October 2015, Indonesia: Ant Plants ~ Last month, while diving in the Raja Ampat (Four Kings) region of Indonesia, some of our crew took me out between dives to hunt for ant plants. Ever since we tried sarang semut, tea made from the tuber of these plants, I have been looking for the plant in its natural environment. We make a lot of our dives close to islands, so before every dive, I would ask our tender driver if there were any “sarang semut” in the trees. Ant plants are epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants, but derive their nutrients from other sources) and they get their common name from the ants they house within their many-chambered tubers.
My guide and our tender driver pointed out quite a few of these plants with the interesting story: the ants have a home and the plant receives nutrients from the ants’ waste. Unfortunately for the ants and the plants, the tubers are the source of the highly prized Sarang Semut, Ant Nest Tea. The tubers are cut down, sliced opened, dried, then sold to make tea that is purported to cure everything from anemia to cancer. I suppose (hope) the ants live to find another home.
I don’t know if these are the ants that inhabit the plants but they were all over the branches just below the plants:
From one of my favorite books from our library, Indonesia Heritage: Plants.
There were actually quite a few of these plants high up in the trees on the small island of Friwin Bonda (I don’t know what the name means, but I love it).
The tea is highly prized because it is supposed to cure many ills. Back on land, I was able to purchase a small package of the dried tuber so it will be interesting to try brewing my own ant nest tea.