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Adlai seen as an alternative to rice and corn

by Amavel Velasco


Adlai plant growing the wild.
Grains fron Adlai, also known as job's Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi L.)

In the not-so-far-away land of Mindanao, with its vast plantations of pineapple, banana and durian, hides a plant not known to many but which is being cultivated in idle lands in parts of Bukidnon. This certain plant comes by the name of Adlai.

The said plant has also been seen in other parts of the Philippines. There are even claims of it being common throughout the country but not to the same extent as other crops like rice, corn, coconut, malunggay, etc. with which one can easily identify.

It is considered a weed in some places but is prized as a source of raw materials for necklace and bracelets in others. In Bukidnon, it is made into kakanin and wine by some of the local tribes. It may also be cultivated or domesticated in other parts of the country and may have other uses but these are yet to be documented.

You could have seen it in your own hometown or in the rural areas but didn't think it significant and considered it just like any other weed growing around your house. Or it could be that you have seen it or even wore bracelets and necklace made out of it without knowing that these were made from adlai. Or, your father, who is fond of fighting cocks, had been feeding his roosters with adlai for years and you weren't aware of it.

Curious now about adlai, yes? So what is adlai anyway, you would ask. Please read on to find out.


Adlai, also known as Job's Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi L.), comes from the family Poaceae or the grasses, the same family to where wheat, corn and rice belong.

The grains, which come in white or brown, in some instances, are spherical in shape and have a groove at one end. It is said to have originated in Southeast Asia. It is a freely branching upright herb that can grow as tall as 3 feet and propagates through seeds.

july2010 feature1bAccording to the Bureau of Plant Industry, the leaves are 10 to 40 centimeters long, 2.5 to 4 centimeters wide, with the base broad and cordate. The spikes are 6 to 10 centimeters long, erect and peduncled, while the male spikelets are about 8 millimeters long.

Grains are usually harvested 4-5 months after sowing. Grains are separated from the stalks through threshing and, like rice; seeds are first sun dried before milling.

Adlai is said to be at least 50 percent starch, 14 percent protein and 6 percent fat.

Adlai as food and drink

In South Asia, at the time when corn was still not that popular, Adlai was already being widely cultivated as a cereal. In India, it was pounded, threshed and winnowed as a cereal. The pounded adlai is sometimes mixed with water like barley when making barley water; some turn it into a sweet dish by frying and coating it with sugar. It is also boiled and eaten in the same manner as that of rice.

Grains are also used in soups and broths. In fact, in southern Vietnam, sam bo luong, a sweet and cold soup has adlai as its main ingredient.

Fermented grains, on the other hand, are also made into beers and wines. Aged vinegar is also made out of it in Japan.

Yulmu cha, or Job's tears tea, is a thick drink in Korea made from powdered adlai. Another liquor, which is made from adlai together with rice in Korea, is called okroju.

Folk medicine

Adlai is said to be a folk remedy for a wide range of ailments. It is used as a remedy for various tumors like the abdominal tumors, esophageal and gastrointestinal, as well as warts. It also finds use in treating abscess, anodyne, anthrax, appendicitis, arthritis, beriberi, bronchitis, catarrh, diabetes, dysentery, dysuria, edema, fever, goiter, halitosis, headache, hydrothorax, metroxenia, phthisis, pleurisy, pneumonia, puerperium, rheumatism, small-pox, splenitis, strangury, tenesmus and worms. Some of these claims though still need to be scientifically verified to warrant an "approved therapeutic claim" in labelled containers as herbal medicine advertisements are saying these days.

Pharmacological effects

BAR Dir. Nicomedes P. Eleazar (2nd from right) attends a preparatory meeting held at Earthkeepers which is based in Tiaong, Quezon. Earthkeepers is a non-government organization headed by Ms. Teresa Perez-Saniano (3rd from left).

Some studies indicate that adlai has anti-allergic, anti-mutagenic, hypolipemic, and anti-diabetic effects.

It is also said to exhibit anti-cancer activity. In a study by Hung et al in 2003, adlai seeds were found to exert an antiproliferative effect on human lung cancer cells in vitro and in vivo and might also prevent the development of tobacco carcinogen-induced tumors. The anti-cancer activity of adlai was further proven by the study of Lee et al (2008), who isolated five active compounds from adlai bran that inhibit cancer cells.

In traditional Chinese medicine, adlai hull extract is used to treat dysmenorrhea. It was proven in a recent study that, indeed, adlai hull is a feasible alternative therapeutic agent for dysmenorrhea.

Introducing adlai to mainstream agriculture

The Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) together with NGO-collaborators, Earthkeepers and Masipag, see adlai as a good alternative crop to rice and corn and would like to explore its potentials more. It is good to know though, that Masipag, a farmer-led network of people's organizations, has already done research on adlai.

BAR, together with Earthkeepers and Masipag, is now crafting a training and planning workshop on adlai production that is tentatively scheduled for September 2010.

1.Hung WC, et al. 2003. Methanolic extract of adlay seed suppresses COX-2 expression of human lung cancer cells via inhibition of gene transcription. J Agric Food Chem 51(25):7333-7. Can be retrieved from: