- Author: Sarah Sheehan
The Cananga odorata is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers, called ylang-ylang (a name also sometimes used for the tree itself), which is an essential oil used in aromatherapy. The oil from ylang-ylang is widely used in perfumery for oriental or floral themed perfumes (such as Chanel No 5).
Cardamom is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae. They are recognised by their small seed pods: triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds; Elettaria pods are light green and smaller, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown. Cardamom is the world's third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron. It is said to calm a crying baby as it makes them sleepy.
Nutmeg is one of the two spices – the other being mace – derived from several species of tree in the genus Myristica. The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 0.8 to 1.2 in long 0.6 to 0.7 in wide, and weighing between 0.2 and 0.4 oz dried, while mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after twenty years. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form. Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavoring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater. For me, I use it in my Christmas gingerbread cookies and as a topping on eggnog.
Wrapping up our journey through the plantation was the skittering up a very tall coconut tree by another local boy was the last of our exploration. He was amazing taking less two minutes to climb the tree. The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the family Arecaceae (palm family) and was at least 50 to 60' high. He was back in a flash with coconuts for us all. With his broad knife wracked at each coconut enabling us to have a refreshing drink and a taste of the meat.
Coconuts are known for their great versatility, as evidenced by many traditional uses, ranging from food to cosmetics. They form a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics. Coconuts are distinct from other fruits for their large quantity of "water", and when immature, they are known as tender-nuts or jelly-nuts and may be harvested for their potable coconut water. When mature, they still contain some water and can be used as seed nuts or processed to give oil from the kernel.
We concluded our tour with a tasting of many very fresh, very ripe fruits and teas. It was an amazing experience to see the spices growing, learn the production process and the many uses they have. Now when I next visit a Spice Market, be in Turkey, Hungary, Tunisia, Austria or anywhere in the world, I will be awed by the work that went into bring those spices into our lives.
- Author: Sarah Sheehan
In December I visited the beautiful, fertile islands of Zanzibar, a centuries old trading center in the Indian Ocean, 21 miles off the East African coast. These islands are known for producing nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Ancient pottery implies trade routes with Zanzibar as far back as the time of the ancient Assyrians and traders from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf region of modern-day Iran, and west India probably visited Zanzibar as early as the 1st century. They used the monsoon winds to sail across the Indian Ocean to land at the sheltered harbor located on the present day harbor of Zanzibar City or Stonetown.
A Greco-Roman text between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD mentioned the island of Menuthias which is probably Unguja, the principal island. From the seventh century wars in Asia and increasing trade motivated Persians, Arabs, and Indians to visit or migrate to Zanzibar. Vasco da Gama's visit in 1498 marked the beginning of European influence. Zanzibar then remained a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries.
Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire; part of the political impetus for this was the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade (in which David Livingston played a big role). African slaves were highly sought after for their strength and Zanzibar was the centre of this extremely profitable trade. In 1963 the Protectorate that had existed over Zanzibar since 1890 was terminated by the United Kingdom. In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.
The day of our visit we traveled on gradually deteriorating roads into the countryside where signs for plantations and Department of the Interior research were plentiful. We passed thick vegetation including tall coconut and brilliant flame trees. Our local guide, Amour, spoke good English and was able to answer all questions easily.
The first plant we encountered was the ubiquitous, spicy-smelling cinnamon, obtained from the inner bark of several tree species from the genus Cinnamomum. The bark is ground for most common usage.
Then, we encountered a bushy tree with star fruit or carambola. The fruit has distinctive ridges running down its sides (usually five but can sometimes vary); in cross-section, it resembles a star, hence its name. The entire fruit is edible and is usually eaten out of hand as we did.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. When fresh and fully mature, it is approximately 0.20 in diameter, dark red, and contains a single seed (peppercorn). Peppercorns, and the ground pepper derived from them, may be described as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit) and white pepper (ripe fruit seeds.
When you spot what looks like red grapes, you have found cloves. Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. Cloves are commercially harvested primarily in Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan,SriLanka, and Tanzania. The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 8–12 m tall, with large leaves and sanguine flowers grouped in terminal clusters. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. Cloves are harvested at 1.5–2.0 cm long. Cloves can be used as an ant repellent and supposedly as a pain-killer for dental emergencies.
The redlipstick was one of the more unusual plants we saw. The Aeschynanthus lipstick vine has pointy, waxy leaves and blooms with bright clusters of flowers. Vivid red blossoms emerge from a dark maroon bud reminiscent of a tube of lipstick. An assistant told us it was good for dying hair. It is supposedly an easy houseplant to maintain.
More of these fascinating plants will be featured in Part II.
- Author: Sara Sheehan
In November of 2015, Janna VanNest and I journeyed to Uganda to check on several projects that the Eastern Sierra supports in rural areas around Jinga. Being located on the equator in Africa, this region has very favorable growing conditions so there was an amazing abundance of vegetation. Eighty-four percent of the population is rural and dependent on subsistence farming.
The principal crops that we observed were matoke (a starchy banana which is cooked), corn, sugar cane, beans and groundnuts (peanuts). Although there were plenty of coffee beans curing in the sun on the ground with chickens running through them, we never saw coffee bean plants.
We did drive by a few large fields of crops but most vegetables were grown in small plots just big enough to feed a family or two. The gardens usually had matoke, cabbage, beans and peanuts. These are the staples of their diet and grow vigorously. It is the women who plant, weed and harvest the crops, often with a baby on their backs. One frequently sees them in their gardens or on the road with a hoe over their shoulders or a basket of the harvest balanced on their heads.
Crops are densely planted with only small trenches between the rows to catch the rain water. Fortunately with these frequents rains, no irrigation is necessary. Additionally, very seldom was any variety of staking seen. Tomatoes and beans grow like bushes and matoke grows like bananas.
Even in the large fields, no farm equipment was to be seen. There were groups of manual laborers working the large fields with only a single person working in the small gardens. The tools we saw were hoes and machetes. The soil looks and feels like clay; thick, sticky red clay which colors everyone's feet a deep red. This mud can be so treacherous that the roads are often closed to motorized and bicycle traffic.
Thanks to a partnership with our local Von's store, their surplus seeds have been sent to Uganda for the past several years. Now the villagers have the opportunity to grow a much wider variety of vegetables. However, as they are unfamiliar with many of the vegetables, one of my pleasures was to show and prepare beets and eggplants.
A large group of children and women eagerly watched me prepare the vegetables which were then cooked on a small fire.
Farming is very much a family venture, the small plots being worked by hand and with children helping with every aspect including harvesting, carrying, sorting, fetching water and gathering burnable materials. As wells are still infrequent and people often walk miles to a water source, water for drinking, cooking and washing is a precious resource.
As for flower gardens, most were in the towns and cities where life was more than subsistence. To this end, we saw many nurseries with their plants in pots and containers along the paved roads. Again, with the frequent rains, it appeared as if little maintenance was required. However, in the rural areas there were few cultivated flowers to be seen since what is much more important there, is the cultivation of edible, easy growing plants to supply their one meal a day diet.
In Uganda there is an abundance of community sharing and hard work that sustains their lives.