Thermopsis macrophylla - False Lupine

A west coast native annual nitrogen fixing plant in the Fabaceae family. Reminds me of Crotolaria in its growth habit and overall appearance. It looks like it has potential as a cultivated, drought tolerant biomass or cover corp species.

Thermopsis macrophylla leaf and flower.

Thermopsis macrophylla leaf and flower.

Thermopsis macrophylla flower spike.

Thermopsis macrophylla flower spike.

Crataegus mexicana - Mexican hawthorn

Crategeus mexicana fruit

I encountered this Mexican hawthorn tree at the Gold Ridge Experimental Farm in Sebastopol, CA - Luther Burbank’s former laboratory. Although much of the acreage has long been converted to housing development and only a small tract of the former farm remains, there are some interesting trees surviving. One area I return to whenever I visit is the small group of Cratageus species in the back where a few species, including C. mexicana, are still thriving.

Compared to the Chinese Hawthorn, C. pinnatifida, the Mexican hawthorn tastes much better out of hand and has an interesting aroma, reminiscent of some obscure tropical fruit or synthetic bubblegum.

The fruit of Crategeus mexicana is eaten in Mexico cooked, raw, or canned. It resembles a crabapple, but it has three or sometimes more brown hard stones in the center. It is a main ingredient used in ponche, the traditional Mexican hot fruit punch that is served at Christmas time and on New Year's Eve. On Dia de los Muertos tejocote fruit as well as candy prepared from them are used as offerings to the dead, and rosaries made of the fruit are part of altar decorations. A mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, because it resembles a tiny train rail.

In some parts of Mexico, tejecote is taken for treating flu and cough, and also to prevent several cardiovascular diseases.

Due to its high pectin content, the fruit is industrially processed to extract pectin for the food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, textile and metal industries.

Other uses include food for livestock (for which the leaves and fruits are used) and traditional medicinal uses; a Mexican hawthorn root infusion is used as a diuretic and as a remedy for diarrhea and fruit-based preparations are a remedy for coughing and several heart conditions.

The Mexican hawthorn tree's wood is hard and compact, it is good for making tool handles as well as for firewood.

Justicia pectoralis - Tilo, piri piri (South America), Chapantye (Cuba)

Justicia pectoralis is a low growing, branching sprawling shrub, can grow up to 3 ft. It has small lanceolate leaves and violet flowers, similar in appearance to those of snapdragons.

In areas of the Central American Caribbean coast it is considered to have aphrodisiac properties. The entire plant is dried in the sun and made into a powder before being used. Notably, the powder is effective only when it is taken via the nasal membranes, (as snuff), or smoked (in conjunction with Cannabis sativa). In South America one variety, Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla, is used to produce psychedelic experiences or used as an additive in ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). The plant contains psychedelically active tryptamines. A “tilo tea” is commonly seen sold in supermarkets, it has anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

Justicia pectoralis leaf.jpg

Bignoniaceae, Mansoa alliacea, Wild Garlic, Ajo Sacha

Ajo Sacha is a climbing vine that has a distinctive garlic-like odor when crushed or cut. The young leaves and tendrils of Ajo Sacha taste like garlic and can be used, minced, in a variety of foods, raw or cooked. The bark of the wild garlic vine is mixed with water and used as a path for people with asthma or who smoke excessively. Bark raspings, taken orally with water or with cane rum, are used to treat asthma and arthritis, respectively. The most common form of usage seems to be an infusion of parts of the plant in water, which is used to bathe oneself and treat or protect against evil spirits, fever, influenza, and aches and pains, as well as nervousness, fatigue, and cramps.

Plectranthus amboinicus, Lamiaceae, Indian borage, Country borage, French thyme

I usually refer to this one as succulent oregano, because it smells like oregano and has fleshy stems and leaves. Filipinos call it oregano. It is called broad-leaf thyme in the West Indies. Although it can be used for culinary purposes in the same applications as thyme, oregano, or sage, in many areas P. amboinicus is more commonly employed as a medicine - as an aid in difficult digestion, for menstrual pains, rheumatic pains, and to aid flu symptoms. The aromatic leaves are used in india as a traditional cough medicine. In parts of Indonesia nursing mothers consume the leaves to increase milk flow. The essential oils extracted form the leaves are used in shampoos. I have read reports that the plant can be smoked like cannabis.



Oxalidaceae, Averrhoa carambola, grafted Carambola (starfruit) flowers and young fruit

The Starfruit is from Malaysia and Indonesia, now common throughout tropical Asia and the neo-tropics. Most of the world’s commercial cultivation occurs in Brazil, the West Indies, and Malaysia.

The tree is small, usually no larger then 12 m high. We grow grafted varieties in Panama that begin to bear fruit when just a few feet tall. Grafted trees can be managed at four meters and, in favorable conditions, bear so much fruit the branches will break if they aren’t harvested.

The fruit, as the name would suggest, is shaped like a star. There are multiple varieties of Starfruit, both sweet and sour. Sweet varieties tend to be lighter in color and smaller, about five inches long and three inches wide. Sour varieties are larger and more orange in color.

Starfruit is especially rich in Vitamins A, B, C, phosphorus and calcium. The vitamin C content is comparable to that of an orange. Each fruit contains between 8 – 10 % sugar.

In addition to the fruit, both the flower and leaf are edible. I have two Taiwanese varieties. Very compact, heavily bearing trees. I'm trying them on balconies in large pots.

Piperaceae, Peperomia pellucida

Peperonia I am curious why this post receives more hits then practically any other on this blog. Any feedback to that effect would be appreciated. 

Peperonia, along with Purslane and Talinium triangulare, is one of those edible herbs that can be found growing out of the cracks of sidewalks and in abandoned niches throughout the city, few people understand that it is an excellent edible leaf, with a delicate taste, reminiscent of cilantro. It has a very shallow root and a succulent stem (also edible), it volunteers itself and grows extensively throughout my nurseries, usually self-propagating at the base of larger potted trees. 

The leaves can be added to salads. In the west Indies they are used to make tea. Medicinally the leaves adn stems are used in a poultice to treat eye infections. A deconcoction of the leaves is used to lower uric acid (for rheumatism and gout).

See link for more on Peperomia medicinal applications: http://www.drugs.com/npp/peperomia-pellucida.html

The other Piper species yielding edible leaves are Piper umbellatum and Piper stylosum, there are probably others. Piper betel is also worth mentioning because, although the leaf isn't eaten as one would eat Peperomia, the leaves are used as a part of the betel quid, wrapped around the seed of Areca catechu, the betel nut palm, very common throughout southeast Asia. I am propagating the betel nut palm in my nurseries but have yet to find Piper betel.