for proper plant identification, and thoroughly researching the plant you are considering eating.  Finally -- I'm not advocating you kill a palm tree just to experience eating one. I'm much more interested in opening closed food minds, into being knowledgeable about foods that aren't generally found on the shelves of our generic American grocery stores. Also, remember in terms of a plant being edible, that doesn't always translate to a plant tasting good.