Archive for the ‘Tree’ Category

Persimmons – Diospyros virginiana

Persimmon fruit
Persimmon fruit

Mr. ‘Possom is a farmer
And his crop? Persimmon trees!
Many a woodland stocks his product
And he grows his crop with ease.

How he loves those ripe persimmons
Sweet as syrup, smooth as silk —
Like a gourmet loves his entrees
Like a baby loves his milk.

By Reverend John F. Dorsey (1916- )

This slow growing fruiting tree is native to Eastern North America. It can often be found in dry woods, old fields, and clearings. This deciduous tree is becoming less frequently found in the wild and is listed as of Special Concern in Connecticut and Threatened in New York.

The earliest reference to them that I have found was by Hernando De Sotto who first found them in Florida in 1539. The settlers quickly learned not to eat them until after the first frost, which took away the astringent aspects and rendered the fruit sweet. Later, during the Civil War, when times were tough, the seeds would be used as a coffee substitute by boiling them. And for those of you who like beer and other fermented foods, try a southern Appalachian idea of fermenting the ripe fruit to make beer!

The Cherokee are credited with some of the earliest baked breads using the persimmon fruit, which they served to the Europeans. The Asian persimmon is rarely cooked as they get astringent with heat, but the native American persimmon is often baked into puddings, pies, & breads. Jams and Jellies are also common from the fruit.

This tree also contributed to the ancient medicine wisdom of the south. The unripe, very astringent fruit would be boiled into a decoction and taken internally to stop bloody stools. The Cherokee used a decoction of the inner bark to treat thrush, sore throats and as a wash for warts or cancers. A few twigs boiled and cooled is a good wash for poison ivy and its kin, taking away the itch and finally drying out the blisters.

There is an old use of the persimmon that I have always found fascinating. Take fresh persimmon seeds and split them open. In the center you will find the little whitish sprout…the shape of this sprout was believed to predict the weather for the coming winter. If the sprout looked like a knife it would be an icy, cold winter. If it looked like a fork it would be a mild winter. And if the little sprout resembled a spoon, get the shovels ready ‘cause snow was sure to blow!

Ponderosa Lemon – Citrus limon ‘Ponderosa’

Ponderosa Lemon
Ponderosa Lemon

Out of lemon flowers

loosed

on the moonlight, love’s

lashed and insatiable

essences,

sodden with fragrance,

the lemon tree’s yellow

emerges….

 

 By Pablo Nerunda

This lemon cultivar is a chance development on a farm in Hagerstown, Maryland. In about 1887 George Bowman found this cultivar, a hybrid of a citron and lemon, but it was not introduced or named until 1900. The original lemon is believed to have originated in India, but the exact place is difficult to know since this tree has followed man as he explored and settled new areas around the world. The lemon was taken with Christopher Columbus to Hispaniola in 1493, and the Spanish were credited with its early introduction to St Augustine, Florida.

 

This relatively small evergreen tree (only 12-24 ft tall at full growth) has thorns, like so many other citrus relatives, and produces flowers year round. This constant flower production means you are likely to see flowers, and fruit (at any stage of growth) growing on the tree at the same time. These fruit on the Ponderosa Lemon are similar in appearance to the regular lemon; they are just much larger and lumpy! They can be as large as 2 – 5 pounds in weight when fully grown. Their rind or skin is also very thick. One of these Ponderosa Lemons can make several pitchers of lemonade!

 

The taste and aroma of this variety is also almost identical to the regular lemon seen in the grocery store; and can be used in identical situations. The juice can be made into lemonade, or used to flavor any meat of fish dish. It can also be made into desserts (such as lemon meringue pie) and as a flavoring almost anywhere you can imagine it. Often in cooking it is the zest that is desired, and for some dishes is highly prized.

 

The left over plant matter after making juice commercially is used to produce citric oil, pectin, and citric acid. All of these are used in the food industry and by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies. Lemon juice can be used to remove stains, and with salt to clean copper pots safely. The peel oil has been used to manufacture furniture polish, and detergents.

In cosmetics it has been utilized in creams for bleaching freckles, for facial cleaning creams, in soaps, and shampoos.

 

In herbal medicine any lemon can be used the same way, it is known as a diuretic, antiscorbutic, astringent, and febrifuge. In Italy it is utilized to treat gingivitis, stomatitis, and inflammation of the tongue. In Cuba the root is used for fever; while in West Africa the root is used for gonorrhea.

Have fun with the kids and make invisible ink! Take the juice of 1 lemon (3 teaspoons if no fresh is available), and add 1 teaspoon of water. Mix these well. Now have the kids ‘write’ with a brush or fingertip a message onto normal paper. Let them watch this dry. As it dries the ‘writing’ disappears! It will only reappear if a candle is passed below the paper. Please do not allow children to do this activity without proper supervision, NO Fires Here!

Sago Palm – Cycas revoluta

Sago Palm
Sago Palm

The Sego, or King Sago Palm is native to Japan and China. It grows on hillsides in thickets on small islands on the Japanese chain of islands. They have a thick 2 foot diameter trunk that reproduces through offsets or suckers that grow at the base of the plant. There are several stands that are protected in nature now, but most of these palms grow in cultivation.

 

According to the ASPCA this plant is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. It is also highly toxic to humans! Cycasin (a toxic glycoside) may cause these symptoms with exposure: vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, liver failure, or hepatotoxicity characterized by icterus (jaundice), cirrhosis (scarring of the liver, and poor functioning), and ascites (fluid in the peritoneal cavity). The pet may appear bruised, have nose bleeds (epistaxis), melena (blood in the stool), hematochezia (bloody straining), and hemarthrosis (blood in the joints). This plant has great potential as a toxin with pets, as they find the flavor enticing. Every part of this palm has some Cycasin, but it is especially concentrated in the seeds.

 

Even though there is toxicity present in every part of the plant, it was still used for food and medicine. In folk medicine the leaves were used in the treatment of cancer and specifically hepatoma (liver cancer). The seeds were utilized to help rheumatism, and an extract was used to inhibit the growth of cancer tumors.

 

The seed is also eaten raw or cooked! The seed can be dried and ground to be added to rice which is fermented into date miso. The pith of the trunk is dried and powdered then utilized to make dumplings, which are very sustaining.

 

There are methods of treatment of this plant and its seeds that are very exacting to make it palatable and not toxic! To try and use this plant at home is ill advised!!

Yew – Taxus baccata

Yew
Yew

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones

That name the under-lying dead,

Thy fibres net the dreamless head,

Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This sacred tree of the Old World is native to all of Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran and southwest Asia. It has been around through many of the earth’s climatic changes. Its population in the northern temperate zones was decimated due to its usefulness to man. Due to the high demand for this tree it was gone from Rome and Greece by the time of Christ and from most of Europe by the 17th century.

This tree has provided shelter, tools, weapons, and medicine for centuries. The leaves and bark were often carried in medicine bags. In 1021 Avicenna recorded the use of Yew in his Canon of Medicine for the use as a cardiac remedy. The leaves have been used internally in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, hiccup, indigestion, rheumatism, and epilepsy. Externally they have been used as a bath for rheumatism. A homeopathic remedy has been created from the berries and young shoots to treat cystitis, eruptions, headaches, heart and kidney problems, and rheumatism. Today Yew is being researched for it’s usefulness in treating cancer. Due to the increased demand we will have to be careful not to exterminate this useful tree.

Great care must be exercised in the use of Yew internally, as every part of the plant is toxic to humans and cattle except the red fleshy fruit that surrounds the seed. Toxic exposure to the alkaloid taxine causes a paralyzing effect on the heart!

Due to the toxicity, the only thing that is edible is that red, fleshy fruit, this is very sweet and gelatinous. Many people like the flavor but do not like the consistency or the stickiness. A suggestion that the bark may be consumed as a tea substitute is ill advised!

The wood of this tree has been used for it durability and resistant to water damage.  It has been used for cabinetry, spears, spikes, staves, and small hunting bows. But most famously it became known for making the English Long Bows of the Middle Ages which were noted for being able to fly over 600 yards easily. It had the longest range of any bow in Europe at that time. Also of note was the fact that the arrowheads were often coated with a poison made from the Yew.

This tree is associated with death and rebirth, but most notably with Hecate the Goddess of the Underworld. The tree was often planted in places people expected to be buried, and allowed to grow until that time; it also marked the grave site. Later the Christians adopted this practice and planted them frequently in their cemeteries, they reminded the visitors of eternal life through Christ, but they were also planted to keep the dead souls in their graves until Judgment Day. The ancient Celts made wreaths of Yew to dedicate to Hecate; and in Rome the black bulls that were to be sacrificed to her often wore a wreath of Yew.  The wood was often used to make magic wands, and runes.

Starfruit – Averrhoa carambola

Starfruit
Starfruit

 

I’d like to pluck a star out of the night,
peel away its rind, and sink my teeth
into the fruit flesh beneath its gleam –

 

By Gabriel Gadfly

This slow growing evergreen tree is believed to have originated in Ceylon and theMoluccas. It became a popularly cultivated fruit tree throughout India and Southeast Asia since prehistoric times. It was only established in the American tropics about 150 years ago. It was introduced to Florida somewhere before 1887; it is also grown in Hawaii. 

When my family and I first noticed this fruit, I was in the supermarket collecting fruit for a very large fruit salad that was being put together for a party. When we saw the starfruit it was intriguing, we bought two, one to taste when we got home, and one to garnish the top of the salad. So, when we got home I cut the peel off (didn’t know at first the peel itself is also edible) which was not so easy due to the shape and the tapers at each end. Then we sliced it, and cut it into small pieces…it was my 3 kids, 12 extra kids who were then residing with us, my husband and myself…lots of folk who wanted a taste. There were mixed results for texture and taste, but the overall feelings were still very intrigued.

 

It seems that the fruit is not the only edible part of this tree:

            Flowers: added to salads, make preserves

            Leaves: substitute for sorrel

 

But the fruit, that is the most popular part of the tree! It is enjoyed in Malaya, China and Taiwan, Queensland, Australia, Thailand, India, and Jamaica. They are candied, dried, boiled, and pickled. They are eaten fresh – out of hand, in salads or used as a garnish on avocado or seafood. They are cooked into puddings, tarts, stews, and curries. They are often combined with raisins or apples, or the spice cloves. They are canned in syrup for export and sale in stores, also. In the Philippines the fruit is made into a juice and used for seasoning, while in Hawaii they use the juice to makes a type of sherbet. In India the juice is used is bottled for sale year round.

 

In the herbal medicine of India the fresh fruit is eaten to halt hemorrhages, and for hemorrhoids; the dried fruit or juice has been used to treat fever; hangovers and diarrhea are treated with a conserve made of the fruit. A salve is used on eye infections which are made from the fruit. In Brazilian folk medicine it is used as a diuretic in urinary problems, and is used for eczema. In the Chinese it has been used to reduce fever, and relieve thirst. In other areas of Asia the flowers treat intestinal parasites, and the use of the root is considered an antidote to poison if it is combined with sugar.

Pistachio – Pistacia vera

Pistachio nuts - with and without the shell
Pistachio nuts – with and without the shell

There once was a girl named Pistachio Penny.

Who lived in a kingdom of Pistachio Plenty.

Her father was the king and her mother was the queen.

And their beautiful castle was pistachio green…

 

By Samia Ali Arroyo 

Do you remember the first time you were introduced to Pistachios? I do, I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My mother served us a special treat. We all looked forward to ice cream! BUT, when she brought out this green frozen stuff that had lumps in it…I was turned off. I know now it was a psychological response, but then and there I decided I hated Pistachios, the color, the taste, everything about them! A few years later my little brother brought home a bag of red shelled nuts, I didn’t like them either. When my hands were wet the dye stained my skin, and the taste was not to my liking. It was later I learned that they were one and the same with the lumpy stuff in what Mom called Pistachio ice cream!

 

This small native tree of Afghanistan, Iran, and the Islamic Republic of Turkmenistan grows in hilly and mountainous regions and is a member of the Sumac family. It is cousins with cashews, mangos, mombins (Spondias spp.) poison ivy, poison oak, and sumacs. This nut has been a popular delicacy since ancient history, some say since history began to be recorded! It has been cultivated for centuries, but in North America it was finally brought to California in the late 1890’s by a Syrian immigrant. Commercial plantings did not start there until 1970.

 

The seed (nut) is used as a sedative and tonic, with the use in Syria being for a sedative and as a digestive. In China the plan has been used to treat abdominal ailments, abscesses, amenorrhea, bruises, chest ailments, circulation, dysentery, gynecopathy, pruritus, rheumatism, sclerosis of the liver, sores and trauma.

 

A 100 gram portion of the edible nut has 594 calories, and the flavor is said to be pleasantly mild. The nut is rich in oil and is widely used in confections such as ice cream, cakes, and pies. Some reports say that it can even make a marmalade…? The Creation of the ice cream is credited to James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia somewhere around 1940.

 

This has been a very popular nut through history, and according to old tradition Emperor Vitellius of Rome brought them to Rome in A.D. 50, and finished off every meal by stuffing his mouth full of the nuts! The Queen of Shebah (possibly today’s Yemen) was so fond of them she declared all the pistachios grown in Assyria to be hers alone!!

Carob – Ceratonia siliqua

Carob or Locust Bean
Carob or Locust Bean

…I settle into exotic ports

So that I may ply my cacao pod wares for sister carob and patchouli scent

To the peddler who yields cardamom and coriander

 

By Jerry Bradford

The Locust Bean is a tree of Mediterranean origins that is now grown in Mexico and southern California. It was first brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries. In 1856 the Spanish brought 8,000 seedlings and unsprouted seeds to plant in the American south, from Texas to Arizona to California, even a few in Florida.

 

The seed pod of the Locust Bean is known as Carob and was used as a sweetener in Ancient Egypt. The carob pod was used in the hieroglyphs to represent ‘sweet.’ Early mention of the Carob can be found in the Christian Bible and the Jewish Talmud where it has been called a subsistence food. One example is the legend of John the Baptist living on these in the desert; also legend has it that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai also lived on them in the desert.

 

As a food stuff Carob powder and chips are often used in baking, being included in confections such as cakes, cookies, candy, pudding, icing, bread, beverages, shakes, ice cream, muffins, fudge, and brownies. For someone who should not consume caffeine, Carob is often used as a substitute. Although once you taste it, you will not be fooled into thinking it a good substitute, since the flavors differ so greatly. A thickening agent is also obtained from the pods that have been included in processed food production. In Portugal, Spain, and Sicily compotes and liquors are made from Carob. In Germany the roasted beans are sometimes used as a coffee substitute, and in Spain it is mixed with coffee.

 

Under the name of Locust Bean the pods are given to animals as feed. The pods are relished by horses, cattle, pigs, goats, and rabbits. They cannot be fed to chickens, but the flour is often utilized in dog biscuits.

In folk medicine it is a treatment for diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach ache. The powdered beans are mixed with a cup of liquid for this purpose. Mixed with cranberry juice a French physician used it to treat kidney failure successfully. The leaves and bark have been used to treat venereal disease, namely syphilis.

In magic use it was worn or carried to garner protection from evil and secure good health!

Note: Picture above is from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany

[Image in Public Domain]