seed

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

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. 

Pachira glabra - Saba nut, Guinea peanut, French peanut

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

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Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao. Today this species is distributed throughout the tropical world, used both as an ornamental tree and a food crop. 

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The tree produces a fruit/pod which contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. The seeds contain 16% protein and 40-50% fat. P. glabra along with P. aquitaca are both considered to be among the more notable under appreciated tropical food crops.

The young leaves and flowers of P. glabra (and P. aquatica) are also edible. 

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Mature trees will produce between 50 - 80 fruits per year.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

The tree can be propagated from seed, cuttings, and air layers. Trees are resilient to both droughts and flooding. 

USES IN REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE

P. glabra makes a fantastic full sun / deep shade tolerant, medium size, understory seed/nut crop. Trees are resilient to pests, they drop a thick leaf biomass year round and produce abundant fruit. The trees are relatively maintenance free aside from irrigation upon initial establishment. 

Lupinus pilosus - Altrei coffee, Tyrolian coffee

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BACKGROUND, ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION

Lupinus pilosus, commonly called blue lupine, (also known as ‘Altreier Kaffee’, or Altrei Coffee, Hebrew: תורמוס ההרים‎, Arabic: ترمس برّي‎) from the fabaceae family. The species is thought to be endemic to Israel where it is found in Mediterranean scrubland.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

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L. pilosus used to be widely cultivated as a caffeine-free coffee substitute around the village of Altrei, in the Tyrolian Alps, Northern Italy. The seeds were roasted and mixed with malt grains and infused in boiling water. I do not know how it made its way there from where it is native in the Middle East, near and around Palestine. Interestingly, not only from a cultural and historical but also from a botanical standpoint, since 2006 a local initiative is re-establishing L. pilosus cultivation in the Altrei region to revive this culinary specialty.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

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The plant can be propagated easily from seed. Direct seeding works best and the plant will naturalize if grown in a favorable environInitially. The small seedlings don't seem to like transplanting. The newly germinated plant quickly develops a strong root system. Seeds are best seeded in fall or late winter. They will germinate and remain small until the weather starts to warm up at which point the plant will grow rapidly. I collected seed growing from plants outside a UC Berkeley plant science facility, the large seedpods drew my attention. Now I’ve been growing the species for years, accumulating more and more seed each year. One remarkable characteristic of the flower is that is smells exactly like grape soda. Here is a PDF of an article on the use of this species as a coffee substitute. ‘Altreier Kaffee’- Lupinus pilosus L. cultivated as coffee substitute in Northern Italy

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Eperua falcata - Bootlace tree

BACKGROUND

Endemic to the humid, lowland forests of Guyana, northern S America, E. falcata remains largely unknown outside its place of origin. The tree can make a giant, robust forest tree, with a massive spreading canopy. Flower clusters dangle at the end of long, pendant stems, which hang down in abundance, forming a fringe below the canopy. Each inflorescence forms a fairly incredible, deep mauve-pink, woody pod containing a single seed. The pod is reminiscent in shape to a machete blade, or even more accurately, a scimitar. The pods explode upon opening, flinging their seed up to 100 feet.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The resin may have slight bactericidal and antifungal properties, which account for its use as a cicatrizant (a substance that heals by inducing scarring). The resin from the bark is placed on warm leaves and tied around cuts and sores, ulcers etc as a poultice. The resin is used as a cicatrizant to heal wounds. The bark is decocted as a dental analgesic. The bitter bark is used as an emetic.

The wood yields an oil which is used as an ointment for rheumatism and to treat wounds[

The tree was considered to be the most beautiful flowering legume by the renowned Brazilian botanist Dr. Adolpho Ducke.

Cercidium (Parkinsonia) microphyllum - Palo Verde, Dipua

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Palo Verde grow as a large bush or small to medium size tree. It has smooth, greenish photosynthetic bark. There are numerous species of Cercidium (sonorae, praecox, peninsulare), which can are referred to variously as Palo Verde, Palo Estribo, and Dipua. There is some confusion amongst the layperson as to what, exactly, this differentiation is. Thus, to such individuals, all Cercidium species are thought to be "Palo Verde". This, of course, is not the case. The below photos are of Cercidium microphyllum, which can be distinguished from other Cercidium species by the lack of nodal thorns. Instead of nodal thorn thorns the tree has closely crowded spiny branchlet tips in broom-like arrangements. 

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Natives of the area used to (and probably still do to an extent) shell, toast and grind the seeds to store for winter sustenance. Reportedly, unless the seeds are fully ripe when harvested, dried and processed, they can cause severe diarrhea. The upper branches have been known to be used as a forage for mules, horses and burros (donkeys).

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