11 Mar2007

Alucon / Himbabau

by Marketman


These unusual squiggly “greens” are sometimes seen at the larger, wet markets in Manila. Often I have spotted them in stalls that obviously cater to those from the Northern provinces in Luzon such as Ilocos, Pampanga, etc. and I have shied away from them simply because I have never known what they were called or what they were and how they were used. The only time I have seen them in a dish was in Mike Mina’s great post on pinakbet, which included these “himbabau” at he top of his layering of vegetables for the pinakbet. At the market yesterday, the vendor from Baguio had a different name for these greens and though I stared at the sign and repeated the name mentally over twenty times thinking that would help me recall the term later, I completely forgot her name for it. At any rate, there isn’t much about this vegetable in any of my reference books, and even a book by Doreen Fernandez simply mentions it only once, as part of a list of flowers that we eat, along with kalabasa (squash) blooms, katuray and banana heart…

Some of Marketmanila’s readers know a LOT more about this flower than I do so please chime in with comments if I have gotten this completely wrong. There were few useful sources on the internet when you typed in “himbabau” and the Philippine Department of Agriculture site has this post. None of bau2my reference books seem to have this flower in it so taking off from the link above, and a scientific name of Excoecaria Agallocha, you would proceed to this site and description. Yikes, if this association between the edible flower/green and the tree named the same way (this is where it might just be mistaken identity), it means that himbabau is the male flower of a mangrove tree that is in many ways, a highly toxic and poisonous tree…the sap in particular used in many countries as a poison on darts, weapons or to dizzy fish et al. The sap is believed to be blinding if it comes in contact with your eyes, hence it’s English name. At any rate, I have still to taste these finds and hope to try it in a pinakbet soon…any suggestions for its alternative uses would be appreciated…

Himbabau, alucon, alukon, baeg, etc. is not the tree I describe above… With the help of Tulip, and her investigative skills, it seems this blossom/vegetable is Broussonetia Luzonica, rather than Excoecaria Agallocha, which confusingly, is also called Himbabau… Here are a link or two for more information… Now, I have definitely learned something today!



  1. ntgerald says:

    Mangrove? I thought they grow in the mountains?

    My first introduction (as a Visayan) to this vegetable was here in Manila, where we would use this as topping to ginisang monggo, instead of ampalaya leaves or malunggay. Simply divine. A bit slimy, like okra.

    Mar 11, 2007 | 1:10 pm


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  3. lee says:

    A flower from a highly toxic tree turned into a vegetable. Interesting, like pufferfish.

    Mar 11, 2007 | 1:45 pm

  4. MRJP says:

    As a child, we had a “himbabau” tree in our backyard. My mother likes this thing a LOT. She cooks it with pinakbet or simply with fried fish, sliced tomato, water, salt & a little shrimp bagoong. Very simple dish. And no, it is not poisonous, we have eaten a lot of this as I was growing up. And no, it is not a mangrove. It is a tree that grows like any other tree in your backyard. It is very easy to grow, too. Just get a small to medium branch like the size of your wrist during the rainy season, dig a pit like 1 foot and plant it in. If there is no rain, you’ll have to water it, but if there is sufficient rainfall, there is no need… It will grow new leaves and start flowering a few months after.

    I have seen himbabau tree in Paco Cemetery when I was in college. There was a huge-huge tree there, near the chapel, which used to grow flowers all year round. I dont know if it is still there. But it looked to me like it had been there in ages because of its size. It is shading a huge part of the garden and walkway. My classmates felt weird about the fallen flowers because they thought they were some kind of dead spiny caterpillars. I was the only one who knew what it was.

    Mar 11, 2007 | 2:12 pm

  5. tulip says:

    Could the sign be “alokon”?

    Mar 11, 2007 | 3:32 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    tulip, YES! YES! Aluccon or Alukon it was!!! Thanks!!!

    Mar 11, 2007 | 3:54 pm

  7. Dodi says:

    I just got back from Tagaytay Mahogany market and the vegetable vendors were practically pushing these greens in my face! I didn’t buy any because I was totally ignorant on what to do with it, but I was told these are good in a salad mix. Now that I know better,maybe next weekend I’ll be some vendor’s good friend.

    Mar 11, 2007 | 3:56 pm

  8. Marketman says:

    Here is another interesting link to kai over at bucaio that lists the vegetable as baeg in Pangasinan…she describes a bush so now I am wondering if the whole mangrove tree description up top is not accurate…any ideas??? The mangrove tree up top is known to be abundant in other tropical island areas…

    Mar 11, 2007 | 3:58 pm

  9. Dodi says:

    Now I remember alokon too! My Papa, who is a Gaddand from Nueva Vizcaya would mix these in his pinakbet or dinengdeng in the absence of okra!

    Mar 11, 2007 | 4:09 pm

  10. Chris says:

    My dad cooks this with mongo, dinengdeng, pakbet or just steamed and drizzled with bagoong and dayap dressing. He calls it a different name- it’s not on your list and I’m not sure if it is an ybanag, ilocano or kapampangan term.

    Mar 11, 2007 | 5:49 pm

  11. Marketman says:

    Here’s a link courtesy of a reader, Tulip, to a visual of the leaves and the flowers of the tree… Thanks Tulip!

    Mar 11, 2007 | 8:28 pm

  12. Erlinda says:

    Tulip’s visual does not really show the flowers. How big are they? Are they “yellow” in color?

    Mar 11, 2007 | 9:03 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    Erlinda, I think the green squiggly “alucon” are the flowers or at least the male version which differ from the female version if this tree is similar to the earlier one described…

    Mar 11, 2007 | 9:16 pm

  14. MRJP says:

    Here is a link for the himbabau tree, go to page 7 and 8 to find what it really looks like. It is a tree. This is exactly what we actually had in our backyard. And its scientific name is Allaenthus luzonicus.


    Mar 12, 2007 | 4:42 am

  15. MRJP says:

    I saw the picture in the link you provided in the last part of your post, MM, and I say that “Limbabao” and “Himbabao” are two different trees/plants. Limbabao/Broussonetia Luzonica is not Himbabao/Allaenthus Luzonicus… just by looking at the picture in that link, I can tell that it was not a Himbabao/himbabau tree.

    Mar 12, 2007 | 4:45 am

  16. MRJP says:

    Here is another… that is how it exactly what it looks like growing in someone’s backyard. It could grow into a very big tree http://www.iluko.com/blogscomments.asp?BlogID=772

    Mar 12, 2007 | 4:49 am

  17. tulip says:

    For clarification…himbabau used to be initially classified as Allaeanthus luzonicus or Allaeanthus glaber.Its new scientific name is Broussonetia luzonica (or Broussonetia luzonicus).Just the same, any is generally accepted in Botany though technically it is more appropriate the newer name be used. In fact, there is another older name but too much for confusion.

    Mar 12, 2007 | 6:16 am

  18. Marketman says:

    Hi MRJP…I love it when something isn’t clear because the readers really try to figure it out. The last photo link in the main post appears to be to a younger plant, though some commenters refer to this as a bush, but that is apparently incorrect. The first link provided by tulip in the comments above, shows a fairly detailed drawing/picture botanically of the leaves/flowers (long squiggly things) of the Broussonetia Luzonicus. This visual is similar to that of the tree you send in your post. I was not aware of the older name that you quote but Tulip seems to be in the know on most things botanical so I will take that old name/new name as being the same name for the same tree… What does seem apparent is that there are two completely different trees that are referred to as himbabau in some parts of the country…to get a view of the other one, click the links in the section that I have now edited and crossed out… Thanks!

    Mar 12, 2007 | 7:17 am

  19. Fran says:

    How interesting you mentioned katuray in this post. My husband and I just made pinakbet the other night following the instructions in your recent post and we included katuray along with string beans, tomato, eggplant, bitter melon and kabocha which we hadn’t used before. The kabocha gave a new dimension to the dish and we both agreed that it was the best we had done yet! Thanks for continuing to post such useful information!

    Mar 12, 2007 | 8:26 am

  20. MRJP says:

    Hi MM, i just wanted to share what i know about this tree.
    Tulip, I didnt know that it has a new scientific name already :)

    Mar 12, 2007 | 9:59 am

  21. awi says:

    haha, this thread is sooooo cool, as in. all the geeky-foodie MM readers trying to figure out the scientific name of alukon. love it love it love it ;-) long live the geek!

    i’ve loved the alukon ever since i was introduced to it via a truly superb pinakbet a had ages ago in laoag or pagudpud or wherever. then, i tried it by itself, cooked with tomato and bagoong like MRJP describes. super sarap!

    unfortunately, it’s a seasonal thing, i think, so paminsan-minsan lang siya available in manila. i know it’s easily available sa nepa q mart.

    Mar 12, 2007 | 10:09 am

  22. DADD-F says:

    I’ve worked in, around and about mangroves for several years but how this knowledge about Excoecaria agallocha (buta-buta) has eluded me–if indeed, this involves one of our true mangrove species–I don’t know….

    Mar 12, 2007 | 4:01 pm

  23. wil-b cariaga says:

    when i was a kid, i called this veg snake. . . hehe, but it really is nice in dinengdeng with caturay and young malunggay leaves. . .

    Mar 12, 2007 | 10:34 pm

  24. ykmd says:

    Wow, MM and other “ardent followers” – I really learn from this blog… We used to have this tree at our high school campus and I never knew those “worms” were edible :) Now that I know better, I live thousands of miles away :( And I love okra so I’d love to taste this too!

    Mar 13, 2007 | 4:00 am

  25. Kulasa says:

    Thanks for the info. I never knew where to use them but always saw them in the markets too. Anyway, katuray flower is good for salads. We use to have them a lot when we had a neighbor who had a tree. Never got to have some when I grew older. Probably need to plant one.

    Mar 15, 2007 | 11:00 am

  26. jesh says:

    dear mrjp,
    pls help mo naman ako about sa alukon,gagawin ko kasi na thesis yun. B.S chemistry course ko.salamat!!!

    Jul 4, 2007 | 2:28 pm

  27. jesh says:

    mrjp sna mag email k skn,e2 email add ko,,skcirb_08@yahoo.com.ph.salamat

    Jul 4, 2007 | 2:30 pm

  28. jesh says:

    hi po tulip,,mrjp tol me that you are botanist,papatulong po sana ako about sa alukon,gagawin ko po kase na thesis yun,may alam po ba kayo na medicinal uses na alukon..i hope you can help me,thank you..ito po yung email add ko. skcirb_08@yahoo.com.ph..sana po mkapag email kayo,salamat po ulit..

    Jul 12, 2007 | 10:00 am

  29. tulip says:

    jesh,im no longer a practicing biologist/scientist.Anyway,I sent you a mail to help you.

    Jul 14, 2007 | 11:37 pm

  30. Bong says:

    We used to have a himbabau tree in our backyard in Isabela. Ilocanos and Ibanags love this flower vegatable a LOT. Himbabau flowers and tender/young leavers are ingredients for dinengdengs, legumes and even pinakbet. Among Ibanangs this plant is called ALIBABAG. Each strand .. for lack of better term consists of thousands of flowers.

    himbabau flowers are best eaten/cooked when the flowers are still young .. meaning it has not bloomed. It should be cooked al dente otherwise it does not taste good.

    My mom loves this vegetable and includes the flowers in almost vegetable dishes she cooks .. she would even brings some to Manila whenever she visits us!

    Jan 23, 2008 | 1:00 pm

  31. Paul says:

    I am just browsing MM’s previous articles and saw this vegetable that I really enjoyed eating when I was a kid. You can mix this vegetable in pinakbet, diningding, mongo, buto ng sitaw etc. BTW, we call this on a different term “ALIBABAG”. 

    Jan 23, 2008 | 1:01 pm

  32. Hazel Dizon says:

    I think no hardcore Ylocanos aren’t familiar of these “himababao”. My mom usually cook them as an ingredient for “dinengdeng” along with other unusual vegetables. I to eat exotic vegetables coz they give me a sense of uniqueness, I don’t know why and how, but perhaps I’m the only one who knew and eat in our household, me being already married.

    Feb 7, 2008 | 11:03 am

  33. Vir Lumicao says:

    A member of the mulberry family, Broussonetia luzonica is known to Ilocanos in Northern Luzon, Philippines, as alukon or alocon and kamaal to Gaddangs in Nueva Vizcaya. The worm-like flowers are edible and used in many Ilocano recipes. But few may be aware that even the tree’s young leaves that spring around January or February are also edible and actually more delectable than the blossoms. In Nueva Vizcaya, when I was a kid I remember my mother asking me to climb the alukon tree in our frontyard to gather young leaves as ingredient for pinakbet, or to be boiled simply with fish paste, tomato and dried fish. I saw the tree growing in Rizal and Batangas, where it is called himbabao, but the Tagalogs don’t seem to know it is edible. A species of the plant, called bau-bao, has globular and hirsute flowers that are equally edible as the elongated flowers of the alukon. But unlike the alukon, which is grown in backyards, the bau-bau normally grows in the wild. Alukon was introduced in Hawaii by Ilocanos who migrated to the islands in the early 20th century. The blossoms are available in wet markets in downtown Honolulu.

    Sep 7, 2008 | 1:59 am

  34. Lee2 says:

    Hey guys, just want to share with you my little knowledge about alucon. My wife is Ilocana and we met in Baguio and stayed there for 5 years. Nevertheless, it gave me ample time to savor different Ilocano veggies, including alucon. She says that in Ilocos Sur, they call it “bungon”. When we immigrated to Canada, we found out that it’s available frozen in some Chinese stores and it’s labelled as “Birch flowers”.

    Oct 3, 2008 | 11:28 am

  35. pedro m. birung says:

    Himbabao,alukun,alibabag in itawit/alibabak in ibanag is an endangered vegetable tree.You hardly see them in countryside landscape.This vegetable tree is oftenly used as post for fencing during my childhood days and its flowers are delicious and its aroma makes me feel a lot younger. I urge people to propogate this lowly tree as part of their tree planting projects.

    Oct 19, 2008 | 4:02 pm

  36. ANN B. CANLAPAN says:

    Himbabao:My father love this food specially mixed in Pinakbet, monggo guisado or Inabraw.
    He introduced these to us when we were a kid. He even tried to bear it beside our house. Once he saw himbabao in the market, he make sure he bought enough for us to eat the whole day..When he goes to our province in Cataggaman,Tuguegarao City he usually request to cook pinakbet or inabraw with himbabao or he also called it Alibabag.
    Whenever I heard this kind of vegetable “Himbabao”, I thought of him so much………

    Mar 9, 2009 | 3:56 pm

  37. carmen peniera says:

    please, please. can anyone out there furnish me with the medicinal uses of himbabao or alocon? i just love to eat this vegetable. I have tried it ginataan with alimasag and kalabasa. also i have tried it dinengdeng style with camatsile. however, i need to know just what it is good for.

    Apr 3, 2009 | 7:32 pm

  38. jonathan reynera says:

    I love this flower. we have one at the backyard. its a from a tall tree. We call it Bungon in Ilocano. I would Prefer calling it bungon instead of whatever you do because of the misinformation. Its not poisonous at all. i’ve been eating this since i was a child. The tree that is in our backyard provides us in our recipes until now. Problem is its difficult to climb because its very tall.

    Apr 13, 2009 | 10:36 pm

  39. peru birung says:

    Kang itawit alibabag yo ngahan na nga gulaw yaw. Kang ibanag alibabak yo akkayanan da kanyaw. Kang Ilokano alukun antare bungon , Kang tagalog himbabau yo ngahan na pay.
    Aru yaw nga kayu kang Kagayan nu jan nak nga neanak antare naddakal, kuwan da nga gibaw. Sangaw, medyo talahit yaw nga masingan bito sangaw win.
    Nasingngat nga gulayin yaw nu ilutum insigida, maski awan na nga kihu. Uyyam mu pay nga ikihu kang balatung antare pakbet.
    Nu iwayya na laman mangitaldak kayu kang kayu alibabag para aru yo magule tera.
    Kannikayu nga taga Kagayan, mabbalat kinnakayu ngammin, napiya nga algo nu ngammin, kanyo ibanag ira, mabbalo nikamu ngamin. Dakayu nga Ilokano, agyaman nak dakayu amin.


    May 30, 2009 | 1:46 pm

  40. Annie says:

    can somebody tell me if the flowers of a birch tree is the same as these alukon in the picture. My husband’s aunt owns a birch tree and the flowers look exactly as alukon. I wonder if they are the same. Please respond. Thanks for the info.

    Jun 1, 2009 | 9:18 am


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