food

Sorbus domestica hybrids - Hybrid Mountain Ash

An overview and photos of Luther Burbank’s Sorbus domestica hybrids in Sebastopol, California. Sorbus domestica has much potential in agroforestry systems, reforestation and further domestication / selection / hybridization.

Canarium commune - Canari, Java Almond, Kenari Nut

I'm pretty sure this is Canarium commune (photos below), a close relative of Canarium ovatum, the Pili Nut. I took this photo and collected seed from Summit Botanic Garden outside of Panama City in Central America where they also have a collection of Pili nut among many other interesting species from their earlier years as an experimental garden.  

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Canarium commune, also known as Java Almond or Kenari Nut, is a tree native to Southeast Asia from Indonesia to New Guinea. 

USES and ETHNOBOTANY

The edible nut / kernal can be eaten raw or cooked and is prepared in a variety of ways. In its area of origin it is highly valued as a traditional snack. The nuts can be used as a substitute for the common almond.

Nuts can be ground into a powder and used to make bread. The seeds are used in a wide variety of dishes by the local people. The seed contains about 72% oil, 13% protein and 7% starch. Interestingly, it has been found that adding a strained emulsion of the crushed, ripe kernels to cows milk will make the milk much more digestible when fed to babies and infants. An edible oil is obtained from the seed which is preferred to coconut oil by local people where Java Almond is traditionally grown and consumed. 

An oil derived from Canarium commune is also used in the cosmetic and aeromatics industries called Elemi Oil. Elemi produces a bright lemony, woody fragrance with a hint of fennel, frankincense and grass. Elemi is known to be clarifying and cleansing with energizing properties. It stimulates mental ability and works well for morning meditation, tai chi or yoga exercises. It creates a spirit of hopefulness and is said to relieve depression.

Traditionally, people use elemi with substances that are refreshing and cleansing such as mastic, lemongrass, and sweet grass.

Elemi is also used topically to treat skin disorders and ulcers.

AGROFORESTRY

In agroforestry systems the tree is traditionally planted in nutmeg groves to provide shelter and shade and a secondary overstory crop. 

The tree and its various products have a  wide range of additional traditional uses. 

Nephelium lappaceum - Rambutan, Mamon Chino

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Rambutan is one of the most popular and common fruits in Southeast Asia where it is grown both on a domestic level, as a patio tree, and at a commercial level. It has been introduced to some areas of Africa and Central America, like Costa Rica and Panama, to a lesser extent.  The Rambutan is a medium size tree reaching 15 -25 meters in height, with a straight trunk and a dense canopy. 

The fruit is the shape of an egg encapsulated in a red, yellow, or sometimes orange casing covered in soft spiny hairs. The sweet, juicy, aromatic fruit is translucent and surrounds a large seed. There exist freestone cultivars. Fruit can range in acidity, yellow varieties tending to be more acidic than red. 

Reportedly the seed is edible. I forget where I first heard this, but I have eaten the seeds raw, which are not disagreeable in flavor and gave me the sense that they were especially nutritious. Any further info regarding Rambutan seed edibility would be greatly appreciated. 

The Rambutan fruit, like the Lychee, is rich in sugar (11%) and vitamin C.

There are more than 100 varieties of Rambutan in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Culitvars are distinguished by whether they are best consumed fresh (Ayer Mas, Chooi, Ang, Kelip, Rongrien, Tau po Cheng), or used in preserves (Chompu, Kepala Besar).

The Rambutan is a tree from the humid tropics. It isn't found cultivated higher than 600 meters. It has not been successfully cultivated in Florida and other subtropical areas and does not tolerate long periods of drought. The tree is not especially selective in soil type although it does best in heavy clay soils with a heavy organic mulch layer. 

Orange Rambutan.

Orange Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Red Rambutan. 

Red Rambutan. 

Theobroma cacao- Chocolate, Cacao

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

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.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

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

Randia formosa - blackberry jam fruit

Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit

Randia formosa is a memeber of the Rubiaceae family, native to Brazil. Is a small tree related to gardenia and coffee and Psychotria spp, among others. The tree / shrub has a has fragrant, white flowers similar in aroma to the gardenia. The tree doesn't get much taller than eight feet. The fruit is a yellow capsule with an almost brittle shell, similar in shape, although smaller in size, to the pomegranate (Punica granatum). Upon breaking open the capsule, one will find dark, jam-like pulp embedded with numerous seeds. The pulp has a taste similar to that of blackberry jam, or some other jam, thus the name.

Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, Blackberry jam, leaf and fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, Blackberry jam, leaf and fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit
Rubiaceae, Randia formosa, blackberry jam fruit

Pachira aquatica - Guinea Chestnut, Apompo

Pachira aquatica is a medium size tree native to tropical wetlands of Central and South America. Its native habitat tends to be seasonally flooded lowlands or swamps, however it is adaptable to a wide range of tropical environments. The large, oblong fruit is full of large seeds which taste reminiscent of peanuts, and can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour to make bread. The leaves and flowers are also edible.

Interestingly Pachira aquatica and close relative Pachira glabra are both used and sold with braided trunks as the "money tree", an indoor plant that is supposed to bring monetary wealth. Personally I prefer to plant them in the ground outside. 

Pouteria sapota - mamey sapote

Originating in Central America, Mamey has become common in the throughout Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. It is widely cultivated in the American tropics, sold in produce markets and, to a lesser extent, supermarkets. Historical records indicate that the Mamey served as the principal source of food for Cortez and his soldiers during their march to Honduras in 1524. The fruit was a very important food source for the Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

Depending on weather it is grown from seed or grafted, and depending on the variety, the Mamey tree can take on a variety of forms. Larger seedling varieties can grow up to 30 m tall, grafted trees can be managed at a relatively low height. The fruit is large, 10 – 20 cm long, either round or oblong with a thick, rough peel. The bright reddish pulp surrounds a large shiny seed. The photos below show an exceptionally large fruit, the largest I have ever seen.

Good Mamey varieties can be very sweet and aromatic, eaten fresh, or used in fruit drinks and ice creams. In Central America the large seed kernel is traditionally toasted and ground with cacao to make a hot beverage. Medicinal properties are attributed to both the fruit and the seed. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C, calcium and phosphorous.

Synsepalum dulcificum - miracle fruit

The Miracle Fruit is native to West Africa where it is cultivated in backyard plantings. Today it has been introduced to Florida, California and numerous tropical areas of the world, however you will find most people have never heard of it. The fruit is more of a novelty then a significant source of food or nutrients, however there appears to be increasing interest in the berry and the incredible sweetening effects it has when eaten in conjunction with sour and acidic foods.

The taste of the fruit itself is nothing spectacular to speak of. There is relatively little fruit around the shiny seed. The pulp tastes somewhat like a cherry. However, due to a substance in the fruit called ‘miriculine’ it has the power to inhibit the receptors of sour and acidic flavors on your tongue, thus rendering certain foods sweet when normally they are sour, such as lemons, tomatoes, beer, some cheeses, hot sauce, vinegar, wine, and so forth. Miracle fruit changes the flavor of foods and beverages that you wouldn’t typically consider to be sour or acidic, and some foods are not affected at all.

There is growing interest in this fruit looking into its potential applications in cancer and diabetes research.

The tree is small, with attractive foliage, and, when in fruit, covered in bright red berries. I have a huge number of these trees in urban nurseries, they are great for container growing and seem to produce more fruit when its roots are somewhat contained.

Article from the New York Times: A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue

Asparagus spp. - wild asparagus

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

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Asparagus is a member of the Liliaceae family, related to such familiar plants as onion, garlic, and tulips.

There are around 300 species of asparagus worldwide, 15 of which can be found in the Mediterranean region. Asparagus prostratus, once considered to be a subspecies of A. officinalis, is now thought to be an entirely separate species. I believe it is Asparagus prostratus that I have photographed here in Montenegro.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

Wild asparagus is typically picked in spring in Greece, Montenegro and other parts of the Mediterranean Basin. It does, however come up here and there during warm winters in the almost subtropical climate of the Southern Ionian Sea in Greece. In Greece a purple variety seems to be most common in the winter. 

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Asparagus.org notes asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well balanced vegetables in existence. According to NutritionData.com asparagus is low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

 

Edible / Condiment leaf species 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 farnesianaCassie flower, Leguminaceae

Achronychia laurifoliaKetiak, Rutaceae

Aegle marmelosBael fruit, Rutaceae

Allium odorumChinese chives, Liliaceae

Ancistrocladus extensus, Ox-tongue, Dipterocarpaceae

Antidesma ghaesembillaSekinchak, Euphorbiaceae

Begonia tuberosaTuberous begonia, Begoniaceae

Claoxylon polotRock blumea, Euphorbiaceae

Coleus tuberosus, African potato, Labiatae

Crypteronia paniculata, Sempoh, Lythraceae

Curcuma domestica, Turmeric, Zingiberaceae

Cymbopogon citratusLemon Grass, Graminae

Cyrtandra decurrens, Graminae

C. pendulaRock sorrel, Graminae

Dendrobium salaccenseCooking orchid, Orchidaceae

Derris heptaphyllaSeven finger, Leguminaceae

Elethariopsis sumatranaFrangrant gingerwort, Zingiberaceae

Eugenia polyanthaWhite kelat, Myrtaceae

Evodia roxburghianaSour-relish wood, Rutaceae

Gymura procumbens, Akar, Compositae

Homalomena graffithiiItch grass, Araceae

HornstedtiaTepus, Zingiberaceae

Horsfieldia sylvestrisPendarahan, Myristicaceae

Kaempferia galangaChekur (Galangal), Zingiberaceae

Kaempferia rotundaKenchur, Zingiberaceae

Leucas lavandulifoiaKetumbak, Labiatae

L. zeylanicaKetumbak, Labaiatae

Limnophila aromaticaSwamp leaf, Scrophulariaceae

L. villosa

L. conferta

L. pulcherrima

L. rugosa

Lycium chineseKichi, Matrimony vine, Solanaceae

Lycopersicum esculentumTomato, Solanaceae

Medinilla crispataMedinilla, Melastomataceae

M. hasseltii

M. radicans

Mentha longifoliaLongleaf mint, Labiatae

Murraya koenigiiCurry-leaf tree, Rutaceae

Nauclea esculentaPincushion, Rubiaceae

Ocimum canumHoary basil, Labiatae

Oenanthe javanicaShelum, Umbelliferae

Ottelia alismoides, Pojnd lettuce, Hydrocharitaceae

Oxalis corniculataSorrel, Oxalidaceae

Pilea melastomoidesSweet nettle, Urticaceae

Piper lolotPepper leaf, Piperaceae

P. caducibracteum

P. umbellatum

Pistacia lentiscusPistachio resin tree, Anacardiaceae

Pluchea indicaIndian sage, Comppositae

Polygonum hydropiperWater polygonum, Polygonaceae

Staurogyne elongataCross flower, Acanthaceae

Trachyspermum involucratumWild celery, Umbelliferae