Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tree of Life

Opa! It's been like a million years since I last posted and everyone I once knew has probably moved on to greener online pastures. But phooooooo! That's the sound of me blowing the dust off this space so we can pick up from where we left off. I am still in Brazil, had to take an unintended hiatus from Weird Vegetables because I was up in the highlands of Minas Gerais (the General Mines, very mystical, very mineral, northwest of Rio de Janeiro) doing my Sir Richard Burton thing, living about a half-hour walk from the Internet cafe where the keyboards were sticky and the bandwidth was excruciatingly narrow.

Here are some views of my near-daily sojourn into the old colonial center of Ouro Preto (Black Gold, yargh!), a town that boomed during the 18th-century gold rush, from which sprang a disproportionate number of impressive baroque churches filled with golden altars and black saints, all surrounded by a chain of dark green mountains forming the Serra do Espinhaço.

mineral spirits
ouro preto

igreja são francisco (the church of my hometown's namesake)

ouro preto city center, a good place for a university student protest

Aside from my jaunts into town, where I found some small but very satisfying farmers' markets (more on that to come), I sat reading and writing in front of my little red window with its little green banana palm view while drinking miner's coffee from a little red mug.

But you came for vegetables, and here I am giving you mineral nuggets from my recent life. But it all comes around because on my travels, I met the sweetest Mineiro couple, a pair of retired university professors, one a geologist and the other a chemical engineer, Dimas and Claudia. Claudia's work centers on the Moringa oleifera, a tree of most magical properties, which include purifying water into a potable state, healing and disinfecting wounds, and restoring the vital vitamins to malnourished souls. After inviting me to lunch one day (Mineiros are famous for their hospitality and home cooking), they showed me around their home, and let me take a sprig from the Moringa oleifera sapling they were cultivating in the backyard. I crushed its delicate, benevolent fringe of leaves into my notebook for safekeeping (top photo). In another room, they had laid out fronds of leaves and the tree's small yellow-white flowers to dry in order to crush into a powder to sprinkle on food.

The leaves have a distinctly bitter taste but not so strong as to be unbearable and gave me the sensation of chewing on tiny, fresh tea leaves. Here is a site that calls it "The Miracle Tree" and enumerates the many benefits of its seed pods, leaves, flowers, bark, and roots. The tree originates in tropical Africa and India and is known commonly in English as the horseradish tree, clarifier tree, and drumstick tree. The site also reports its East African alias as "mother's best friend." In Brazil, it is also known as the horseradish tree, good nut or "do-gooder" nut (noz-de-bem), and "corner okra" (chiabo-de-quina) for its long, okra-looking seed pods (also the origin of the "drumstick" nickname). It seems that every single part of this tree has some amazing restorative properties, as our good friend Wikipedia affirms.

sweet botanical assemblage from this site.

Engaging in corroborative library research, I came across some very nutritious tree books by Harri Lorenzi, who seems to be the reigning king of popular plant literature here in Brazil. He tells us that in India the seeds are ground into a paste to treat wounds or are toasted and enjoyed as a nutritious snack. In the northeast of Brazil, they cook the leaves with beans or eat them in a salad with tangy vinagreira, or purple hibiscus leaves. The tree has natural antibacterial components, and it is this (as far as I understand it!) that makes the seeds absorb impurities in water and thus drinkable for our delicately calibrated human systems. The leaves, roots, and seeds also have anti-inflammatory abilities, which make them good for treating wounds. As if that weren't enough, the leaves are also said to be helpful for diabetics to decrease their blood glucose levels, while the seed pods contain all the essential amino acids (super food alert), plus high levels of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, iron, and potassium.

In short, this tree is a crazy miracle. I am glad to have befriended it and to pass it on to you all. Though North American climates are not ideal for the Moringa, your local or online health store may offer the oil essence of this tree of life.

Now that I am in São Paulo, land of cultural over-stimulation and limitless wi-fi, the posts will return to their regular once-a-week (or more!) frequency.


The Woolly Mammoth said...

Glad you're blogging again! The miracle tree seems interesting, I'm going to keep an eye out for it. Ouro Preto looks a beautiful town to be in, I'm envious!

kale daikon said...

Thanks Woolly momma! I want those pickles and that zebra safari dress I spied over on your side of the Internet pond...