Plant Profile: Apple Tree
A mature apple tree looks like a grandmother of a tree: small in stature,writhing limbs and with grey, crinkly bark. this tree does not impress with its habitus, yet we learn to love it from an early age, not just for its wonderful fruits, but because it is perhaps the most ideal climbing tree found in the temperate climate zone and just about every child will sooner or later become intimately acquainted it. Despite its humble posture, we can't help but notice the apple tree when spring arrives. Before the leaves are showing it is covered all over in a glorious beautiful dress of pinkish white flowers, abuzz with delirious bees. Once the flowers have dropped off we again pass it by without paying it much attention, but come September it is laden with shining, golden red apples that are impossible to resist. Even crab apples, whose fruit are much smaller (and tarter), look tempting.
It is estimated that there may be as many as 20000 cultivated varieties, each with their own distinct flavour, shape, smell, crunchiness or succulence, though nobody knows the exact number. Sadly, most of them are endangered as they tend to be heirloom species, confined to just a few gardens. The average supermarket only carries about 5 varieties.
The apple tree is an important source of nectar for bees. Later, its fruit provide much nurishment to all sorts of small wildlife.
The apple tree is so widespread that it is almost impossible to pin down its origin. Charred remains of prehistoric crab apples found at archaeological sites throughout Europe bear witness to the fact that wild apples, or crab apple, as it is also known, has been at home throughout central Europe since Neolithic times. The first cultivated varieties probably reached northern parts of Europe with the Romans. Today apples are grown in all temperate regions of the globe.
The apple tree is perhaps the most mythical of all trees - is it not supposed to have been the demise of all mankind, way back at the beginning of time? Actually, it is highly unlikely that the forbidden fruit that gave us knowledge of good and evil was in fact an apple, since this fruit was unknown in Egypt and Palestine at that time and early Bibles merely mention 'a fruit'. However, long before the Christianity was born the apple tree was already widely adored as a symbol of immortality and the apple was regarded as the sacred heart of the Goddess of eternal life. In Cletic tradition the western paradise, where the souls of the Blessed go, was known as Avalon, the isle of Apples, guarded by Morgan, the Queen of the Dead.
Although the Neolithic lake villagers of central Switzerland already feasted on Crab apples, it appears that the Romans popularised the cultivated varieties in central and northern Europe. The Romans too, associated eternity with the apple - alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the two symbols that encapsulate existence, were represented by an egg, symbolic of the origin of life (alpha), and an apple, the symbol of eternal life and resurrection (omega). And thus, each of their feasts would start with an egg and be finished with an apple. Wild boars (pigs and boars are sacred animals of the Great Goddess,) were roasted with an apple in their snout to represent eternal life and resurrection.
The apple is a fruit of Venus/Aphrodite and it bears her signature, the five pointed star. Among gypsies it is an ancient tradition to cut the apple horizontally to reveal this mystical sign of the Goddess. In Greek mythology we are told the fateful story of Paris, who was given the impossible task to settle a dispute between three Goddesses by choosing one above the others whom to present with a golden apple, inscribed 'to the most deserving'. In the end it was Aphrodite who won him over, if only with a bribe, as she promised him the hand of Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman alive on earth at that time. Unfortunately that beautiful young woman was already married to another and when Paris ran away with her he inadvertently started a chain of events that lead to the Trojan War.
In China, by contrast, the pictogram for apple has the synonymous meaning of peace. Thus presenting someone with an apple is to say: 'peace be with you'.
In time, apples became associated with erotic love and for many centuries artists used them metaphorically in their works. However, when Christian tempers started to run rampant, the apple became a symbol of the devil, of temptation and evil, a symbol of sinful love of the flesh. Thus, apple became 'malus', which means bad, and the apple tree became a tree of witches. Apple trees are also the most common host trees of Mistletoe, the sacred plant of the Druids, although the Druids favoured Mistletoe that grew on Oak.
Once upon a time Halloween was more than a spooky fun day for kids. It was celebrated as the pagan New Year, to mark the time when the life force retreats into the womb of the earth, to regenerate and restore its powers, only to be reborn again the following spring. How fitting then that this festival should be associated most of all with apples, the sacred fruit of eternal life and resurrection. Apple bopping games and other customs are remnants of ancient pagan traditions that allude to gaining eternal life of the soul.
During the time of the apple harvest apple farmers traditionally engaged in the custom of 'wassailing', a kind of tree blessing that invoked the fruitfulness of their trees, chased off any evil spirits or demons that might have liked to steal their fruit, and gave thanks for the harvest. This was celebrated with good quantities of cider and apple cookies as well as with fireworks or gunfire.
Apples have also sometimes been used as a form of divination, to tell the probable fortunes of young hopefuls in their pursuit of love and happiness. The procedure requires the person to cut the apple horizontally. The fortunes are told by interpreting the numbers of seeds that are visible and whether or how many of them were cut in the process.
Cider, hot spiced apple wine and baked apples or apple crumble all featured strongly among our seasonal favourites at this time of year.
But apple traditions are not all as old as 'ye old heathen times'. The greatest 'apple hero' of all times was born in the American legendary figure of Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed is said to have spent his life planting apple trees across the land, to pursue his vision of a country filled with these glorious trees. He is also said to have talked to animals and never carried arms, even when walking alone in unknown territory. He was accepted by the Indians and respected by settlers and managed to mediate various conflicts between the two sides. He certainly lived an eccentric life, but in the end his dream was fulfilled.
Apples are very healthy fruits and the English adage 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' still carries a lot of merit. But more about that below.
Flowers, Fruit, Peel
Flowers in spring, when they are fully open and free of
Apples are a wonderful, healing food, easy for the body to digest and able to correct over-acidity of the stomach. They are particularly rich in pectin, a soluble fibre that forms a jelly-like substance, as any jam-maker will know. Pectin, available in its purified form, is used to help set marmalades and jams. In the body it helps to regulate digestion, forms a protective coating in the intestines and soothes inflamed tissues. Thus, apples can be used to treat both diarrhoea and constipation. They are also highly recommended for balancing blood sugar levels, as they prevent those dangerous spikes and lows. Apples are cooling and anti-inflammatory. They are wonderfully refreshing and thirst quenching during convalescence, especially when suffering from feverish conditions, coughs and colds. Apple tea, usually prepared by infusing minced fruit or peels (organic, please!) in hot water, is not only a delicious drink, but also increases uric acid elimination and is helpful as a supportive remedy in the treatment of arthritic and rheumatic conditions as well as rheumatoid kidney and liver disease. An apple diet is recommended for gout, constipation, haemorrhoids, bladder and kidney disease. An apple at bed time improves the quality of sleep and helps to control night sweat.
Bees love the nectar rich apple blossoms in spring. The petals can be infused as a tea to treat feverish conditions, especially those that affect the upper respiratory tract. Apple blossom tea also soothes and calms the nerves.
Apples cider vinegar is also excellent, not just for salads, but for a whole host of health conditions. It is very rich in calcium and can help to improve calcium deficiency related problems such as loss of concentration and memory, weak muscle tone, poor circulation, badly healing wounds, general itchiness, aching joints and lack of appetite. Apple cider vinegar detoxifies by supporting the eliminative function of the kidneys. Thus, it is a helpful supportive aid for arthritis, gout, rheumatism and skin conditions. It is also beneficial for sinusitis, high blood pressure, migraine, chronic exhaustion and night sweats. To make use of this healthful elixir, dilute one tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 6-8 oz of water. This may be sweetened with honey.
There are endless numbers of delicious recipes that turn apples into any number of sweat or savoury dishes or drinks. But even plain they are simply delicious.
A simple way to enjoy a quick apple treat is to bake them whole. Cut out the centre that contains the seeds and fill it with musli. Sprinkle a little Cinnamon on top and dribble some honey into the hole. Place on a baking sheet and bake until soft enough to spoon. Serve with plain yoghurt.
A wonderful side salad: grate an apple and a couple of carrots. Squeeze a lemon over it and add some currents to the mix. Simply divine.
Wash the crab apples well. Place the vinegar and sugar into a saucepan Heat while stirring, taking care not to burn the sugar. Add the fruit. Place spices into a muslin bag and tie well- add to the fruit. Cover the saucepan and cook on low heat until just tender. Remove fruit with a siphoning spoon and pack into sterilized jars, leaving a little space at the top. Remove the muslin bag from the vinegar and strain the liquid. Return to the heat and continue to simmer, uncovered, until it has the consistency of syrup. Pour hot over the fruit in the jars so it covers them by ½ inch. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks before use.
Peel, core and slice the apples and slice the chilli. Put all ingredients together into a saucepan and simmer on a low heat for 11/2- 2 hours until well cooked to a pulp. Allow to set overnight.
For more great apple recipes see: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/apple044.html#reccra
Other uses: Apple wood is valued for its strength and fine grain. It is a dense and heavy wood and makes superior smoke wood.
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