Aegle marmelos - Bael fruit, matoom, Indian quince, golden apple, holy fruit, stone apple, elephant apple


Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Syn. Feronia pellucida, Crataeva marmelos) Bael fruit is a citrus relative. One can see the similarity in the leaves and growth habit of the tree. Bael fruit is native to the dry forests, in the hills and plains of Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The species can be found cultivated throughout India, where, due to its status as a sacred tree is grown in Buddhist temples where monks slice and dry fruit, then heat it in water to make a popular hot drink. The tree can be found cultivated in Southeast Asia, Indo-China, Thailand and N. Malaysia.

Bael grows up to 15 m in height. The bark is smooth and light gray in color, leaves are relatively small, deciduous, alternate, ovate - lanceolate, trifoliate. Branches are spiny. Like many of the Rutaceae family, Bael has fragrant flowers.

The fruit matures at between five and twenty centimeters. The ones I've seen are typically the size of a softball and has hard brittle shell, not dissimilar to that of the calabash tree. The inside is full of a very sticky, fibrous pulp around many seeds, which look like large grapefruit seeds. The outside is a hard, brittle shell, slightly thicker then that of the calabash tree. When ripe, the fruit emits an extremely pleasant aroma and can sit around for weeks doing so. Superior cultivars can yield over 400 fruit a year. Better varieties tend to have thinner rinds. The tree I have collected seed from seems to produce a lot, but the rinds are fairly thick, the fruit basically has to be stomped on, thrown onto a hard surface, or hit with a hammer to be broken open.


The leaves of Bael fruit are considered sacred in the Hindu culture, offered as sacrament to Lord Shiva, thus it is highly prohibited to uproot the trees. Shiva is believed to live underneath the tree.

The fruit is also made into jams and preserves. Young leaves and shoots are used to season food in Indonesia and eaten as a vegetable in Thailand.

Bael Tree

Bael Tree

Above all else Bael fruit seems to have potential for its medicinal benefits. In Asia it is widely used for such purposes. The fruit, roots and leaves all have antibiotic qualities. Unripe fruit are eaten by those recovering from dysentery. In India it is a highly revered as an aphrodisiac. Large quantities of the fruit are considered to act as a depressant, slowing the heart rate and inducing sleepiness. Juice extracted from the leaves is given to relieve the symptoms of asthma and fever. Tea made from the flowers is used to cleanse eye infections. Tea made from the root are used to relieve heart palpitations, indigestion, bowel inflammations and to stop vomiting and relieve nausea.

Interestingly, the fruit pulp, in addition to its edible and medicinal properties, is also used as glue; mixed with lime and plaster and employed as a sealant; mixed with cement and used when building walls; and added to watercolor paints. In the cosmetic industry the limonene-rich oil is used to scent hair products. The rind yields a yellow dye.


Trees can grow in a wide variety of soils in full sun or partial shade. It is considered sub-trpopical but I grow it in Panama, the full=on tropics.

Again, I am not familiar with a wide range of varieties, the one I have eaten has many seeds surrounded by a thick, stick pulp. The pulp is somewhat similar in consistency to  other citrus, and is divided into sections. The pulp is very aromatic. As is done traditionally in Asia, I have consumed it in a drink, basically made a tea out of the pulp.


Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Theobroma cacao- Chocolate, Cacao


There's a lot that can be said about this species.

Some of the latin synonyms are: Cacao guianensis Aubl., Cacao minus Gaertn., Cacao sativa Aubl., Theobroma caribaea Sweet, Theobroma interregima Stokes, Theoboma kalagua De Wild, T. leiocarpa Bernoulli, T. pentagona Bernoulli.

Some of the folk names include: Ah kakaw (Lacandon), aka-'i (Ka'apor), aka-'iwa (Ka'apor), bana torampi (Shipibo), biziaa (Zapotec), bizoya, cacahoaquiahuit, cacahoatl, cacahua, cacahuatl, cacao, cacaocuahuitl (Aztec).

The list of folk names goes on and on. Cacao has been a significant species for melenia. The tree was cultivated throughout areas of Central America 4,000 years ago where it was venerated as a divine substance, a food of the gods, and was primarily consumed during rituals and offered to the gods. Thus the plant genus is called Theobroma, meaning "gods" "food" in Latin. Cacao is a word borrowed from the Mayan language and refers to the tree, the fruit, and the drink that is prepared from the fruit. The word chocolate is derived from the Aztec word xocolatl.


Cacao beans were held in extremely high regard by the Aztecs who used them as food, stimulant, medicine and currency. Notably, as a currency, the cacao bean was typically used as standard fare to pay prostitutes. Perhaps this has something do to with the beans aphrodesiac properties.

The Aztec viewed the cacao tree as a gift form the god Quetzalcoatl. The following, extracted from an Aztec text, provides a precise description of the tree and of the drink:

Cacaoaquavitl - Cacao Tree

It has broad branches. It is simply a round tree. Its fruit is like the ears of dried maize, like an ear of green maize, some whitish brown. Its name is "cacao ear." Some are reddish brown, some whitish brown, some bluish brown. Its heart, that which is inside it, its filled insides, is like an ear of maize. The name of this when it grows is cacao. This is edible, is drinkable. This cacao, when much is drunk, when one consumes much of it, especially that which is green, which is tender, makes one drunk, has an effect upon one, makes on ill, makes one confused. If a normal amount is drunk, it makes one happy, refreshes one, comforts one, strengthens one. Thus it is said: "I take cacao, I moisten my lips. I refresh myself." (Sahagun, 11)

Initially, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Hernan Cortez it was used almost exclusively in the production of love drinks

Today, although the wild form of the plant (T. lacandonense) is found only in the jungles of southern Mexico, domesticated cacao can be found grown as a crop throughout many of the tropical rainforest regions of the world, throughout the Americas, in southeast Asia, and parts of Africa.

I have found wild cacao relative, Herrania purpurea, on an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama. The pod is smaller than T. cacao. When opened the pod contains a similar white pulp surrounding smaller seeds.

Interestingly, in ancient Nicaragua, cacao farmers were required to abstain from sex for thirteen days prior to planting cacao seeds so they would not make the chocolate god (moon god) angry.

Generally speaking, cacao served (and still serves) the important function as a vehicle for administering other psychoactive plants and fungi (Ott 1985). The Aztecs ingested cacao together with entheogenic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) Associated rituals are still practiced amongst numerous tribes today.

In ancient America, cacao was esteemed as a tonic and aphrodisiac. Cacao is also used in indian fold medicine to treat diarrhea and scorpion stings. Kuna women (Panama) drink a decoction of the fruit pulp as a pregnancy tonic. Fresh young leaves are applied externally as an antiseptic agent. In Peru, cacao is drunk primarily as a diuretic and in cases of kidney infection.

Cacao beans contain 18% protein, 56% lipids, 13.5% carbohydrates, 1.45% theobromine, .05% caffeine, and 5% tannin.

The following cacao recipe was said to have been brought by conquistador Hernan Cortez to Spain in 1528:

700 g cacao

750 g sugar

56 g cinnamon (probably Canella winterana)

14 Mexican peppercorns (Capsicum spp.)

14 g spice cloves (Pimenta dioica)

3 vanilla pods

1 handful of anise (probably Tagetes lucida)

1 hazelnut

musk, grey amber, and orange blossom water

Edible Condiment Leaves of Southeast Asia

The following is a list of species whose leaves are used as condiments in Southeast Asia. The list is not, by any means, complete, but includes some of the lesser known, more obscure species.

Acacia farnesiana, Cassie flower, Leguminaceae

Achronychia laurifolia, Ketiak, Rutaceae

Aegle marmelos, Bael fruit, Rutaceae

Allium odorum, Chinese chives, Liliaceae

Ancistrocladus extensus, Ox-tongue, Dipterocarpaceae

Antidesma ghaesembilla, Sekinchak, Euphorbiaceae

Begonia tuberosa, Tuberous begonia, Begoniaceae

Claoxylon polot, Rock blumea, Euphorbiaceae

Coleus tuberosus, African potato, Labiatae

Crypteronia paniculata, Sempoh, Lythraceae

Curcuma domestica, Turmeric, Zingiberaceae

Cymbopogon citratus, Lemon Grass, Graminae

Cyrtandra decurrens, Graminae

C. pendula, Rock sorrel, Graminae

Dendrobium salaccense, Cooking orchid, Orchidaceae

Derris heptaphylla, Seven finger, Leguminaceae

Elethariopsis sumatrana, Frangrant gingerwort, Zingiberaceae

Eugenia polyantha, White kelat, Myrtaceae

Evodia roxburghiana, Sour-relish wood, Rutaceae

Gymura procumbens, Akar, Compositae

Homalomena graffithii, Itch grass, Araceae

Hornstedtia, Tepus, Zingiberaceae

Horsfieldia sylvestris, Pendarahan, Myristicaceae

Kaempferia galanga, Chekur (Galangal), Zingiberaceae

Kaempferia rotunda, Kenchur, Zingiberaceae

Leucas lavandulifoia, Ketumbak, Labiatae

L. zeylanica, Ketumbak, Labaiatae

Limnophila aromatica, Swamp leaf, Scrophulariaceae

L. villosa

L. conferta

L. pulcherrima

L. rugosa

Lycium chinese, Kichi, Matrimony vine, Solanaceae

Lycopersicum esculentum, Tomato, Solanaceae

Medinilla crispata, Medinilla, Melastomataceae

M. hasseltii

M. radicans

Mentha longifolia, Longleaf mint, Labiatae

Murraya koenigii, Curry-leaf tree, Rutaceae

Nauclea esculenta, Pincushion, Rubiaceae

Ocimum canum, Hoary basil, Labiatae

Oenanthe javanica, Shelum, Umbelliferae

Ottelia alismoides, Pojnd lettuce, Hydrocharitaceae

Oxalis corniculata, Sorrel, Oxalidaceae

Pilea melastomoides, Sweet nettle, Urticaceae

Piper lolot, Pepper leaf, Piperaceae

P. caducibracteum

P. umbellatum

Pistacia lentiscus, Pistachio resin tree, Anacardiaceae

Pluchea indica, Indian sage, Comppositae

Polygonum hydropiper, Water polygonum, Polygonaceae

Staurogyne elongata, Cross flower, Acanthaceae

Trachyspermum involucratum, Wild celery, Umbelliferae

Datura metel - Devil's Trumpet, Zombie Cucumber


Datura metel is native to the east Asia, D. stramonium is thought to be from Tropical America. Both have a similar range of medicinal properties. Numerous Datura species have been documented as being used by the Aztecs and modern indians as an intoxicant and hallucinogen in the same way as other tropane plants of the New World. They have also been used in Europe for healing and divination since the 16th century.


Datura metel is of similar toxicity to D. cerantocaula, D. ferox, D. stramonium, and D. innoxia. The plant is a fast growing, robust annual. Some find the aroma of the large white and/or purplish flowers to be objectionable, I think they smell good.

The thorny capsules are seed pods, containing numerous kineyshaped seeds.

Datura metel is a neurotoxin, hallucinogen, and considered to be extremely hazardous. Apparently, falling asleep beneath certain Datura and Brugmansia species can give rise to hallucinatory dreams.

Datura extracts have also been used (or misused) for infanticide, suicide, and murder.

Datura is used medicinally, mainly as an analgestic, used to relieve pain without loss of conscious.

The whole plant, but especially the leaves and seed, is anaesthetic, anodyne, antiasthmatic, antispasmodic, antitussive, bronchodilator, hallucinogenic, hypnotic and mydriatic. This species, and others in its genus, have a long history of use in ethnomedicine.

Caution is advised since a toxic dose can be very close to the medicinal dose. This plant should only be used under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Many horror stories can recounted about naive individuals who decided to self-medicate with this and other closely related plants only to find themselves in a dark and scary place they never thought they would escape from, and sometimes they were right.

At low doses the alkaloids act as a depressant and sedative, but higher doses can lead to powerful "true" hallucinations, exitation, dry mouth, euphoria, confusion, insomnia, respiratory arrest and death.

The plant contains the alkaloids hyoscyamine, scopolamine, hyoscine and atropine. Atropine dilates the pupils and is used in eye surgery. Dried leaves contain .3 - 1 % tropane alkaloids (mainly hyoscyamine and scopolamine), seeds contain .6 % and roots .2 %.

Datura metel

Purple Datura metel
Purple Datura metel

Here's a link to a post with more information and photos on Datura metel. And see article below 

The Genus Datura: From Research Subject to Powerful Hallucinogen

By Kirsten Bonde

Datura is one of the most interesting plants with hallucinogenic properties. Despite having a reputation as one of the 'darker' hallucinogens, it has been widely used by societies historically in both the Old World and the New, and continues to be today. For those interested in ethnobotanical uses of this plant world-wide, Datura is a fascinating topic. While being limited in its uses economically, the alkaloids contained in the plant have been in demand in the past and its application as a subject for botanical research is vast. Heiser has stated that "Datura is a genus of contrasts - from smelly weeds to lovely ornamentals." This paper will attempt to provide an overview of this varied genus, with specific attention being given to Datura stramonium, most common in North America.

Datura belongs to the family Solanaceae, the nightshades, which Includes some 2,400 species in total (Siegel 1989:36). Other plants with narcotic properties in this family are mandrake (Mandrogora), belladonna (Atropa), henbane (Hyoscyamus), and tobacco (Nicotiana). Appropriately called the "paradoxical plants" by Heiser, this family also includes such common food plants as the tomato, potato, and eggplant (Safford 1922:539). There seems to be some disagreement as to how many sections and species belong to the genus Datura. Conklin (1976:3-4) states that herbaceous Datura is now divided into five sections, while the older citation by Avery (1959:18) claims only four. in any case, this genus contains about ten different herbaceous species, the most important ones being D. stramonium, D. inoxia, D. metel, and D. ceratocaula (Schultes 1979:41-42).

Common names for Datura are numerous, some of the most common ones being raving nightshade, thorn apple, stinkweed, Devil's apple, Jimson weed, and angel's trumpet (Heiser 1969:140 and Avery 1959:19). Datura can be found throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas as either native or adventive plants, and some have also been found in Africa and Australia (Conklin 1976:5). The epicenter of diversity of this plant is in the New World, specifically in Andean South America and in the southwestern United States/Mexico region (Lewis 1977:423-4). This data correlates with the generally agreed upon origin of Datura, although this topic was debated for some time. Researchers now believe the plant originated and evolved in Mexico and the American Southwest, followed by adaptive radiation into new desert environments (Conklin 1976:5).

Today, Datura (mainly the species stramonium) can be found all over North America as a roadside weed, but never in mountainous or forested habitats (Hutchens 1991:166). A possible explanation for its success as a weed has been offered by Heiser, who argues that the long duration of the seeds is responsible. Tests have shown that Datura seeds stored for 39 years still had a germination rate of 90% (Heiser 1969:140). The plant seems to prefer xeric environments and has an annual or short-lived perennial life cycle (Conklin 1976:5). Since Datura is not a widely grown crop plant, estimations on yield were difficult to locate. The only mention on the topic was in reference to experiments carried out to determine the effect of manure and other nitrogenous fertilizers on the plant. "In 1911 yields from Datura stramonium were reported as increasing from 23 kg. per 100 square meters, on unmanured land to 33 kg. per 100 square meters on land which had been dunged with farmyard manure" (James 1947:230-231).

The earliest mention of a plant of this genus was by the Arab Avicenna in the 11 th century in an account of Arabian medicinal plants, later translated by Dioscorides. The "nut" of the plant was recognized by early botanists as a fruit of a solanaceous plant, later called Datura metel (Avery 1959:3). The generic name of Datura was first used by Linnaeus in his 1737 publication Hortus Cliffortianus. Objecting to "barbaric" nomenclature, he latinized Dhatura or Dutra into the modem name of Datura (Avery 1959:17). The English herbalist Gerard also made mention of Datura in reference to the plant Greek writer Theocrastus called Hippomanes, thought to drive horses mad. He also believed Datura was responsible for putting the priests of Apollo in ancient Greece into their prophetic state (Schultes 1979:109).

Later historical accounts of Datura include Christoval Acosta's Tractado de las Drogas y Medicinas de las Indias Orientales (1578). He describes the use of Datura in the East Indies as an aphrodisiac and also states that the seeds were highly prized treasures by Hindu enamorades, who ground them into a powder to be added to wine or some other medium. Herbalist Li Shi-Chen, in a work on Chinese medicines entitled Peu ts'ao Kang mu (15 90), explained the origin of the Chinese name for Datura. Man t'o lo h ua is said to be taken from the famous Buddhist sutra "Fa hua ching," which states that when Buddha preaches a sermon from heaven, dew forms on the petals of Datura from raindrops. According to the Taoist tradition though, the name refers to a specific star whose envoy is supposed to carry a Datura flower in one hand (Safford 1922:540). These early accounts of the plant offer valuable insight into its widespread use and rich history. But while Datura continued investigated, the most thorough study was conducted in the early 20th century by Albert F. Blakeslee, who spent most of his career using the plant to conduct groundbreaking research Into plant genetics.

Perhaps the most Important contribution of Datura, at least in sclentIfIc terms, is its use as a research subject to better understand fundamental biological principles (Heiser 1069:141). Datura plants contain 12 pairs of chromosomes normally, but trisomic (2n+1) individuals can be grown which have an extra chromosome in one of their twelve sets. This was discovered by Blakeslee, who went on to identify twelve primary mutants, each with one of the normal chromosomes as an extra, and for many of these, two secondary mutants where the extra chromosome was a reduplicated half of the one of the normal ones (Avery 1959:viii). The Blakeslee himself understood the Implications of his work, as evident when he wrote an article for Smithsonian in 1930 and stated, " is our belief that in the future extra chromosomes will be consciously utilized as a source of desirable variations in plants of economic Importance" (449). How right he was!

Another great accomplishment was the discovery of a haploid in Datura by Blakeslee. "This was the f1rst haploid to be found in vascular plants and created something of a sensation. Haploid plants, one thought, should be gamophytes, but here was a little plant, rather weak and nearly sterile, that was clearly a sporophyte, but that had only one set of chromosomes in its cells" (Avery 1959.-Vili). With this research, much interest in polyploidy was aroused and investigations continued.

While a total of six stages in the polyploidy series of Datura have now been Identified (1n, 2n, 3n, 4n, 6n, and 8n), the Initial work by Blakeslee was of vast importance. With the finding of polyploids containing four sets of chromosomes Instead of two "was born the concept of genic balance; that is, an organism that has complete extra sets of all of its genes is not very different from a normal organism of its type, whereas an organism that has a single extra chromosome, giving it an extra 'dose' of the genes carried on this chromosome and thus changing the ratio of these genes to those bome on the other chromosomes, has a profoundly changed appearance" (Heiser 1969:142). The research conducted by Blakeslee during his lifetime were of immeasurable value to such diverse aspects of botany as genetics, cytology, physiology, morphology, and anatomy. in the process of this, the Datura plant itself has become better understood. The numerous variations genetically in the plant has amazed many researchers and it is believed that "Datura now probably displays a larger number of distinguishable types due to gene mutations than any other species of plants except corn" (Avery 1959:110).

Being a known hallucinogen, the chemistry and alkaloid composition of Datura also becomes important if one is to understand the plant itself as well as its history. The main alkaloids of medicinal value in Datura are members of the tropane class, namely atropine, hyoscyamine, and hyoscine (Avery 1959:48). All are commonly grouped under the headings of stramonine or daturine (Heiser 1969:141), and are present in varying concentrations in all parts of the plant. The variance is due to the stage of development of the plant and the environmental conditions it is grown in. There is a decreases in the concentration during the day and an increase at night, as well as less following a rainy period than after clear weather (Lewis 1977:419). The effect of environmental factors has been shown to cause as much variation as that found between specific races (Avery 1959:48).

The medicinal value of the alkaloids themselves is significant, but Datura is not considered the best source for them. Atropine is present in small amounts in Datura and can be extracted from hyoscyarnine in a commercial process. The alkaloid has a paralyzing action that helps relieve bronchial spasms in the treatment of asthma. Old-fashioned methods of treating this respiratory problem included use of an inhaler containing stramonine and belladonna (also a primary source of atropine). When the supply of belladonna was cut off during World War II, the United States began intentional cultivation of D. stramonium as a domestic source of atropine. This was abandoned later because imported belladonna was cheaper than domestic Datura resources (Heiser 1969:141).

The daturine alkaloids are also known to cause dilation of the pupil of the eye (mydriasis) and paralysis of the muscles of accommodation (cycloplegia). They effect the nervous system too, with atropine acting as a stimulant and hyoscine as a depressant. Atropine is used to counteract the depression associated with morphine and hyoscine acts as an antidote to highly toxic phosphate insecticides and so called "nerve gases." Other applications of hyoscine Include prevention of motion sickness, as an analgesic along with morphine in obstetrics to produce "twilight sleep," and as a truth drug (Avery 1959:51).

While people may not have been aware of the chemical constituency of Datura, the plant was used medicinally all over the world in historical times. in the Old World, the Chinese used Datura to treat colds and nervous conditions (Siegel 1989:21). in India, the powdered seeds were mixed with butter and taken internally for impotence as well as being applied to genitalia to obtain sexual vigor (Lewis 1977:330). Referred to as the tuft of Shiva, the god of destruction, Datura was also used in the form of a liquid extract by thugs - worshipers of Kali, the goddess of fertility and death - to stupefy sacrificial victims. The plant was also given to young girls in India to bring them Into prostitution as well as on their clients (Siegel 1989:21). The leaves were smoked as well in that country to relieve asthma (Lewis 1977:395).

European usage of Datura can be traced back to pagan rituals. The Church suppressed knowledge of the plant during the medieval witch-burning period and associated Datura and other plants such as deadly nightshade and monkshood with the Devil. "...flying ointments and magical salves were compounded out of Datura roots and seeds, parts of the plant rich in delirium- and delusion-producing tropane alkaloids. When this material was applied to the witch's body, it produced states of extraordinary derangement and delusion" (McKenna 1992:90). The use of broomsticks by witches can be explained by these practices, serving to apply the salves to sensitive vaginal membranes (Lewis 1977:420).

Experiments on these controversial religious practices were carried out by Andres Laguna, a physician to Pope Julius III, and showed how the salves containing Datura took the women on "Journeys" by producing dreams only, contrary to widely-held folk beliefs of the period. Giovanni Battista Porta, a colleague of Galileo and who also took part in Laguna's experiment, described how men drank potions of Datura to create the illusion of being a bird or beast. The men wore wolfs skin and ran about on all fours following ingestion of the hallucinogen, providing the basis of our modem werewolf stories (Siegel 1989:22).

While Datura was definitely used in the Old World, no where did it have as much application as in the New World. The seeds were used by ancient Peruvians in trepanning operations as an anesthetic and archeological evidence Indicates that these complex surgical procedures had a higher survival rate than one would expect (Heiser 1969:136). The use of enema syringes in Peru dates back to 600800 AD and could have contained Datura among other things, considering the vast herbal knowledge of the healers of this region (McKenna 1992:197-8). Wild and cultivated species of Datura were also used in other parts of western South America by indigenous peoples to Induce partial intoxication, to control unruly children, and the plant was given in large doses along with tobacco to women and slaves to deaden their senses before being buried alive with their dead husbands or masters. Extracts made from the bark, leaves, and seeds were also used in shamanistic rites and practices of this region (Avery 1959:4).

The Aztecs also made use of Datura, specifically D. meteloides, which they called ololluhqui "the magic plant," for all kinds of diseases including paralysis and as an ointment for cuts or wounds (Safford 1922:550). The plant's narcotic effects were employed by Aztecan shamans and priests to communicate with spirits, causing visions and stimulating people to dance, laugh, weep, sleep, or tell oracular prophecies. The seeds were considered sacred and kept on altars or in secret boxes and sacrificial offerings made to them by the Aztecs (Avery 1959:4).

Zuni Indians and other cultures in the American Southwest and Mexican region used Datura as well and referred to it as toloache Used to relieve pain during the setting of bones among other things, D. meteloides was the most universally used drug in the region. it was also taken by young boys in male initiation rituals and used in ceremonies following the death of a member of the tribe (Avery 1959:4). Attitudes toward the plant varied among tribes from no special reverence to attribution of supernatural powers. But while knowledge of this plant was widespread among Native Americans, early colonialists were not as aware of Its properties. An interesting example of this is what happened to British soldiers in 1676 sent to Jamestown, Virginia to quell Bacon's Rebellion. After including Datura stramonium in a salad, the soldiers were reported to have gone mad for eleven or so days before the effects finally wore off. This incident is probably the source for Datura's common name jimsonweed, a shortened version of James Town weed (Avery 1959:5).

From an anthropological perspective, the use of Datura stramonium by Algonquin Indians of Virginia in their huskanawing ceremony provides an excellent example, of the role of hallucinogens during the liminal period in rites of passage. The concept of liminality was first discussed by Arnold Van Gennep in his Rites o Passaga (1908) and later elaborated on by Victor Turner. The liminal period is one part of rites of passage during which initiates are removed from social space and involved in reflection and learning about their particular society. Victor Turner has pointed to the Importance of studying this phenomenon in order to understand processes of social change generationally within a culture. The use of Datura in this rite provides such insight.

Beverly in his History of Virginia (1705) described the rite of huskanawing. The rite was practiced by Algonquins every fourteen or sixteen years and involved taking the "choicest and briskest" young men of the society into the woods and ritually administering an intoxicating medicine (wysoccan), containing Datura, to them. The rite was necessary if the young men hoped to become great men or officers within their society. Kept in cages or enclosures for several months, the local medicine men carefully fed the boys only wysoccan, causing them to become "stark, raving mad" for a period of eighteen or twenty days so as to "perfectly lose the remembrance of all former things, even of their parents, their treasure, and their language." When sufficient dosages had been administered, the amount was reduced gradually and the young men slowly returned to their senses. But before the potion completely wore off, the boys were brought back, into their village and carefully observed to see if any memories of their former life as boys were discovered. If one did show signs of remembering, the entire ritual had to be undergone again, this time greatly endangering the life of the initiate (Safford 1922:558-9).

While this may serve as a severe example of liminality, the purpose of the rite being one of transition follows Van Gennep's and Turner's theory perfectly. As Beverly describes, the boys are forced to relearn all aspects of their culture, "...thus they unlive their former lives, and commence men by forgetting that they ever have been boys" (Safford 1922:558-9). In order to become fully adult, socialized members of Algonquin society, the boys must leave their former role of boyhood and its accompanying memories behind. While possible reasons for the severity of the ritual are beyond the scope of this paper, the account by Beverly struck me as Important enough to Include and is worth further research in the future.

While the above descriptions make it appear like Datura is a fairly widely used, relatively harmless hallucinogenic plant, this is not at all the case. There is adequate reason for Datura's dark -reputation and probably one of the more famous examples has to do with Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks. She apparently drank milk from a local cow that had grazed on the plant and consequently developed "milk sickness," a slow but fatal disease. Her death effected Lincoln tremendously and caused the President to remain abstinent from alcohol for the remainder of his life (Siegel 1989:259). The possibility of poisoning when taking Datura is fairly high and occurs often with symptoms similar to belladonna. As discussed earlier, chemical composition of the plant varies with environmental conditions the plant is grown In, thereby making it difficult to determine a safe dosage. Cases of children eating parts of the plant have often been reported, attracted by the colorful flowers and seedpods. Livestock poisoning seems to be rarer, possible due to Datura's odor and taste (Lewis 1977:54).

With its long history of human usage, one may ask how people learned to use Datura safely. One possible answer lies in the foraging habits of animals. Tribal peoples, living in a much closer relationship with nature, probably observed the effects Datura had on different species of animals and copied their eating strategies when consuming the hallucinogen themselves. Modern scientists have watched hawk moths feed on the flowers at night and become disoriented. Nonetheless, the moths continue to attempt to return to the plant for further feeding. Hummingbirds also favor Datura and after ingesting the narcotic perch, fluff their feathers, and then freeze stiff like corpses for several hours (Siegel 1989:25). Other research has also demonstrated that animals chose to eat hallucinogenic plants on an infrequent basis only, seeming to realize that tolerances can easily develop with regular usage.

Interestingly, some animals are unaffected by Datura Beetles have developed biochemical defenses against the plants potent chemicals and ants appear to have done the same, often being observed carrying away the seeds. Bees are unaffected as well and various species of birds are known to eat the seeds, thereby acting as a dispersal mechanism for the plant (Siegel 1989:24). Using animals as a model to learn from, ancient hunters and gatherers probably began using Datura and many incorporated it into shamanistic rituals, a more controlled environment for ingestion of such a powerful and dangerous hallucinogen.

The uses of this plant historically have been numerous, but we can also benefit from Datura in the future. Detoxification of the environment used to be taken care of by nature back when human beings lived in a more harmonious relationship with the earth. With increasing amounts of pollution resulting from modernization and industrialization, cleaning up the mess becomes a Larger challenge every day. The Datura plant can aid in these efforts. "The shrub Datura stramonium can act like a toxin sponge, leaching heavy-metal elements from polluted soils. The toxins are concentrated in its tissue, which can then be removed" (McKenna 1989:8). When discovering this Information, I was further Impressed with the belief that only by becoming more in touch with plants and nature can we hope to sustain as a species in the future. By ignoring the knowledge plants such as Datura can offer, we miss the very means by which to insure our own survival.

Literature Cited

Avery, Amos G., S. Satina, and J. Rietsema. Blakeslee: The Genus Datura. New York: Ronald Press Co., 1959.

Blakeslee, Albert F. "Extra Chromosomes, A Source of Variations in the Jimson Weed." Annual Report of the Board of Regents o the Smithsonian institution 1930. Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1931.

Conklin, Marie E "Genetic and Biochemical Aspects of the Development of Datura" Monographs in Developmental Biology. New York: Karger, 1976.

Heiser, Charles B. Jr. Nightshades., The Paradoxical Plants. San Francisco: WH Freeman and Co., 1969.

Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston: Shambala, 1991.

James, G.M. "Effects of Manuring on Growth and Alkaloid Content of Medicinal Plants." Economic Botany 2 (1947): 230-237.

Lewis, Walter H. and M.P.F. Elvin-Lewis. Medical Botany: Plants

Effecting Man's Health. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1977.

McKenna, Terence. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

McKenna, Terence. "Plan, Plant, Planet." Whole Earth Review (64) Fall 1989.

Safford, William E. "Daturas of the Old World and New: An Account of their Narcotic Properties and their Use in Oracular and Initiatory Ceremonies." Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 1920. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922.

Schultes, Richard E. and Albert Hoffman. Plants of the Gods. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Siegel, Ronald K. Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise. New York: EP Dutton, 1989.

This document Copyright Kirsten Bonde

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

Adansonia digitata - Baobab, Muyu (Chonyu), Mbuyu (Swahili, Digo), Muramba (Embu)

The Baobab appears to be a somewhat disproportional tree, with a massive trunk and gnarled, twisting branches.

The fruit grow to around 25 cm long, with a hard oval shell and longitudinal grooves, like a football. The pod is packed with seeds embedded in an edible cream or white pulp.

The cream can be eaten raw, or alternatively dissolved in water and stirred into a milky paste, served as a drink. Coconut juice is commonly added. The seeds can be sifted off and roasted like groundnuts.

In times of famine the soft tuber-like root tips are cooked and eaten. Germinating seed roots are also eaten, and young leaves are used as a vegetable, often mixed with cassava leaves.

The pulp covered seeds are coated with colored sugar and sold as sweets in coastal towns in Kenya (where the tree is most common).

A. digitata is also employed as a plant medicine. A decoction of the bark is used to steam-bath infants with high fever. A juice made from the mashed pulp is drunk to treat fever.

This versatile tree also yields a fiber (taken from the trunk) used as string for weaving baskets and ropes. Strings are first stripped from the trunk, chewed for softening, then woven.

Adansonia digitata leaf.jpg

Trees are traditionally used for placing bee hives, assumedly due to the high quality honey produced with the pollen of its flowers.

In parts of Kenya it is believed that the appearance of new leaf growth or flowers is an indicator that the rainy season is going to start. Fallen trees provide a huge amount of biomass and decompose over time improving the soil quality significantly.

Adansonia digitata trunk.jpg

Perhaps more then any other tree in east Africa, this one is associated with complex myths, legends, and beliefs amongst peoples in areas where it grows. For instance: Young plants are never cut down, while large trees are never debarked (for sap or fiber) just before the onset of rainy season for fear that to do so would keep rain from falling. The Baobab is considered to be a sacred and peaceful tree. A cut in the tree is said to bleed like a human being. And in the region of Meru, there is a belief that a person will turn into the opposite sex if they walk in a circle around the tree with a goat.

The tree is easily propagated from seed. For higher germination rates seeds can be scarified or put in boiling water briefly and let to cool. Naturally a seed can take several years to find water and germinate. The tree is very slow growing and should not be planted near houses as lateral roots can reach lengths of a hundred m or more. A tree is said to begin producing fruit after 60 years, so plant one now!

In Kenya there are three distinct varieties, differing mostly in the degree of sweetness of the pulp and size of the seed. The shape of the trees and fruit will also vary.

Adansonia digitata tree.jpg

An informative study of Cyprus ethnobotany

It can be difficult to find information on the wild edible plant collecting traditions of the European Mediterranean, this article provides a fascinating look into the ethnobotany of the Cyprus countryside.



An ethnobotanical survey of wild edible plants of Paphos and Larnaca countryside of Cyprus

Athena DellaDemetra Paraskeva-Hadjichambi, and Andreas Ch Hadjichambis


An ethnobotanical survey of wild edible plants of Cyprus was carried out in two sites. Paphos vine zone and Larnaca mixed farming zone. These are among the areas in Cyprus whose inhabitants subsisted primarily on pastoralism and agriculture and therefore still preserve the traditional knowledge on wild edible plants.

The information was collected for three-year period, in the framework of the EU-funded RUBIA Project. Four hundred and thirteen interviews have been administered to 89 informants of various ages and background categories in 29 villages of Paphos site, and 8 in Larnaca site. A total of 78 species were recorded. Ethnographic data related to vernacular names, traditional tools and recipes have also been recorded. A comparison of the data collected from the two sites is undertaken. During this ethnobotanical research it was verified that wild edibles play an important role in Cyprus in rural people, however, it was realized that the transmission of folk uses of plants decreased in the last generations. The research of ethnobotany should be extended to other areas of Cyprus in order not only to preserve the traditional knowledge related to plants but to make it available to future generations as well.


Even though covering only 9251 square kilometres, Cyprus is a country diverse in geography, climate, flora and fauna and rich in history and culture. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with a climate of wet, changeable winter and hot dry summers, separated by short spring and autumn seasons of rapidly changing weather. The vegetation of Cyprus is formed by typical Mediterranean types: the coniferous forest, the maquis, the garigue and the batha vegetation, whilst more localized communities occur around salt marshes, sand dunes, stone walls and mountain streams [1-4].

In Cyprus, about 2000 taxa were recorded as native or naturalized. From the native taxa, 143 were recorded as endemics [5-8]. References to the Cyprus flora and in particular to plants of economic importance go back as far as Homer. Cyprus' plants are mentioned in the works of ancient authors such as Theophrast, Dioscourides and Pliny. Among Cyprus natural vegetation, a number of aromatic, medicinal and other useful plants are being exploited in their wild form [9].

The Cyprus diverse topography has permitted the survival of traditional knowledge related to vegetable resources used by locals as food. Even though, the consumption of plants gathered from the wild represented an important part of human nutrition in Cyprus, however, there are few ethnobotanical studies focused on wild edibles [10-13].

The present research was performed in the framework of the EU-funded RUBIA Ethnobotanical Project (Contract Number ICA3–2002–10023, 2003–2006). The perspectives of this research project were to record ethnobotanical knowledge related to traditional plant uses of wild and neglected cultivated plants for food, medicine, textiles, dyeing, handicrafts, and basketry, as well as to identify and evaluate the socio-economic and anthropological context in which these plants have been gathered and processed.

As a part of this broad study, wild food plants have been recorded in Cyprus and therefore the aim of this paper, is to present and analyze the wild food data gathered in the study areas of Cyprus during the years 2003–2005.


Location and study area

Within Cyprus, two areas of study have been selected for this research project, according to the Agro-economic zones of Cyprus [14]. The decision was made in order to fulfil the criteria set by the EU-RUBIA Consortium for rural areas administratively, geographically and ecologically homogeneous with similar socio-economic context.

Figure 1

Map of Cyprus with the two study sites.

In both sites man transformed the natural landscape, in order to create opportunities for agriculture and stock raising. The floral diversity of the territories (especially in Paphos area) and the different ways in which their inhabitants have exploited the natural resources available have engendered a rich popular knowledge of the use of plants. Not ethnobotanical studies have been carried out in these regions until now.

Site one belongs to the 4th phytogeographical zone of Cyprus, which has mostly cultivated or heavily grazed land in the North and numerous barren, eroded chalk or limestone hills in the South [3]. Is a part of Larnaca mixed farming zone and is an area of 155 km2 consisting of 8 relatively big villages: Athienou, Avdhellero, Kellia, Livadhia, Petrophani, Pyla, Troulli, Voroklini, with in total 9545 inhabitants all of whom are autochthonous Greek-Cypriots, Greek speaking with Cypriot dialect. Cereals are the main crops planted, however the low irrigation of the area and the limited profitability of cereals compelled the farmers to concentrate mostly to livestock production.

Site two belongs to the 1st phytogeographical zone of Cyprus, which is an area heterogeneous topographically, geologically and floristically, with much natural vegetation. It is mostly hilly, with deep narrow gorges, limestone or sandstone and with interesting areas of serpentine [3]. Site two is a part of the Paphos vine zone and is an area of 375 km2 comprising 29 small villages: Axylou, Amargeti, Agios Demetrianos, Dhrinia, Dhrousia, Eledhio, Inia, Kallepia, Kannaviou, Kathikas, Kato Akourdhalia, Kelokedara, Pano Arodes, Panayia, Choulou, Kritou Marottou, Lemba, Letymbou, Melemiou, Miliou, Pano Akourdhalia, Phiti, Polemi, Psathi, Stroumbi, Theletra, Tsada, Yiolou, Pitagrou, with 9540 inhabitants all of whom are autochthonous Greek-Cypriots, Greek speaking with Cypriot dialect and Paphian idiom. Even though the region extends over a large area with many villages, there is a small number of inhabitants in each village and it is considered the less densely populated region of the country. The major crop planted is the grape vine followed by cereals [14]. Part of the western site of this territory has been suggested for inclusion in the Akamas Natura 2000 site.

These two sites are among the few areas in Cyprus whose inhabitants subsisted primarily on pastoralism and agriculture and therefore the older people of these areas still preserve the traditional knowledge on wild edible plants. The intensity of farming and the unavailability of off-farm job opportunities were closely related to the population engaged in agriculture. Today, most of the young people of both sites work in Paphos or Larnaca towns, leaving the agricultural and pastoral activities to be carried out by the middle-aged and older generations.

The interest of the present study was focused on wild food botanicals in the two sites. Attempts have been made to correlate and compare the plants recorded between the two sites as well as with other research work carried out in Cyprus and abroad.

A further aim of this research was to develop an ethnobotanical framework which could be the basis for further studies.

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The present research was performed in the framework of the EU-funded RUBIA Ethnobotanical Project. The aim of this research project was the recording of ethnographical field data in order to develop a model for the re-evaluation of tools and technologies related to traditional uses of wild and neglected cultivated plants for food, medicine, textiles, dyeing, handicrafts, and basketry, as well as to identify and evaluate the socio-economic and anthropological context in which these plants have been gathered and processed. Eight study areas from the following countries were participated: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Holland, Italy, Morocco and Spain.

The field methodological framework chosen for this research was that used in ethnobiology [15-17]. Field research was conducted by collecting ethnobotanical information during structured and semi-structured interviews with knowledgeable people native in each site territory. For each plant recorded one questionnaire was filled. Even though a structured questionnaire had to be filled direct questions were avoided. The basic information needed was taken during the conversation. Whenever possible the conversation was recorded on cassettes.

No special selection criteria were used in the choice of the informants because one of the aims of this work was to assess the breadth of popular heritage in the field of wild edible plants, knowledge which is widespread among locals. However, most of the interviewees were more than 60 years old, and belong mainly to families which have a strong connection with traditional agricultural activities.

Plant data and their related information were entered into a data base. The data acquired for each plant comprise the common local name, its uses, the part of the plant used and its preparation and administration processes. The way plants were collected, preserved, stored, prepared and used and the most relevant processes were photographed and video recorded.

Most of the mentioned plants were recognised by the villagers in-situ during short field walks and collected for scientific identification. Nomenclature followed mainly the Flora of Cyprus [3,4] and in some cases the Flora Europaea [18]. Herbarium specimens of most of the taxa cited were prepared and deposited in the National herbarium of Cyprus at the Agricultural Research Institute, Nicosia. Seed samples were also collected in the appropriate season for the most representative wild plants and deposited in the Cyprus National Genebank, at the Agricultural Research Institute.

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Four hundred and two interviews have been administered to 89 informants, of which 38 (43%) were women and 51 (57%) were men. Informants were between the ages of 48–82, with the average age of 66.

A total of 78 plants have been recorded. All these species are native and are gathered from the wild whilst 11 of them are cultivated as well (Ceratonia siliquaEruca sativaMentha spicataOriganum dubiumRosmarinus officinalisThymus capitatusLaurus nobilisFicus caricaMyrtus communisPortulaca oleraceaCrataegus azarolus). Comparing the plants recorded in the two sites it can be seen that 40 plants are common in both sites, 5 of the edible plants are used exclusively in Larnaca site and 33 plants are used exclusively in Paphos site. Within the two sites the dependency of rural people on agriculture was much greater in the Paphos vine zone than in Larnaca site. According to studies of 1983 [14] in Paphos site 71% of rural people were gainfully employed in agriculture and 29% in other occupation whilst in Larnaca site 43% of people employed in agriculture and 57% in other occupation. The closer relation of the indigenous people with their land probably resulted to the higher degree of usage of the natural plant resources in Paphos site. Additionally, many villages in Paphos site are near or within the Akamas Nature Reserve, a big area with many natural habitats and rich vegetation and therefore many of the wild edibles are gathered from the undisturbed shrublands of the area. Furthermore, the middle-aged generation of the Paphos vine zone, even though working in the town, they have relation with the countryside, still gaining profits from their grapes, and therefore still preserve some of the TK of their parents.

The survey of wild edible plants of Paphos and Larnaca countryside is the first study in Cyprus which has followed ethnobotanical methodology, recording not only a species list but ways of gathering, storage, preservation, preparation processes, common and traditional recipes and therefore the comparison of our data with previous studies is not possible. However, an attempt was made in order to compare only the species list of wild edibles recorded in our two study areas with the list of edible wild plants of the Cyprus Flora published in 2000 which enlisted 57 edible species from all around the island [13]. From the comparison was revealed that 47 plants were recorded in both species lists, 29 wild edibles were reported for the first time in our ethnobotanical study and 10 species were recorded only in Savvides' list and not in ours.

All the plants recorded are presented in Table 1 with the indication of scientific name, vernacular name, family, plant part used, type of preparation, site recorded, number of records and herbarium specimen number.

Most used plants

The recorded plants belong to 31 different families. Asteraceae was with difference the most frequently encountered botanical family with 20 taxa, whilst Apiaceae and Brassicaceae follow with seven taxa, Lamiaceae with six and Boraginaceae is represented by four taxa. The other 26 families have less representation between one to three taxa each. Most of them are big families with many representatives in the Mediterranean region, some of which are very common plants. The data of this study confirm that people tend to use preferably the plants that are easily available to them excluding of course, those that are toxic or noxious. As was affirmed by other publications as well [19-22], the more common a plant (family or species) is in an area, the greater is the probability of its popular use. As for the most known and used species 13 of them were cited 10 times or more. The food utilization of Centaurea hyalolepis, has been reported by 18 informants, followed by Silene vulgaris (17 citations), Capparis spinosa (16 citations), Thymus capitatus (16 citations), Asparagus acutifolius (15 citations), Malva parviflora (14 citations), Scolymus hispanicus (13 citations), Eryngium creticum (12 citations), Foeniculum vulgare (11 citations), Onopordum cypriumCarlina involucrata ssp. cyprica and Portulaca oleracea with 10 citations each. A high number of plants (49 out of 78) have been recorded by at least three independent informants, so that they follow the reliability criterion of Le Grand and Wondergem [23] and would be particularly interesting in view of further studies [22].

At this point it should be noted that 40 of the edible plants recorded are used exclusively for food. Some other plants have two or more uses and they appear in different categories as well. As can be seen in figure igure2,2, 37 (30+4+3) plants have been recorded to be used for food as well as for medicine.

Figure 2

Number of plants used for food and other uses.

This overlap indicates the close relationship between health and food. A good example to this is Origanum dubium. The origan, locally called "rigani", is one of the most commonly edible plants used and many traditional recipes were recorded for its use as a condiment such as in recipes of roasted meat, as a scent in kebab, and is added as a scent in a traditional recipe, called "tsamarella" which is made from salted goat meat. It is also considered one of the most commonly used medicinal with about six different recipes, against flu, cold, as antipyretic, anti-stress, for stomach-ache and good digestion. These plants (Origanum dubiumThymus capitatusLaurus nobilis, among others) are often used in folk medicine as digestive, so it may be that their presence in these often heavy dishes is not only a culinary but medicinal, to increase the digestibility of the cooked food [19]. Overlapping between foods and medicines is quite well known in traditional societies [24-26] and represents an often neglected field in ethnopharmaceutical research.

Plant supply/availability throughout a year

Most of the plants are collected in wild populations nearby the places where the informants live. Occasionally there is a small-scale cultivation in their home gardens (Origanum dubiumMyrtus communisCrataegus azarolus). Some plants which were very much appreciated and frequently consumed in the past are now considered as weeds and even though have been mentioned they are only rarely eaten; in the territories studied this is the case of Sinapis alba and Sinapis arvensisSinapis spp. are still eaten in other areas of Cyprus [13].

Among all the edibles, four endemic species of Cyprus were recorded. The presence of endemic species illustrates the fact that the informants have a deep knowledge of their environment, since the three of them are not very abundant and can be found only in certain areas. For example, the endemic subspecies Carlina involucrata ssp. cyprica and Centaurea calcitrapa ssp. angusticeps are used only from the inhabitants of specific villages in Paphos area whilst the endemic Origanum majorana var. tenuifolium, which is used like common oregano, can be found only in a shrubland area of the Akamas National Park. The endemic species Onopordum cyprium, is used both in Paphos and Larnaca site and is a very common plant.

One of the favourite edibles of the recent past, Gundelia tournefortii, known by locals in Paphos area as "silifa", is under threat since it has become rare and it can not easily be found. This plant has been included in the Red data book of Cyprus Flora as Endangered because its populations have been eliminated [27].

Most wild species are gathered from waste and uncultivated land (48%) or from shrubland (17%) and by the roadside (12%). Eight percent (8%) of wild edibles are grown within or around the cultivations and therefore can be collected from the cultivated land of grape vines in Paphos and Cereals in Larnaca,

In the local Cyprus cuisine, greens and wild plants in general, have an important role. According to this study during winter, it is possible to use 49 wild plants, and this number can increase to 56 during spring. The number then decreases and in May many edible greens have bloomed and the leaves have become tough, leaving only about 16 still edible. During summer some fruits of wild trees are edible.

From these plants only 15 can be purchased throughout a year from local markets and stores (Capparis spinosa, Ceratonia siliquaCynara cornigera, Eruca sativa, Mentha spicata, Origanum dubium, Rosmarinus officinalis, Pistacia lentiscus, Silene vulgaris, Thymus capitatus, Laurus nobilis, Ficus carica, Myrtus communis, Portulaca oleracea, Crataegus azarolus). These plants are partly collected from the wild and partly coming from small scale cultivation. Some of them are used as a condiment, some others are consumed as greens in salads or they are used for the preparation of cooked recipes. The other 66 taxa people should gather only from the wild by themselves (Figure (Figure33).

Figure 3

Availability of wild edible plants throughout a year.

As regards the tools used for gathering, 44% of the plants are gathered simply by hand while 37 % are gathered by a knife. Other tools such as a big knife (9%), a traditional big curved knife called "skylloua" (7%) and scissors (3%) are also used.

4.3 Plant parts

Within the edible plants, leaves (29%) and stems (25%) are the plant parts most widely used. Fruits and aerial part follow with 16% and 15% respectively (Figure (Figure44).

Figure 4

Plant parts most widely used.

Among the recorded plants thistles are very popular as wild edibles of Cyprus. The young stems of 16 wild plants are used. Eight of them are used in both sites (Centaurea hyalolepisScolymus hispanicusScolymus maculatusOnopordum cypriumEryngium creticumCynara scolymusEchinops spinosissimusNotobasis syriaca, while seven of them are used exclusively in Paphos site (Centaurea calcitrapa ssp. angusticepsSilybum marianumCynara cardunculusCarlina involucrata ssp. cypricaCarduus argentatus ssp. acicularisGundelia turnefortiiOnopordum bracteatum) and one of them is used exclusively in Larnaca site (Cynara cornigera). These plants can be gathered from January to March, and their young stems, cleaned of spines, are used in most cases boiled with legumes or fried.

Models of consumption

The edible plants are consumed in many different ways. Some of them need only the washing of the part of the plant to be eaten, and some others imply a more or less complex preparation process (Figure (Figure55).


Figure 5

Models of edible plants consumption.


Many plants (26%) with edible leaves, roots or fruits are eaten raw. Many of them are used in salads. This is the case of Portulaca oleraceaAmmi majusApium nodiflorumTaraxacum cypriumCapsella bursa-pastorisFoeniculum vulgareMentha pulegium which are usually dressed with oil, and vinegar or lemon. Some others like Sinapis albaSinapis arvensisTaraxacum hellenicumCichorium intybusNasturtium officinaleSonchus oleraceusAllium neapolitanum are eaten fresh with olives, onions and bread. On the other hand, many edible fruits are directly consumed as desserts, in fresh form (Pyrus syriacaCrataegus azarolusCrataegus monogynaZiziphus lotus). The existence of Limonium sinuatum in this group is remarkable, because it is the first time that this plant is cited as a food plant in Cyprus [13] even though has been listed as an edible for the Mediterranean in Bodrum area of Turkey [29].

Cooked plants

A number of wild plants (59%) are eaten cooked. Most of them, 27 %, are eaten boiled, 17% are eaten boiled alone and 10% are eaten boiled with legumes, especially with broad beans. In both cases they are garnished with olive-oil and lemon. The most popular plants used as boiled are: Centaurea hyalolepisScolymus hispanicusCarlina involucrata ssp. cyprica, Malva parviflora. However, some more elaborated preparations were recorded. Some plants are consumed fried (9%) and especially in an omelette. The young shoots of Asparagus acutifoliusAsparagus stipularis and the young leaves of Silene vulgaris, which are the most typical examples in both sites studied, are cut, fried and mixed with the eggs to make the omelette. Asparagus acutifolius is prepared in the same way in some parts of Italy [28] the Iberian Peninsula [19] and in Bodrum area of Turkey [29].

A number of wild edibles (17%) is used in traditional recipes. It is worth mentioning that very popular among traditional recipes in Cyprus are home made pies, called in general "pittes". Eleven plants are used for making traditional pies. First, dough is made from flour, water and salt and then it is used for making small pies. Some times the pies are filled with the boiled or fried leaves (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritimaPapaver rhoeasSilene vulgarisRumex pulcher) along with rice or "pourgouri" (like couscous) and spices. Some other plants are used as a scent in the pie (Foeniculum vulgareMentha spicata). In other cases fruits raw or preserved are used as the main filling of the pie (Pistacia lentiscusPistacia terebinthusFicus carica). Pies are cooked in the oven. Wild plants can also be a basis for a soup, the most famous of which is the so-called "molochosoupa" (malva soup), made with Malva parviflora. Some plants are often cooked in a traditional recipe called "yiachni" meaning, fried with onions and then tomato juice is added. Finally, plants are sparsely a condiment or the complement of meat stews as occurs with Cynara cardunculusCynara cornigera and Gundelia tournefortii.

Preserved plants

A number of plants are gathered and preserved to be stored and consumed all year round. Many plants which are used as a scent are dried and stored in plastic bags, plastic bottles or glass vessels and therefore used all year round. Nine plants (10%) are used to condiment stews, soups, pies or other dishes and traditional recipes. The most popular aromatic plants are Origanum dubiumMentha spicataRosmarinus officinalisLaurus nobilisThymus capitatusOriganum majorana var. tenuifolium, Foeniculum vulgare. These plants add a distinct flavour and aroma to pies as well as to meat stews. Rosmarinus officinalis is used in a traditional fish recipe called savoro.

Some other plants such as Capparis spinosaCrithmum maritimumEryngium creticumEryngium glomeratum and Muscari comosum, are preserved in vinegar and eaten like appetizer with several kind of food. Fruits of several wild trees are used for the preparation of jams and marmalades such as Pyrus syriacaCrataegus azarolus and Crataegus monogyna.

Many tools used in processing were recorded. The five tools more often recorded are: "Madratzi", a traditional wooden long tool for opening pies, "Chti and Chtocheri", a traditional copper pot used for pounding, "Chartzi", a traditional copper pot used for boiling, "Satzi", a metal hot plate used for cooking pies, "Koumna", a traditional jar used for storage and "Gastra", an earthen vessel used for storage.

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This study carried out in two sites of Cyprus showed that the habit of using edible wild plants is still alive, but is "ageing". The consumption of wild plants is done as an addition or a complement to a diet of cultivated food plants. During this ethnobotanical research it was verified that even though wild edibles has been playing an important role in Cyprus since ancient times, it was realized that the transmission of folk uses of plants decreased in the last generations and surely in urban areas the knowledge is very much delimited. Almost all the interviewees, were past retirement age, and agreed that today far fewer wild plants are consumed than in previous decades. The people of the younger generation we met during the field survey declared that "it is much easier and less time and effort consuming to buying greens, fruits or spices from the markets, no matter if they are cultivated or even imported, instead of running to the fields. Since even though, going to the wild it is not easy to recognise the edible plants and in case can identify some of them they are not familiar with the way plants should be processed". It is obvious that the younger generation has all but lost the TK necessary to identify, gather and process these species, while many middle-aged informants perceive the consumption of non-cultivated vegetables in a negative way, often as a symbol of poverty of the past.

The data of this study agree with those from other authors [30,31,19], and confirm that non cultivated edible plants deserve to be more thoroughly surveyed from an ethnobotanical and economic-botanical viewpoint, as a basis for agricultural, nutritional and other studies which may lead to the use of some new or renewed food plants. When studying wild food plants from this point of view, we must give recognition to the contribution of rural societies to the diversification of the sources of human nutrition and work for the reappraisal of folk knowledge on plants and their uses [32,33,19].

Our study, as well as other studies in a Circum-Mediterranean level [34,35], demonstrated that there is an urgent need for documentation of TK related to the intangible cultural heritage concerning traditional plant uses, and that such a heritage is much more complex that we may think. The ethnobotanical research should be extended to other areas of Cyprus in order not only to preserve the traditional knowledge related to plants but to make it available to future generations as well, showing the way for authenticity, simplicity and revival of that which is genuine.

All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Supplementary Material

Additional File 1:

Wild edible plants of the Paphos and Larnaca countryside of Cyprus. The species list of wild edible plants consumed in Paphos and Larnaca countryside of Cyprus including the plant parts used, type of preparation, site recorded, number of records and herbarium specimen number.

Click here for file(51K, pdf)




The authors wish to thank the European Commission-Research Directorate General, for financing this project and the Agricultural Research Institute, Nicosia, Cyprus, for the overall support. Thanks are also due to all the informants who contributed to this study with their valuable traditional knowledge. Special thanks are addressed to the scientists Ms Natasa Pappouli as well as to the technical staff of the Agricultural Research Institute for their assistance.

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Articles from Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central

Gustavia superba - Membrillo


Gustavia superba, or Membrillo, is a tree with origins in tropical lowlands from Ecuador to Panama and Venezuela. It is mostly found in homegardens grown for personal consumption. 

Gustavia superba fruit 1.jpg


The rounded, pear shaped fruits appear on the trunk contains one to four large smooth light brown seeds are surrounded by a fleshy edible orange pulp, which is typically boiled and is said to have a taste resembling meat.Membrillo pulp is rich in vitamins A, B, and C.


Gustavia superba fruit.jpg

The tree can be propagated easily from the seeds found embedded in the edible pulp. The tree is generally slow growing, likes water and sun, and can reach a height of five to ten meters. The species is adapted to hot, humid, tropical climates and will do best in well drained soils with full sunlight. The leaves of G. superba are a favorte food of iguana.

Lecythis zabucajo - Monkey Pot



Monkey Pot, or Olla del Mono, is a term to describe not only L. zabucajo, but a number of other closely related species, including: Lecythis ellipticaLecythis grandiflora, and Lecythis pisonis.

All of the Monkey Pot species are native to the humid tropical forests of northern South America, from Colombia to Brazil. They have been introduced on a small scale to a number of countries with similar climates around the world.

The trees are of varying sizes. Lecythis elliptica is smaller with spreading branches, the others can reach heights of over 35 meters, also with a spreading canopy, also about 35 meters, if not more.

There are a few old L. zabucajo trees in a stand where I collected seed, remarkably wide canopy, close to sixty feet I would say. The branches arc up and out until they almost touch the ground. Typically, one can locate an open pod and merely walk around beneath it and find seed. However, the agouti forage for nuts in these trees and will chew through the woody pod to extract them. So I had to climb up the end of a branch and hang precariously  while pulling on a rope tied around a higher branch holding the fruit, then clip the 3/4 inch stem.

The large woody fruit of L. zabucajo.

The large woody fruit of L. zabucajo.

The photos below are from that stand. The last two photos are from a smaller fruit from a smaller tree, but larger than L. elliptica. I’m not sure if it was just a smaller L. zabucajo tree or another species.

The fruit is a roundish and woody with a cap that pops off when it’s reached maturity. Inside are anywhere from 8 – 40 seeds (depending on the species) which fall from the woody capsule after a period of time.


This species is closely related to the Brazil nut, both belonging to the family Lecythidaceae and having coconut-sized fruits. The tree's large woody gourd-like fruits with edible white flesh are used for water vessels and for ornamental purposes. The fruit is called 'monkey pot', a name used for a number of other species, including Lecythis ellipticaLecythis grandiflora, and Lecythis pisonis. The name is said to derive from baiting an empty fruit with food and fixing it to a low branch; a monkey can easily insert its paw through the opening, but cannot withdraw it once it has grasped the contents.Although they are little known outside their area of origin, the nuts produced by these species are among the best in the world, equal or superior in flavor to the Brazil Nut. There is a cream colored arial attached to the end of each seed. On numerous occasions I have tried it, it has a sweet licorice-like flavor although I was once told it has psychoactive properties. The tree wood is also of high quality.


Lecythis zabucajo open pod

The Monkey Pot (Lecythis species) require a hot, humid climate. Deep, well drained soils are preferable. The young trees will also benefit from a shady environment in their first few years of growth.

Trees are propagated by seeds, which will germinate in anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months. In my experience, fresher seed will germinate faster. Initial growth is fast, a young tree can reach a meter in height in its first year. Trees are typically spaced 8 – 10 meters apart in single species plantations or groups. They can also be integrated into mixed species agroforestry systems as a long lived overstory / canopy tree..