Fouquieriaceae, Fouquieria diguetii, Palo Adan, Adam's Tree

This is a somewhat unique, tree-like shrub, with a short trunk and numerous branches growing upright. When in bloom this species has a spectacular reddish-pink bloom, very bright and in stark contrast to the desertscape. Reportedly the bark is stripped and cooked and used to wash cuts.

Palo Adan, leafing out

Palo Adan, leafing out

Palo Adan, leaf

Palo Adan, leaf

Palo Adan

Palo Adan

Palo Adan, bark detail

Palo Adan, bark detail

Papaver somniferum - Opium Poppy, ying su, ya pian (Chinese), kas kas (Malay), Adormidera (Spanish)

The opium poppy is an erect annual herb, growing up to a meter and a half in height with large hairless, almost grayish-green, serrated leaves. The large flowers are solitary, born on slender stalks, with large papery petals, as can be observed in the photos below. The seedheads have a very distinctive appearance, not unlike that of a saltshaker.

The opium poppy is a cultigen of unknown origin, believed to be indigenous to southwestern Asia. Really, it can not be said with certitude where its original home was. Poppy seeds have been found during excavations of 4,000 + year-old lake dwellings in Switzerland. Today it can be found cultivated throughout the world, especially in areas of Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Americas. It is primarily propagated for the extraction of opium, from which a number of pharmaceutical and narcotic drugs are derived, such as heroin, codeine, and morphine, among others. Poppy seeds, a common condiment, can also be harvested from the ripe pods.

It is still not known whether the plant was first cultivated as an edible seed for the opium it provides. Both the seeds and sap were used for their remedial properties as early as 2,500 B.C. Assyrian medical texts refer to the opium poppy as "the plant of joy."

Throughout history it seems the plant has always been cultivated and consumed for both medicinal and hedonistic purposes.

Opium is legally produced in India and Turkey, while poppy seeds and poppy seed oil comes mainly from Europe, the Middle East, and India. The seeds contain no alkaloids.

For household medicinal applications, an infusion can be made from the mature seed pods. A typical dose amounts to around five grams of seed pod per half liter of water. The infusion possesses calmative and narcotic properties. For insomnia one can drink half a glass of opium poppyhead tea about a half an hour before going to sleep. To calm stomach pains and colic a half glass can be consumed every half hour. This same infusion is excellent to alleviate and combat cough, fever, and numerous ailments associated with the chest and lungs.

The dose can be amplified when used to calm chronic toothache, and inflammations of the mouth and throat.

Opium is derived from the milky sap exuded from mature seedheads when nicked or cut. Dioscorides provided a concise explanation of the procedure: Those who wish to obtain the sap must, after the dew has dried, go around the little star with a knife in such a way that this does not penetrate to the interior, and superficially incise the capsule in a straight direction on the sides, then smear the emerging tears with the fingers into a shell, and go back again after not too long a time, for it will have thickened and the next day it will be found like this as well. You must then knead it in a n old mortar, shape it in to lozenges and store it." (Book IV, Ch. 65)

The seed capsule can be cut either horizontally or vertically (both methods are practiced). The exuded sap can be collected numerous times daily, although traditionally seedheads are cut in the evening and the sap gathered the next morning. The milky sap dries to a brown color, this is raw opium. This is often collected with a special curved knife, which is also used to make incisions in the poppyhead. Raw opium is typically rendered to a more concentrated state by adding water and applying heat, thereby reducing the syrupy mass.

It is almost impossible to fathom just how significant a role Papaver somniferum has played in the course of human evolution.

The plant was highly regarded in ancient Greece, opium was not only the best and most frequently used medicines, but used in a wide variety of cultic contexts, also associated with many gods. IT is likely that the brown juice of the poppy (opium base) was employed in the initiatory drink of the Elusinian mysteries, thought to have been a major ingredient into what sounds like a particularly powerful drink, including ergot (Claviceps purpurea) and pennyroyal (Mentha pudegium).

Opium has always been revered as a potent aphrodisiac. The first source from the Ayurvedic system of medicine to list opium as a remedy is from Sarngadhara Sambita in the thirteenth century.Sarngdhara describes in some detail an opium containing powder called "akarakarabhadi chruna", which he lists as an aphrodisiac.

The recipe is as follows:

1 part aharakara (Anacyclus pyrethrum)

1 part sunthi (ginger; Zingiber officinale)

1 part kankila (Piper cubeba)

1 part kesara (Mallothus philippinensis)

1 part pippali (long pepper; Piper longum)

1 part jatiphala (nutmeg; Myristica fragrans)

1 part lavanga (clove; Carophyllus)

1 part candana (sandalwood; Santalum album)

4 parts ahiphena (opium; Papaver somniferum)

The dose was suggested at apprx. 300 mg.

In addition to its common use as an aphrodisiac. Opium was also frequently combined with hemp products and nightshades and consecrated to Shiva.

The Rajputs used opium combined with olibanum (frankincense resin), cumin (Cuminum cyminum), and pureed fruit. This mixture is said to have been a popular aphrodisiac in the day.

Opium is a better aphrodisiac when eaten. To be smoked, raw opium must be changed into smoking opium, which involves a somewhat involved process.

There are a number of books on the natural history of opium, all of which include a much more extensive history.

Papaver somniferum
Papaver somniferum
P. somniferum flower, closeup
P. somniferum flower, closeup

Cactaceae, Lophocereus schottii, Old Man Cactus, Garambullo, Senita

This, I am pretty sure, is a young Old Man Cactus, growing on a ridge overlooking Bahia Magdalena in Baja, Mexoco. When the cactus gets larger gray, hair-like spines grow out of the top, givingĀ  it a whiskered look, akin to an old man. The Cactus has small, pale pink flowers in the spring, which open at night, pollinated by bats and insects. Indians used to make tea from the cooked, sliced stalks to help relieve ulcerated stomachs. On the Mexican mainland slices of this species are sold in markets, used as a treatment for stingray wounds. The chopped stems were used to stupefy fish, also used as cattle forage.

The small red fruit was eaten by aborigines when other food was scarce.

Old man cactus

Meliaceae, Azadirachta indica, Neem

Well known in its native North-ease India and Burma Neem is a fast growing, medium size tree, mature trees reach heights of 20 m or so.

Neem is widely considered to be one of the most useful of all cultivated trees. The uses are diverse and extensive. Neem is very drought tolerant and is grow extensively in arid and semi arid regions of tropical Africa.

Roots grow deep and wide, the tree does not stand waterlogging, leaves will ceas to grow, turn yellow, and eventually the roots will rot.


The wood is of very high quality, red in color, similar to that of Mahogany. Also notable is thatĀ  it is resistant to rot, due to its fungicidal properties. The wood is also used to produce a carbon of superior quality. The tree grows rapidly and regenerates easily after heavy pruning.

Neem is widely acclaimed for its insecticidal and fungicidal properties and has been used as such for thousands of years. Neem oil is, perhaps, the most effective natural product to combat such plagues. The oil is also used in the fabrication of soaps, lubrication oils, toothpaste and other cosmetic applications. Pure neem oil is said to be 98% effective as a spermicide when applied topically. The tree is also an excellent pioneer reclamation species to plant in exhausted soils. It is extremely drought tolerant.

Despite the fact that Neem is toxic to fungus and insects, it can be used as a highly nutritious and productive livestock forage crop.

In East Africa Neem is used as firewood, charcoal, timber, furniture, poles, utensils (pestals and mortars), medicine (leaves, bark, roots, fruit), fodder (goats eat leaves and oil-seed cake), bee forage, shade, ornamental, soil improvement, windbreak, veterinary medicine, oil (seed), a powerful antifeedant (azadirachtin from seed and leaves), soap manufacture.

For in-depth information I would suggest starting with The Neem Foundation, which can be found on the internet. Here's a link to the Kenya Neem Foundation.

Moringaceae, Moringa oleifera, horshraddish tree, drumstick tree

Yielding protein, oil, and carbohydrates, and with a load of vitamins and minerals, Moringa is possibly the planet's most underdeveloped tree. A sort of food market on a stalk, it yields at least four different edibles: pods, leaves, seeds, roots. Beyond edibles, it provides products that make village life more self-sufficient in rural communities: lubricating oil, lamp oil, wood, paper, liquid fuel, skin treatments, the means to purify water, and more. The green pods, which look like giant green beans but taste something like asparagus, are notably nutritious. Foliage is an important food product as well. People in various countries around the world boil up the tiny leaflets and eat them like spinach. In general this supreme plant shows a capacity to help solve problems such as hunger, malnutrition, rural poverty, disease, deforestation, and visual blight. Although the experiences come almost exclusively from India, the genus Moringa is inherently African, so it has ancestral roots in sub-Saharan soils. Read more in this informative PDF

Moringaceae, Moringa oleifera

Moringaceae, Moringa oleifera