Contents: Volume X, Issue 2
Foraging - Mirabelles
Recreational Herbs as 'social tuners'
Adapting to Climate Change
Travel Feature:Hiking in Torres del Paine
IK: Herbal Skin Care and Cosmetics
Plant Profile Coffee
The Devil's Cup
I am not quite sure what happened to the summer this year. One minute it was all set to go - and then the tides turned and produced a distinctly autumnal feel - rain, low temperatures and grey skies, only to crank it up once more right at the end of the season, when everybody thought that summer had been cancelled. Oh well, can't rely on the weather, I suppose.
It has been a pensive time for me, while roaming the hills of an idyllic countryside that seems far removed from the world's troubles. But that impression is only a thin veil of illusion. Here, as everywhere the erratic weather patterns are throwing nature into confusion. Heat waves, floods, wild fires and hurricane - by now it is becoming obvious that things are changing in our neighborhoods too and that crops don't only fail in Africa. Nature is sending us a wake up call and the bells are pretty hard to ignore.
Of course, there are still those who say that 'the little bit that they contribute makes no difference' or those who say that governments and industry must change their ways, while their personal comforts should remain unimpeded. But this type of thinking was yesterday - and is what has gotten us into the current mess in the first place.
Now it is time to act and take a close look at what we can do to reduce, reuse, recycle and reduce our own impact to restore, or at least redress the balance. It is at the grassroots level that each and everyone of us can sow the seeds of change.
P.S. Just a brief note to say 'thank you!' to all of you who joined me at our Sacred Earth Facebook page. It is a lot of fun to have a space where we can interact a little bit more directly. If you have not joined yet, please drop by and stay a while. There is a lot of stuff to explore.
I would love to hear your comments, so please send your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer is rushing by at a raging speed and heat - in some places at least. Here the temperatures have been moderate for the most part, but time still flies. August is almost over already - dear me! What happened? I always find myself asking this question at about this time of the year and it always puzzles me. Sure, it has been busy, as it always is, but, didn't the year just get going? Why do July and August always pass in a twinkle, while January and February seem to go on forever??
However, there is an upside to the dilemma. August and September are my favourite times of the year for foraging. Elder berries are ready for the picking and the Cornelian cherry tree in front of the house has begun to drop its load. Blackberries are ripening and up in the mountains blueberries and raspberries are still happening. But my latest find in the neighbourhood is a rare treat indeed - Mirabelles, also known as yellow plums or Prunus domestica var syriaca. As the name implies, it is not a very wild species at all. It has been domesticated thousands of years ago, in Syria. At least that is what we are lead to believe. The plant was introduced to Europe via Greece, Italy and France in the 17th century. Today the French region of Lorraine is considered one of the premier growing areas for Mirabelles.
Although this species can hardly be considered wild, for me it is still a foraging find - some old abandoned trees on land that used to be cultivated once upon a time, but now nobody cares. The ground around the trees is covered in Mirabelles, making a squelchy sound and squishy feeling as one tries to reach for the ones that are still hanging in the tree. They are so ripe and ready that they fall off at the slightest touch and I am glad I could be there to harvest them and appreciate the plentiful gift.
Mirabelles, as mentioned above, are small yellow plums with a delicate sweet flavour. Owing to their small size they are a bit fiddly to work with - especially when it comes to removing the stone. I have an old fashioned multipurpose garlic press which doubles up as a de-stoner among other things. It proved to be the perfect tool. But these things are not easy to find and more modern versions come without the de-stoning prong. Alternatively, one simply has to halve them and pry the seed out, which is easiest when the fruit is really ripe.
Mirabelles are quite versatile if one does not shun the labour of de-stoning them. In France they are usually used to make jam or as a topping for a fruit cake known as 'tarte aux mirabelles'. Eau de vie, a 'high octane' fruit brandy is also prepared. Likewise, in Germany making brandy from them is the preferred way to utilize an abundant harvest. I am not a big fan of jams, and I don't care much for brandy either. But there are plenty of other delicious things one can makewith them:
This a French speciality, but has been adapted elsewhere and is often made more elaborately. In its simplest form it is just a pate brisèe covered in halved and de-stoned Mirabelles. No extra sugar or anything else is needed as Mirabelle's are usually sweet enough. For a tiny extra touch sprinkle with flaked Almonds.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400F).
Mix flour with salt and sift on to a working surface and form a well.
Flake butter into the center. Using your fingers rub butter into the flour.
Add egg yolk and cold water to form a smooth dough.
Don't process any more than necessary in order to hold it together if you want it flaky.
Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30min.
Meanwhile, cut Mirabelles in halves and remove seed.
Roll out on a cookie sheet and cover with the Mirabelle halves.
Bake at 2ßß° for about 30min (until crust is golden brown)
Press boiled and peeled potatoes through a strainer and allow to cool.
In a large bowl blend potatoes, flour, semolina, salt, egg yolk and lemon zest. Allow to rest for 30 min.
Wash Mirabelles and press out the stone.
Replace stone with half a cube of sugar per fruit.
Form rolls of 5cm diameter and cut into pieces of 30g-40g each. Take a piece and flatten slightly, place Mirabelle in the middle and shape into a dumpling.
In a large pan heat approximately 2l of slightly salted water.
Add dumplings and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes, the reduce heat. (Keep dumplings in the water)
Meanwhile, fry the bread crumbs in the butter.
Remove dumplings from the pot and briefly rinse in cold water.
Roll each dumpling in the breadcrumb mixture, sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately.
Cut Mirabelles in halves, remove stone and layer with the rock sugar in a large glass jar. Add Cinnamon and cover with gin. Close tightly and leave to macerate for about 1 month before sampling. The Rock sugar will dissolve.
Since the juice of the fruit dilutes the alcohol this liqueur is not that strong. If you want it a bit more punchy add some high percentage alcohol. Delicious served with ice cream, or all by themselves ;-)
That all the earth is fragile and that we must not take from her beyond what she can sustain. Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful plant species to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.
Here are the rules that every forager should live and breathe by:
Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. Which animals like it or dislike it? With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? How does it 'fit' into its environment? What can you learn from its chemistry? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem. Its a lengthy process, but vital if you want to truly get to know your plant friends and the habitat you share.
It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, lest they inadvertently end up on your dinner plate, which could be most unpleasant or in the worst case scenario, even lethal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. Some people hold the false and dangerous belief that what can be found in nature cannot harm them. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE. When you think you know a plant, think again and see what other, non-edible look-alikes might be fooling you. This is even more important when it comes to collecting mushrooms, as there are many poisonous mushrooms out there that have evolved to be masters at deceiving unsuspecting mushroom hunters. There are also many more potentially deadly mushrooms with edible look-alikes than there are deadly plants with edible look-alikes.
Familiarize yourself with the plants that are listed on the endangered species list for your area. Apart from being unethical, it is also highly illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.
Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be especially conscientious when it comes to harvesting roots and barks. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect. Consider growing some in your garden rather than depleting natural stands. Collecting barks can also be fatal to a tree. If you must collect this part, try to collect it from smaller branches rather than the stem, from branches that have fallen, or from trees that are due to be cut for other purposes.
However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subject to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). And don't collect from nature reserves either - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!
Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while - as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of. When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind, but try to bring some back with you - I always carry two bags, one for foraging and one for litter picking. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.
The topic of stimulants and recreational use of certain plants in today's society is hotly debated - yet it is frequently little understood by those who discuss it. The attitudes presented tend to be a confused mesh of prejudice and ignorance. The main reason for this confusion is the arbitrary terminology and the corresponding stigmatisation.
The truth is that the segregated differences between plants are often rather narrow, while the actual nature of a plant is much more fluid. A common kitchen variety of herb, such as celery for example can be either a vegetable (roots or stems) or an herb used for flavouring (seeds, leaves). However, used in the correct way it can also be a medicinal agent.
With regard to stimulants we first have to define the terminology. Generally speaking, a stimulant is any agent that affects the nervous system in some way (psychoactive). In the world of psychopharmaca the term usually refers to some kind of amphetamine, but in terms of phytopharmaceuticals it could include just about any plant, as all plants affect consciousness directly or indirectly.
Normally the type of plants classified as stimulants are strong drugs, inebriants, which bring to mind illegal drugs used by 'social degenerates'. Yet, these types of plants should properly be classified as medicinal herbs since all of them also have powerful therapeutic properties. Stimulants on the other hand tend to act much milder, but can be just as addictive - and they can also be found in just about anybody's kitchen cupboard.
The most common stimulants are plant derived substances such as coffee, tea, sugar or cocoa and tobacco. The social and political impact of these plants throughout history is immense, yet rarely even considered when we talk about psychoactive plants. If it had not been for the sweet tooth of European aristocracy, for example - would slavery have gone to the extremes documented in the history of sugar plantations of the New World? Or, consider coffee - it has fuelled the world economy for centuries, and not just as a trading commodity: Would 'life in the fast lane' have evolved the same way without coffee to hasten our days along, with no time left to smell the flowers on the way? And if one was to take a close look at the coffee habits among stock brokers, we might gain an new perspective on the jittery jumps that mark the wild rides of stock exchanges around the world. In fact, the stock exchange was born as and in a coffee house, at Lloyds of London, where securities on coffee shipments were first traded. The coffee house in time closed down, but Lloyds survived and grew into one of the biggest and most successful financial houses in the western world. Meanwhile, the boiler room at the stock exchange, coffee fuelled as ever, continues to thrive. In London, where this new concept of coffee-house /business centre first arose, different coffee houses attracted different types of business men. The number of coffee houses grew rapidly, from just a handful to over 2000 in just 50 years. To keep up with the gossip and trading that went on at different establishments 'correspondents' at each coffee house compiled gazettes with the latest news for those who could not be there in person. And that was the beginning of modern journalism as we know it...
The drama still continues. The plantations, where these crops are grown as cash crops today have come along only a very small way since the days of slavery - in West Africa for example, it is mainly children from the age of 3 to 15 who work in the Cocoa plantations - for pennies or nothing at all. While we satisfy our 'chocoholic' cravings these children are robbed of their childhood - and will probably never even taste a chocolate bar. Cash crop economies perpetuate poverty in developing nations while supplying the 'fuel' that keeps the 'developed world' running smoothly. Meanwhile, the ecological balance is also destroyed as the immense biological diversity of rainforests is replaced by monoculture crops that neither feed nor sustain the local population. Furthermore, the considerable CO2 impact, not only in terms of fertilizer use, but also in terms of shipping and processing required to turn the raw materials into nice, appealing supermarket shelf ready packages to be distributed around the world.
We have had millennial floods, millennial heat waves, millennial winters, millennial draughts and millennial hurricanes at the rate of every other year during the past decade, and they seem to be getting more frequent and more severe all the time. Climate change is happening. There is no doubt about it. Quite possibly there is more than one cause at the root of it and more than likely different contributing factors amplify the situation. One could also argue that it is kind of naïve to expect the weather to adhere to a predictable, stable pattern that perpetuates ad infinitum - everything we know about weather patterns from the geological climate record suggests the opposite.
However - whatever the cause may be, the facts remain. Global climate changes have BIG implications for food security and thus global security, as resources, such as water and arable land become scarcer and scarcer while hunger, poverty and disease spread around the globe like a heatwave. Politicians don't seem to be able to get a handle on this burning issue - they continue to drag their feet and refuse to face the facts in any kind of constructive way. In fact, it seems as though there are powers that actively obstruct dialogue, perhaps for their own ulterior motives.
Food security is a huge problem which we have not been able (or should I say, willing) to solve at the best of times - when climate conditions were no-where near as adverse as they are now, money was much more plentiful and development programs actually received real funding. So how will we be dealing with such issues now, when some countries literally are at risk of losing the very ground they stand on, funding as well as water are running dry and millions of people are facing starvation - not just this year, but quite likely next year and the year after and the year after that as well. We no longer have the luxury of time to ponder our options - we must act and adapt fast - or face the consequences, which may be catastrophic - if not for mother earth, in the long run (she may recover, given a few million years), but certainly for the human species, which may die out and disappear altogether, just like the hundreds of other species that are currently going extinct at an unprecedented speed.
Some argue that that scenario would not be all bad - at least for the surviving species, which would probably do better without us. But, personally I would think it a terrible shame if we collectively were not able to make use of our intelligence and empathy to save our own species - simply because our greed outweighs our compassion and common sense! And that means, that we - every one of us - have to adapt to the changing environment. We can't wait for politicians and legislators to get their act together.
All this worry about food security is currently en vogue as an argument for GM crops. 'If we want to feed the ever increasing numbers of starving people in the face of climate change we need SCIENTIFIC solutions: gene-manipulated draught resistent and round-up ready staple crops such as corn, soy and wheat. But in actual practice GM seeds have not kept the promise of higher yields. Quite to the contrary. There have been devastating crop losses among many farmers, most of whom could ill afford it.
The truth is that GM crops do not, as promised, produce higher yields. Nor do they need fewer applications of pesticides or herbicides. Quite to the contrary. Other round-up ready species become the new super-weeds. Engineered to withstand the most powerful and common pesticide there is nothing else that could possibly stand in their way. The only way to get rid of them is to eradicate them by hand! Furthermore, other species of weeds and bugs are becoming resistent to the chemicals and are adapting to the manipulated varieties, much as bacteria are becoming reistant to antibiotics. Science is not winning 'the war on weeds' or bugs, for that matter.
And this is where ethnobotany comes into the picture. Farmers have selected and experimented with seeds for thousands of years, developing a magnificent range of possible genetic traits within just about all our common food species. Yet, industrial agriculture focused on producing just a handful of varieties and only paying attention to a very limited range of traits - yield being the most important. Industrial agriculture, dominated by GM crops, with its dependence on intensive use of agrochemicals has, over time, not only poisoned the land and compromised human health (not least that of the workers that have to handle these toxic substances), but has also practically destroyed the traditional knowledge passed down through generations of farmers - and nowhere more so than in the developed world.
Seeds are BIG business. In order to persuade farmers to abandon their traditional practices and instead grow gene-manipulated crops, seed suppliers offer package deals, sweetened with cash incentives - and many other strings that further tie farmers to greedy seed giants and their hazardous chemicals. It is a road of delusion. It will not lead to food security. Instead, we need to seek security in diversity and in restoring the health of the soil through organic farming practices.
Traditional small scale farmers have always adhered to the wisdom of not putting all their 'eggs in one basket'. Crops can fail for any number of reasons and we cannot predict which weird turn the climate will take next. By planting a range of varieties, even of the same species, chances are that at least some will be able to deal with whatever challenges nature presents, thus preventing total crop failure.
Yet, governments, in collaboration with big seed companies, have legislated against seed diversity, especially with regards to commercial trade. It is ok for you and I to swap seeds - just about, but costs of listing heritage seeds on commercial registers are so prohibitive that they are edged out. Seeds that are not grown will eventually lose their viability and die. Thus dozens of varieties are lost and forgotten without much ado. Varieties that had been developed over thousands of years with very specific traits, perfectly adapted to a particular environment or ecosystem - lost forever. They never even make it onto an 'endangered species list', they just disappear.
In the face of climate change it is foolish to put faith into a technology whose failures and hazards are becoming ever more apparent. We may not be able to avert the total impact of climate change on food security, but choosing diversity and restoring health to our ecological systems will be the key to survival.
Manifesto on the Future of Seeds, Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva on Agriculture and Climate Change
Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security
Weather, Climate and Food Security
At the end of the world lies a land that is both enthralling and forbidding. A formidable landscape of towering granite peaks amid wind-swept steppes and huge glaciers calving into icy lakes - a scenery that is majestic and unforgettable. Despite its remoteness and apparently inhospitable nature, Torres del Paine National Park is one of Chile's most visited regions and a Mecca for adventure seeking hikers and trekkers. November to March is the main season - summer in the southern hemisphere.
Only a handful of hostels and hotels have been allowed to build within the park and there is one which is outstanding: Eco-camp Torres del Paine. This semi-permanent camp creates cozy guest spaces in geodesic domes - there is the standard variety and a luxury version, depending on your style. The camp is the ideal base from which to explore the national park - either by doing the classic W-trek or a shorter version thereof or by doing comfortable and easy excursions with short walks to different destinations in the park. Torres del Paine is always an adventure, on the edge of the world.
Somewhere, hidden deep within the heart of the Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh, lies Patalkot, a verdant valley that seems to exist within its own time and space. About 3000 tribal people live here in small villages that are scattered throughout the valley. Until recently few outsiders ever knew this place existed. But now the modern age is encroaching even on this hidden corner, and with it comes the threat of deforestation, which ultimately will undermine the basis of human existence in this fragile ecosystem. So far people have managed to live in harmony with the earth, but with commercial logging moving in that balance can no longer be maintained. Yet, there are few opportunities. The government in Delhi is far away and has no time or concern for the pleas of a handful of tribals. The future of Patalkot hangs in a precarious balance and the scales can be tipped either way.
Dr. Deepak Acharya is an ambassador for the tribals and their pleas. He has dedicated himself to helping to preserve their heritage and lifestyle by means of an independent charity. He also seeks to make the unique knowledge of the tribal people better known. You can visit the website of Abhumka to learn more about Patalkot and the traditional tribal uses of plants.
Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava
Man's dependence on plants for the essentials of his existence has been of paramount importance since the human race began. Primitive man probably had few needs other than food and a little shelter. Civilization, however, has brought with it an ever-increasing complexity and has increased man's requirements to an amazing degree. The man of today is no longer content merely to exist with food and shelter as his only wants. He desires other commodities as well and raw materials that can be converted into many useful articles and products, which incidentally increase his debts to plants.
Since time immemorial, medicinal plants and their uses have been a part of our social life and prove to be powerful allies against various health problems. Though, synthetic drugs have swapped herbal healing at a certain level, renaissance and awareness on herbal medication is coming back. One of the reasons that the home remedies and traditional knowledge are more accepted in the society is their availability in most Indian kitchens and neighborhoods. These medicinal plants are affordable, eco-friendly, and having less or no side effects as compared to synthetic drugs and even can be grown in household kitchen gardens. Drugs in chemical doses or synthetic form have swapped herbal healing at a certain level. But, now people have started realizing various problems related with synthetic drugs i.e. side effects, chemical pollution, cost and availability of drugs. Renaissance and awareness on herbal medication is coming back now. Anyone can easily afford these herbal medicines. Treatment of various ailments via herbs is the oldest form of health care known to all the cultures throughout history. Various parts of herbs like the stem, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruit are used to cure health and skin disorders. In the age of speeding-up medical costs and their side effects, people are turning to herbs, the "natural medicines". Herbs are on menu cards of conscious folks in their regular diets. People prefer green herbs not only because of low fatty oil content for good health but also to maintain and restore their vibrant beauty (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008)
Authors Drs Acharya and Shrivastavas have been deeply engulfed in scouting for and documenting indigenous knowledge for more than 14 years. In an attempt to feature application of herbs in cosmetics and skin care, authors bring herewith a series of article focusing on the role of 20 different medicinal plants in various cosmetic applications by the indigenous tribesmen of Patalkot (www.patalkot.com) in Central India and the Dangs in Western India. There will be a total of 20 herbs discussed in a 4 part series. Each article will discuss the role of 5 herbs in indigenous formulations as applied by the tribesmen.
The current article focuses 5 plants i.e. Soapnut (Acacia sinuata), Aloe (Aloe vera), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Papaya (Carica papaya) and Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and their cosmetic applications. We hope that the readers enjoy it.
Vernacular Names in India: Banritha (Bengali); Shikakai (Gujarati); Kochi, Shikakai (Hindi); Sige (Kannada); Chikaka, Chinikka (Malayalam); Shikakai (Marathi); Shikai (Tamil); Shikaya (Telugu).
Plant Profile and Distribution: Prickly, scandent shrubs or small sized trees; bark flaking off in smooth, brown stripes; leaves bipinnate, with a prominent gland on petiole; flowers pink, in axillary, peduncled heads; pods thick, flattened, wrinkled, brown, containing 6-10 seeds. The plant is a common element of tropical forests, particularly in Central India and Deccan Plateau.
Pods are used as an astringent, cleanser, in hair growth, dandruff, skin diseases, devitalized, as coolant, diuretic, emetic, depurative, anthelmintic, in burning sensation, constipation, renal calculi, vesicle calculi, hemorrhoids, leprosy, abscesses, eczema, biliousness and as a purgative (CSIR, 1948-1976; WOA, 1997). According to Ayurveda, pods are useful in diarrhea, burning sensation, blood disorders, leucoderma, cardio tonic, anthelmintic, and cathartic (Sheth et al., 2007). The pods along with Emblica officinalis, Callicarpa macrophylla, Curcuma amada, Curcuma longa and Rubia cordifolia are recommended for skin and hair care (Sharma et al., 2003).
Traditional Tribal Formulations
Shikakai/ Soapnut Acacia literally mean 'fruit for hair'. Fruits are used traditionally for washing hair and cleaning feet or treating cracked heals. Indigenous folks in India collect Soapnut Acacia pods and grind or boil them in water for some time and use the liquid to wash dirty/ dusty hair. In some parts, tribals soak the pods/ seeds in water overnight and boil them the next morning. The liquid is filtered with a cotton cloth and applied as shampoo. It lathers moderately and cleans hair beautifully. According to them, this removes dirt and oily substances from the head and also helps to restore hair growth. Many herbal healers suggest this formulation for curing dandruff, too.
If applied regularly in summer, it is said to cool the head and to help keep the scalp moist. Pods also act as a natural conditioner that helps to promote hair growth and produce a mild shine. Many healers in Dangs suggest that regular application of Soapnut Acacia prevents premature graying of hair. Overall, it is a hair tonic.
Leaves of this plant are used in the treatment of eczema. About 10g of fresh leaves should be crushed in 30ml water and the mixture should be applied externally to affected body parts. The patient should continue the treatment until he gets rid of the problem (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008, 2011).
by Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava
Dr Deepak Acharya (MSc PhD) is Director, Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited. He can be reached at deepak at abhumka.com or deepak at patalkot.com. For more information about him, please visit www.abhumka.com and www.patalkot.com
Acharya, D. and Shrivastava, A. 2008. Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices. Aavishkar Publishers Distributors, Jaipur. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7.
Coffea arabica L.
The coffee shrub is native to Ethiopia. It is a truly tropical plant, requiring hot temperatures and evenly moist soil to propagate. There are various true species and many more hybrid varieties with differing habits. There are ongoing disputes among taxonomists concerning the exact classification in part due to the great variation that occurs in this species. The plant can grow as a shrub or as a tree up to 10m tall and leaves tend to be oval shaped with pointed terminal end and a wavy appearance. The colours range from yellowish, dark green, bronze to purple tinged. Fruits also vary and berries may be purple, yellow or red, while the 'bean' may be flattened on one side or oval. The most common and economically significant species are Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora var. robusta. In cultivation the tree varieties are cropped for easier harvest.
Even though coffee is grown in just about all tropical countries, its requirements are quite specific, yet variable between different species. Coffea arabica prefers a highland climate and shade or semi-shade while Coffea robusta prefers to grow in the plains and can take full sun. Arabica ideally needs temperatures between 15° and 24° while Robusta varieties need average temperatures between 24° and 30°. Clinging tightly to the branches, clusters of small, white star-shaped flowers produce dense clusters of berries 9 - 11 months after flowering, depending on variety.
Coffea Arabica is the most widespread commercial species, providing about 80% of the world demand. Other commercially grown species include Coffea liberica and Coffea dewevrei (Excelsa coffee), but they are cultivated to a much lesser extent.
Coffee in its natural habitat is an understory species. In plantations the natural habitat is mimicked by interspersing taller plants to provide shade (for Arabica plantations). Coffee plantations are an important bird habitat as they provide an abundance of food. Organic coffee plantations make more bird friendly habitats, while the presence of the birds also naturally keeps insects in check.
Nobody quite knows how far back the history of coffee use reaches back in time. What is known is that it was first discovered in the Horn of Africa. One of the most common stories tells of a young shepherd or goatherd who noticed that his flock was behaving strangely, becoming agitated, skipping and hopping about with excitement after eating the fruit. Curious he decided to investigate and found that munching the berries kept him awake. He shared his discovery with a passing holy man who further investigated the matter and came to the same conclusion. This is thought to have taken place in the 6th century. A similar story is told about the discovery of Qat (Catha edulis), another stimulant plant that was discovered in the same region and whose use dates even further back than is documented for coffee.
Originally, Coffee also played a significant magical and religious role in the pre-Islamic practices of Ethiopia. It was used in all kinds of blessings as well as exorcism rituals and healing ceremonies. Coffee beans had a strong sexual-spiritual connotation due not only to the beans energizing qualities, but also as a symbolic representation of the female genitalia as the gateway of life.
Long before the seed of the coffee berry was ever roasted and ground to make a 'cuppa joe' the berries were eaten either fresh or mixed with fat as a kind of energy bar. Infusions were made from either dried or toasted leaves. It is thought that coffee beans first reached what is now Jemen with slaves which the Arabs took from the Horn of Africa. Coffee was first cultivated in Jemen and some scholars believe that the Robusta bean transformed into the Arabica variety by adaptation to this new environment. From there it spread throughout the Arab world to northern Africa, Egypt and Turkey. Notably wandering dervishes and Sufis were instrumental in spreading the use of coffee. They embraced the beverage as a means to stay alert during long hours of prayer during religious ceremonies.
The Arab trade network was far flung and exerted a huge influence at the time, especially in Asia Minor, and wherever the Arabs went, coffee went as well. In 1453 coffee was introduced to Constantinople and in 1475 the first coffee house opened there. From here it reaches the port of Venice and is introduced to Italy. But religious bigots tried to get coffee outlawed and urged Pope Constantine to ban the brew. He insisted on trying a cup first and found it so delightful that he vowed to defy the devil by blessing the bean instead, so that Christians may enjoy it too. In 1645 the first coffee house opened in Italy. In 1511 the corrupt governor of Mecca Khair Beg tried to close down the coffee houses, perceiving them as a threat to his rule. But the Sultan disagreed. He considered coffee sacred and had the governor killed. By 1652 the first coffeehouse opened in London. They proved so popular that their number quickly swelled. The first coffee house in Germany was established in Hamburg in 1679, by a British merchant.
By Stewart Lee Allen
I really liked this book, but it is important to know what to expect. You will not find a history of coffee in the usual scholarly style.In fact, it is as much of a travelogue as it is a book on the history of coffee. The author follows the trail of coffee as it spread throughout the world. It tells the story in a lighthearted, trivia kind of way, but that does not diminish the value of the information, which is accurate. Rather, it is decidedly and intentionally non-scholarly and avoids any attempt at serious verbosity. The journey is fun to follow - probably more so as an armchair traveler than it would be in real life. I thought it was funny, well written and a good, easy yet informative read, although at times his conjectures and postulations are a bit over the top, to put it mildly. The proverbial kernel of truth may be present, but is buried under a layer of exaggeration that naturally arise when one deliberately puts on extremely blinkered glasses in order to examine a certain issue from a specific point of view. In the end the story fizzles out a bit as the search for coffee tales turns into a somewhat frenzied hunt for a caffeine kick - not quite the same thing. But still, it does illustrate well how a simple herbal concoction of a rural backwater (could be anywhere) slowly, over time evolves into something much more potent and potentially lethal, as preparations become more refined and the search for ever stronger kicks is taken up by laboratory scientists who seek to isolate the 'active ingredient' of a plant. This story has been repeated with different 'herbs-turned-drugs' so many times throughout history - one could say it is the history of pharmacy. And so, this book tells us as much about the human mind, set in pursuit of that ever more powerful punch, as it does about the actual plant and its round-about journey to conquer the world. Despite the lightheartedness of this book, it does raise a lot of questions and is excellent food for thought.
Source: OurWorld2.0 by April Davila on August 26, 2011
From the toes of our socks to the hem of our necklines, Americans alone consume 25% of the world’s cotton, mostly in the form of clothing and home furnishings. People are often surprised to learn that the world’s largest purveyors of cotton seeds (about 80-90% of market share in some cotton-producing countries), is a company generally assumed to be focused on food stock. When pulling on their pants in the morning, most people don’t think about Monsanto.
Read full article: http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/monsanto%E2%80%99s-cotton-strategy-wears-thin/
Source: OurWorld2.0, by Felicity Lawrence on June 3, 2011
With food prices reaching record highs again this year, what goes on inside a 650-foot Chicago skyscraper topped by a statue of the goddess Ceres is coming under intense scrutiny.
It is here that the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), was established in 1848 to serve the great grain belt that had opened up in the American midwest. And it is here that the international price of agricultural commodities is set to this day.
Read full story: http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/global-food-crisis-the-us-speculators-playing-with-our-daily-bread/
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 2011
Green turtles and dugongs have been on the global "red list" of threatened species for many years, but the situation is looking up for Australian populations as a community-based protection approach evolves.
Hunting is one reason numbers have dropped in parts of Australia. Both species enjoy legal protection nationally but indigenous communities are able to hunt dugongs and turtles for cultural and economic reasons.
"Urban development, fishing impacts and hunting are some factors, but remember indigenous people have a right to hunt and people in Torres Strait Islands have been harvesting dugongs for 4000 years," Helene Marsh, professor of environmental science at James Cook University, said.
Research suggests that harvests in some areas are unsustainable but indigenous communities are key to the solution, joining James Cook University and the government to protect marine life.
For full story, please see: www.smh.com.au/environment/indigenous-input-essential-to-survival-of-endangered-species-20110724-1hvef.html
Source: The Guardian (UK), 2 July 2011
Gamba Manyatta village is empty now, weeds already roping around the few skeletal hut frames still standing. The people who were evicted took as much of their building materials as they could carry to start again and the land where their homes stood is now ploughed up.
The eviction of the villagers to make way for a sugar cane plantation is part of a wider land grab going on in Kenya's Tana Delta that is not only pushing people off plots they have farmed for generations, stealing their water resources and raising tribal tensions that many fear will escalate into war, but also destroying a unique wetland habitat that is home to hundreds of rare and spectacular birds.
The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons — to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel.
For full story, please see: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/02/biofuels-land-grab-kenya-delta
Source: www.timeslive.co.za, 14 July 2011
Traditional medicine needs to be embraced so that it finds expression through combating diseases, says South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. "If it is to play a strategic role in combating the heavy burden of disease, it will need to be mainstreamed so that it can benefit from advances in the other sciences," said Director General Molapo Qhobela. He was speaking at an African traditional medicine and intellectual property workshop held in Pretoria. Qhobela said South Africa should learn from China and India, which had effectively integrated traditional medicine into their health systems. He further emphasized the need to preserve African medicine. "One way of securing the future of indigenous knowledge and research on traditional medicine is the advancement and refinement of regulatory regimes," he said. The drafting of ethical guidelines for researchers and research institutions had already been completed. The Department planned to conduct research on medicinal plants, a move which the Traditional Healers Organisation wanted to involve traditional healers themselves. Its spokeswoman Phephisile Maseko said while the organization was not objecting to research, healers believed that leaving government to do research on its own, and excluding them, would undermine their own work done so far. She highlighted that 72 percent of South Africans made use of traditional medicines. Of the known plant species in the country, 3 000 of them have medicinal potential.
For full story, please see: www.timeslive.co.za/local/2011/07/14/traditional-medicine-should-be-embraced
Source: China Daily, 17 July 2011
Few would like the idea of adding medicine to food, but for the Chinese, sometimes food is medicine, and adding natural herbs to dishes may mean the creation of a gourmet dish with healthy benefits.
Some of the ingredients often used this way includes ginger, ginseng and angelica root. For instance, ginger is often infused in boiling water to create a home cure for mild throat infections or to prevent the onset of a cold. Ginseng is slowly stewed with chicken to replenish energy or qi deficiency. Angelica is a popular tonic herb, often added to a ginger-and-mutton stew to make a warming winter soup.
Such healthful cooking has given rise to a genre of restaurants that specialize in herbal cuisine. Roucongrong, or cistanche, is a parasitic root plant produced in the deserts of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Locals dub it "desert ginseng", and cook it with mutton and beef to strengthen the kidneys, as a natural aphrodisiac for men.
For full story, please see: www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-07/17/content_12917477.htm
Source: www.scidev.net, 15 July 2011
Namibia has kicked off a series of meetings with rural and indigenous communities to feed into the country's first bill on access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge. The first such meeting took place in the south of the country last month (28–30 June).
The bill has been in development since 1998. It should be finalized by the end of the year so that the country can sign the Nagoya Protocol — an international framework for ensuring more equitable access to, and sharing of, genetic resources — before the February 2012 deadline. To be ratified, the Nagoya Protocol needs 50 nations to sign up and 38 have done so far.
The bill will prevent exploitation of indigenous resources, such as devil's claw (Harpagophytum sp.) a plant used by the San people to treat rheumatism and arthritis, and hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) which is used for suppressing hunger.
Pierre du Plessis, a genetic resources expert and Nambian negotiator for the Nagoya Protocol, said that investments made to bring some of these plants to the market have not given back much to local communities.
"In the case of hoodia an investment in the region of US$70.7 million over the past 12 years has, so far, yielded virtually no sustainable benefits, although some opportunists have enjoyed windfall profits," he said, citing attempts to market hoodia products for weight loss.www.scidev.net/en/news/indigenous-people-in-namibia-help-draft-biopiracy-law.html
Source: Environmental News Network, 1 August 2011
A team of scientists from the University of Oxford are working on a world map which shows all the land owned or revered by various world religions. This "holy map" will display all the sacred sites from Jerusalem's Western Wall, to Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Just as interesting, the map will also show the great forests held sacred by various religions. Within these protected lands dwell a wide variety of life and high numbers of threatened species.
The sacred land mapped out by the Oxford researchers is not necessarily owned by a certain religious community, but rather contains sacred connotations. They estimate that about 15 percent of all land on Earth is "sacred land", and 8 percent of all land is owned by a religious community. Much of the land held sacred is forest.
The Oxford researchers — from the Biodiversity Institute in the Oxford Martin School — are focused on determining this land's value in terms of biodiversity. A lot of the sacred forests managed by the local community, but receive no formal protection. The researchers hope that their scientific study will help guarantee official protection from regional and national governments.
Initially, efforts were only made to map out land controlled by the large mainstream religious groups. Teaming up with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the Oxford team decided to investigate religious land controlled by all groups. The new initiative is in effect, as the team has already planned visits to areas in India, Ghana, Japan, and elsewhere.
The first step in their research is to delineate where the sacred land is by investigating where boundary lines. The status of the land and its borders must be known before a biodiversity assessment can take place. The researchers will also assess the land's value in carbon dioxide absorption, its abundance of medicinal plants, as well as the value to the local people.
"We urgently need to map this vast network of religious forests, sacred sites and other community-conserved areas to understand their role in biodiversity conservation," said Dr. Shonil Bhagwat, on the research team. "Such mapping can also allow the custodian communities, who have protected these sites for generations, to secure their legal status."
For more information, please see: www.biodiversity.ox.ac.uk/For full story, please see: www.enn.com/top_stories/article/43012
Source: (Tierramérica) Sept 6, 2011, By Franz Chávez *
LA PAZ, - A richly biodiverse rainforest the size of 3,000 soccer fields in central Bolivia will be the first victim of the road planned to run through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), say environmental activists.
Opponents of the proposed road also fear that it will open up the pristine rainforest nestled between the Isiboro and Sécure Rivers to the expansion of coca cultivation. The national park, created in 1965, was demarcated in 1990 to cover a total of 12,362 square km, while the 10,910 sq km indigenous territory was officially established in 2009.
The forests and savannahs of TIPNIS extend from the Moxos plains in the northeastern department (province) of Beni to the sub-Andean mountain ranges of Cochabamba, ranging across different environmental strata from lowlands to altitudes of 2,700 metres above sea level. In September of 2008, the Bolivian Highway Administration (ABC) estimated a total budget of 3.8 million dollars for the clearing of trees and clean-up of irrigation channels and land in a 1,530-hectare area of forest.
The road will stretch 306 km between Villa Tunari in the central department of Cochabamba and San Ignacio de Moxos in Beni, with a width of 7.3 meters, two-metre shoulders on each side, and a double-layer asphalt surface. The 177-km section that would run through TIPNIS requires an environmental permit that has yet to be issued.
Read full story http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105002
Source: IPS Sep 7, 2011, By Sudeshna Sarkar
KATHMANDU, - Learning a lesson from crop failures attributed to climate change, Nepal’s women farmers are discarding imported hybrid seeds and husbanding hardier local varieties in cooperative seed banks.
"I had a crop failure two years ago," says Shobha Devkota, 32, from Jibjibe village in Rasuwa, a hilly district in central Nepal which is part of the Langtang National Park, a protected area encompassing two more districts, Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk. "The maize was attacked by pests, the paddy had no grain and the soil grew hard. I had a tough time trying to feed my three daughters and sending them to school."
Read the full story: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105009
Source: IPS, Sep 1, 2011, By Kristin Palitza
CAPE TOWN - While many scientists, academics and politicians still theorise about ways to adapt to climate change, a South African civil society organisation has launched a hands-on project that mobilises communities to take easy steps to reduce carbon emissions. Called the Project 90 by 2030, it encourages individuals, organisations and companies to change the way they live and operate by 90 percent by the year 2030. The idea stems from the suggestion environmental activist George Monbiot makes in his book "Heat" that industrialised nations need to reduce their carbon footprint by 90 percent by 2030.
"It's a goal-oriented, praxis-oriented approach. It's actually very simple," says Project 90 by 2030 director Brenda Martin. The project's main purpose is to challenge South Africans to change the way they live and how they relate to the environment, she explains. "As the biggest carbon emitter on the continent, South Africa has the biggest responsibility in Africa to fight climate change," Martin notes.
With the firm belief that every person can make a small contribution to a healthier environment, Martin suggests that individuals start by reducing their carbon footprint by just 10 percent a year and "keep at it, until they reach 90 percent over several years." It's about setting achievable goals, she explains.
Read the full story:
Source: IPS,Aug 30, 2011, By Fabíola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, - Raimundo Francisco Belmiro dos Santos, a defender of the Amazon jungle, has requested urgent protection from the authorities in Brazil after reporting that a number of hired gunmen are looking for him, because landowners in the northern state of Pará have offered a 50,000 dollar contract for his death. Belmiro dos Santos is a 46-year-old "seringueiro" or rubber tapper who fears for his life and the lives of his family, after receiving numerous threats for his activism against the destruction of the Amazon jungle.
"My life is really complicated today, because they have put a price on my head, and say that I will be killed before the end of the year," the activist told IPS in an anguished voice by telephone from the Riozinho do Anfrísio reserve, where he lives. It takes several days to reach the reserve by river from the nearest city, Altamira, which is 800 km from Belém, the capital of the state of Pará. "I am fighting to defend life, the jungle, nature, and I can't live without protection anymore," Belmiro dos Santos, who is a married father of nine, told IPS.
Read full story:
Source: IPS, Aug 24, 2011, By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, - When world leaders meet in Brazil next June for a U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, the third since the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the question lingering in the minds of many is: what really is "sustainable development" in the context of a fast-changing world of growing poverty, hunger, pollution, political repression and social unrest? For Sweden, one of the key donors of development aid to the world’s poorest countries, it means good governance, democracy, capacity building, human development and people's power.
"My basic premise for global sustainability is a people-centred approach: sustainable development must consider the rights, needs and influence of everyone," says Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister of international development cooperation and a member of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High- Level Panel on Global Sustainability.
During a recent visit to Nairobi, the most populated city in East Africa with 3.5 million inhabitants, Carlsson discovered that for a single mother living in an informal settlement in the outskirts of the highly-congested city, sustainable development was about making her voice heard in the local community, having decent work, a good education for her children, improved infrastructure for water and sanitation and lit streets that will improve her security.
"One of my priorities on the (U.N.) Panel is how to utilise the great potential of young people to shape and promote sustainable development," Carlsson told delegates at the annual Stockholm international water conference, currently underway in the Swedish capital. "It is imperative to take their perspectives and innovative ideas into account in order to vitalise political processes, business development and sustainable development in society," she pointed out. "Young people must be encouraged to use their entrepreneurial talents, and this could be achieved by improving their access to relevant forms of education and to financial services."
Read the full story: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=104873
September 11-14, 2011
ISEO 2011: 42nd International Symposium on Essential Oils. Maritim Pine Beach Resort, Antalya, Turkey
This congress series has been organized annually in Europe for the last 41 years in order to stimulate cooperation among scientists for the advancement of research and development into the science of essential oils and aromachemicals. The 28th symposium was also organized in 1997 by us in Eskisehir, Turkey.
The congress is expected to attract global attention in the International Year of Chemistry of the United Nations preceeded by the 59th International Congress and Annual Meeting of the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research in the previous week at the same venue. This will give most of the participants a feast of natural products chemistry for two weeks in early September 2011 at an excellent venue where business and leisure can be combined for pleasure and satisfaction.
More information is available at: www.iseo2011.org.
September 25-29, 2011
The 6th International Medicinal Mushroom Conference (IMMC6). Zagreb, Croatia
The International Medicinal Mushroom Conferences are worldwide conferences presenting the latest findings in the fields of medicinal properties of mushrooms and their use as medicinal agents. They have been organized biennially since 2001, gathering on average more than 500 participants from all over the world. The participation of most recognized scientific authorities – from mycologists, ecologists, forestry and agronomy experts, scientists from the fields of genetics, biochemistry and biotechnology, to pharmacists, nutritionists, medical doctors and medicinal sciences experts is a regular and integral part of every such conference. Equally important is the participation of numerous experts and business people working with mushrooms – from growing mushrooms and producing quality mycelia, food industry, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industry to all other interconnected production and commercial initiatives.
More information is available at: www.immc6.com.
October 14-16, 2011
Bioneers Conference, San Rafael, California
More information at http://www.bioneers.org/conference
October 20-23, 2011
22nd Annual American Herbalists Guild Symposium, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA
Herbalists from around the country will gather at the TradeWinds Island Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida on October 21-23, 2011 for the 22nd Annual National Symposium of the American Herbalists Guild, North America's largest professional association for herbalists and those interested in herbal medicines.
More information is available at: www.americanherbalistsguild.com.
October 20-22, 2011
2nd Global Summit on Sustainable Development & Biodiversity (GLOSS 2011)
Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India. The objective of this conference is to explore different models of sustainable development on preservation of indigenous knowledge, lands, sovereignty and culture while providing for integrated economic development, institutional capacity building and technological advancement.
More information is available at: www.gloss2011.com
November 6-12, 2011
The 12th Annual Science and Clinical Application of Integrative Holistic Medicine
Renaissance Vinoy Resort, St. Petersburg, FL, USA. Join Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine for a one-of-a-kind educational experience that includes an up-to-date review of integrative holistic medicine science and research, as well as an opportunity for personal renewal. The course format includes lectures followed by question-and-answer sessions, experiential morning programs and evening study groups. Faculty are renowned experts in integrative holistic medicine and provide practical summaries on a wide-range of mind-body-spirit topics. Pre-Conference Seminar: Bringing Integrative Medicine to Your Practice - November 6, 2011. Optional ABIHM Board Certification Exam - November 12, 2011.
More information is available at: http://www.scripps.org/events/science-and-clinical-application-of-integrative-holistic-medicine.
November 15-18, 2011
International Symposium on Medicinal & Aromatic Plants. Chiang Mai, Thailand
The International Symposium on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants is scheduled to be held from 15-18 November 2011 in a hotel in Chiang Mai, the beautiful northern city of Thailand, in association with the "Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2011: International Horticultural Exposition - A Tribute to the Royal Perseverance" under the theme, "Greenitude - Reducing Global Warming to Save Planet Earth and to Improve the Quality of Life."
More information is available at: http://www.royalflora2011.com/index_eng.html.