Mention heritage or rare plants and seeds and you would probably see lawyer-gardener Joanna Chuah perk up instantly. Although the 24-year-old is not formally trained in herbology, she hustles part-time as a home gardener supplying organic small-batch produce. From customised punnets of edible flowers to herbs of medicinal value, Chuah’s online store WWEdibles has it all.
“My main aim is to get people eating more interesting produce instead of just importing from the West,” says Chuah, who started WWEdibles in 2016. “A lot of what I’m producing now has never been consumed in Singapore ever.”
While she sells the produce from her garden, her focus is more on the research-based and experimental side of gardening. “Experimental farms send me rare seeds from all over the world regularly, and I would grow them and test their genetic strength.” Star of David okra, Alabama okra, and Abigail’s Coffee okra are some of the plants she has successfully grown. For those who are curious about these exotic species, she shares: “the Abigail’s Coffee okra isn’t actually eaten like the okras we are used to – the seeds are usually taken out, dried and roasted, and it makes a great caffeine-free coffee substitute.”
Unlike commercial farmers who have to answer to clients, Chuah is free to push the envelope on the type of produce she offers. And indeed, Persian basil and sea purslane are just some of the more unique plants that can only be found in her rooftop garden. “The Persian basil is one of the four basils I have. It’s very popular in Iran due to its star anise and liquorice flavours that go well with meats like lamb, which Iranians eat a lot of. I shipped the seeds in and grew them [from scratch].” As for the sea purslane, a native coastal plant, Chuah obtained the seeds from a farmer friend. “Imagine this, this [sea purslane] was here before we all were! Its salty flavours make a perfect garnish on ice cream – sweet and savoury all in one bite.”
Another interesting take on using her produce in dishes is a marigold sambal, created by one of Chuah’s chef friends from her passionfruit marigold. Smiling at the memory, Chuah says, “I thought that was really creative and a very good use of the herb. The chef brought out the sweet notes of the passionfruit marigold after mixing it with chilli. That was interesting, because I’d have never thought about [using] it [that way].”
For her, the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her produce on plates. Better still, because of the rare produce she supplies, she often gets to ‘educate’ or discuss menu planning with chefs. “That’s something really fun; it’s something a lot of people don’t get to do, and I wouldn’t [either] if not for this garden.”
Looking around her small yet productive space, Chuah concludes, “I have a very personal connection with my garden – on one hand, it needs me to maintain it; and on the other hand, it maintains me.” And her favourite way of cooling down after a day of hard work? A magenta leaf and mint drink – all plucked fresh from her garden.
WWEdibles’ edible produce can be ordered online.