Seize The Day ~ A Lesson In Flowers

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You  have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling.  That is probably lesson  number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.

Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.

All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.

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But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like.  It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.

Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays

Some People Don’t Like Spanish Bluebells

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Naturally I would have to say that nothing compares with the hazy woodland swathes of British bluebells; their slender spires gently nodding; the subtle fragrance that not quite like any other scent.

By contrast, the garden-escaping Spanish sort are much more upright and chunky, more like a skinny hyacinth. They have blue pollen too, or so the Woodland Trust site tells me. And it also says they are a big MENACE. People hate them in their gardens and so dig them up and dump them round the countryside, where they have relations with our native species, so changing them forever.

Without doubt, losing our native species would be a great a shame, but I still have time for the Spanish cousins that pop up around our garden. Admittedly I used to try to dig them up and compost them – until I learned that it was a pretty impossible task to excavate every part of them.

Now when they flower, I pick them. They make excellent house flowers, their bells opening wider and the blue fading over the days. They smell nice too. I’m thinking that cutting them off at the roots might also put a stop to fraternisation, and ultimately weaken the plant. In the meantime, I have the pleasure of them indoors.

Picking the native species is of course very much forbidden. But those of you who live in the UK will soon have the pleasure of spotting them in a wood near you. Reports have it that they will be flowering early this year.

 

Six Word Saturday Now pop over to Debbie’s for more SWS posts.

Watching The Clock: Black & White Sunday

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Talk about conflicting interests. When I’m at work on my allotment I continuously wage war on dandelions. They are shown no mercy, bar resorting to pesticides. And yes, I know they are very helpful plants – the roots plunging deep into the soil strata and releasing otherwise inaccessible nutrients into the topsoil.

On the other hand, on the way to the allotment, camera to hand, I have a lot of time for them. They are of course in the farmer’s field, and not on my plot, which helps to foster a little appreciation. I find their seed-head ‘clocks’ endlessly photogenic. Looked at closely, they have a mysterious and mesmerizing quality: the perfect design of their parachutes, each one programmed for relentlessly unavoidable procreation.

And so, even as I feel my spade-hand twitching towards a ruthless uprooting, I’m also thinking ‘live and let live’. There are other good reasons to love dandelions. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that these plants possess great therapeutic qualities. Herbalists have long used the roots for healing liver conditions, while the leaves and flowers act more on the kidneys (not for nothing is the dandelion’s country name piss-in-the-bed.) You can use the young leaves in salads, while the roasted roots make a passable coffee. Meanwhile, the dandelion in the photo is also auditioning for a special effects role in Star Trek.

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Stinking Nanny Anyone?

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The shadowy margins of the Linden Walk near my house and the old railway line that runs alongside are presently lit by  white-star carpets. Ramsons. Stink Bombs. Stinking Nanny. Londoner’s Lilies. Thank you, Richard Mabey and your Flora Britannica for all these country names for wild garlic.

I know many people loathe the smell of this plant, and it can indeed be overpowering on warm days, but whenever I catch a whiff, it simply inspires me to cook. You can eat the leaves and flowers. On Friday I used them to make a pesto sauce to go with steamed carrots, assorted allotment greens and braised salmon.

This is what I did to make it:

  • Took a good handful of broken walnuts and lightly toasted them in a little olive oil
  • Roughly chopped a dozen flower heads and a small bunch of garlic leaves
  • Tipped all with the walnuts into a food processer
  • Added more olive oil to cover, salt, black pepper and squeeze of fresh lemon juice and blitzed. More oil can be added according to taste and requirements.

This is good with pasta, or spooned on the top of fresh-made soup, especially broad bean, or the classic pistou. In his Food for Free book Richard Mabey also quotes the sixteenth century writer, John Gerard, who writing in The Herbal (1597) says that in Europe the leaves are used to make a sauce to go with fish, and adds that these may:

very well be eaten in April and May with butter, of such as are of strong constitution, and labouring men.

And what about labouring women, good sir? This particular one has great liking for ramsons. In fact I’m thinking now of using them to lace a homemade tomato sauce. Bon Appétit , and happy foraging.

And please pop over to Jude’s Garden Challenge. This month she wants to see our wild flower photos.

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Corncockle Sunset ~ Nature Photo 6

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These are the seed heads of a lovely plant that was once to be seen in English  corn- fields, but is now almost extinct in the wild. And here it is in its full flowering glory…

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…the Corncockle aka Agrostemma githago aka Kiss-me-quick.

This stately annual plant was also the target of shock-horror media hysteria a couple of years ago.

And why? You may well wonder.

It apparently all began with a well-meaning gesture by the BBC’s Countryfile programme. Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, they were giving away packets of wild-flower seeds that contained corncockle. There was huge demand. Suddenly everyone was sowing wild flower gardens.

Next some individual in Royal Wootton Bassett, a small market town in Wiltshire, noticed that the plant had appeared in a garden created by the Brownies in the local park. He, having ‘googled’ it, raised the alarm, pronouncing the plant deadly. The Town Council then had the plant fenced off and eliminated, and it all became a matter for the national press as more and more sightings of the plant were made across the land.

The Telegraph’s headline positively screamed with indignation:

BBC spreads poisonous wild flowers across Britain

And from the Daily Mail we have:

The plant that can kill

In an eminently sensible press account Patrick Barkham of the Guardian  tried to bring  perspective and rationality to the panic:

This kerfuffle is a huge overreaction, given that many of our most popular garden plants are poisonous, including daffodils, laurel, ivy, yew, hellebores, lupins and particularly foxgloves. In fact, we have lived alongside poisonous plants for centuries, and many toxic species are particularly useful to medicine and are used in life-saving drugs. Even parts of plants we eat, such as potatoes, are toxic.

And the real story?

Corncockle, it seems, arrived in Britain back in the Iron Age over two thousand years ago. Its seeds were present in imports of rye grain from Europe, and it soon became established on the lighter soils of southern England. Thereafter, and into the 20th century the plant could be found among the nation’s arable and cereal crops. Then improved methods of seed cleaning were introduced, and together with extensive herbicide use, this led to the plant’s virtual extinction in the wild.

The plant does  have toxic properties. This is what  Monique Simmonds, Head of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group has to say:

This plant, like many we have in our gardens, does contain compounds that can be toxic if eaten in large amounts or eaten frequently over a period of time. The toxic compounds are in higher concentrations in the seeds, which are hard and very bitter. If eaten by a child, the child would most likely be sick or complain of a stomach ache. There is no evidence that eating a few seeds would cause acute toxicity.

In the past, problems associated with toxicity occurred in Europe when flour contaminated by corn cockle seeds was consumed in bread, and this contaminated bread was eaten over a period of time. The fact that there are very few reports about any form of toxicity to humans in other parts of Europe, where the plants are more common, indicates that although toxic, the plant is not considered a high risk.

Plants for the Future website explains further:

The seed and leaves are poisonous, containing saponin-like substances. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans.

What concerns me about this story is how easily people can be stirred into panic and demonizing tactics by manipulative and exaggerated press coverage. And over a flower that has absolutely no appetizing qualities whatsoever. Of course that doesn’t mean we should not be aware of the toxic qualities of plants. We definitely should be. People sadly do die from eating poisonous plants. But we don’t need to feel afraid of their very existence. The problem is when we lose connection with our natural environment, it leaves room for the kind of scare-mongering that seeks to make us feel like victims – and all, and only to sell newspapers. Obviously this goes for many more serious issues and situations too.

But then you never do know. Maybe the denizens of the plant kingdom have it in for us. Maybe they are just biding their time, thinking up cunning ways to lure us into eating their poisonous parts.

Quick! Surround the lupins and hellebores! Cut them off at the roots before we’re driven to eat them and DIE!

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 NB. For well-informed details about poisonous plants see The Poison Garden website.

 #7-daynaturephotochallenge Day 6

Wild orchids for Meg, meeting Marathon Man, then elderflower sorbet to finish

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In case you don’t know Meg she is presently in Warsaw, and if you want to get in lots of vicarious walking with fascinating things to see (and sometimes eat) please join her there. Anyway, this wild orchid is for her, and so is this walk, since it took me back to Windmill Hill (which is actually only across the road from my house), to search once more for signs of spring.

At least last Friday the sun was out, but we still have a continuous chilling wind. As I may have said elsewhere, it feels as if it has blown across an ice sheet before ending up in Shropshire. Brrr. So far it looks as though ‘clouts’ will not be cast in June, never mind in May. I, for one, am sticking to my many garment layers, which may or may not include a vest.

But back to the orchids. This one took some finding, but I had promised Meg I would look. She had read my mention of limestone-meadow plants in an earlier post about Windmill Hill, and wanted to see more. This lovely little plant, about a hand’s span tall, has the plain name of Common spotted orchid. It was growing at the foot of the hill, and I had seen the darkly spotted leaves a week or so before. They are definitely being slow to flower this year. They probably don’t like the wind either.

To find them I went the long way round, once more up the Linden Walk whose ancient limes are now bursting into juicy green clouds. Soon (I hope) they will be flowering, and then I can get high on the scent, as well as on the sight of them. (Herbalists use lime flowers as a sedative, quite a strong one, so don’t use the flowers without expert guidance). Good old Dr. William Penny Brookes, Much Wenlock’s erstwhile physician, and the man who planted this avenue over a hundred years ago, knew what he was at on the life-enhancing front. Bravo Dr. Brookes.

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Once out of the Linden Field and onto the hill, I’m taking the low path around the bottom when along comes octogenarian, Jimmy Moore, our local marathon man. He’s out on his morning run – an example to us all. He’s raised over £30,000 for charity. Seeing him approach in his buttercup yellow shirt is enough to lift the spirits sky-high. Keep on running, Jimmy.

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As he passes me, he still has breath to crack a joke, and to say my photo of him will doubltless be worth a fortune. He speeds away, and I meander on, peering into the meadow grass.

The cowslips are over, but there are low growing clumps of Common bird’s foot trefoil, Lotus  corniculatus if I am not mistaken in my identification from the classic Keble Martin work on British flora. As you can see from its pea-like flowers, it belongs to the legume family.

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Up the hill to the windmill and there are carpets of buttercups, and a little family pretending the windmill is a castle. I like overhearing their interpretation of these remains. I shall think of them differently from now on:

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The search for orchids next takes me along the hedge line where the open meadow becomes woodland. And here I find the first elderflowers of the year. I love their creamy colours, and they make the most delicious sorbet (recipe at the end).

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The flowers also make a fragrant tea that is anti-catarrhal, and when mixed with peppermint is a good remedy for colds and flu.  The elder tree itself has magical connotations, and features in many traditions of indigenous peoples around the world, including North America’s First Nations’ tales. The dark purple berries are of course now used in a commonly available anti-viral that goes under various names that derive from its botanical name Sambucus. The berries’ efficacy was trialled some years ago by Israeli scientists, if I remember rightly, and used to treat HIV- patients. They are thus, not by any means, ‘a quack cure’.

Into the wood, and the flowers of my earlier spring walk (which you can find HERE) the arum lilies, violets and wild garlic, are over and, beyond a few tiny wild strawberry flowers, there’s not much to be seen until I reach the roadside verge. First the Oxeye daisies…

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And then the orchids, although so far only a handful are in flower. Here’s what they look like before they bloom, along with a glimpse of a wild strawberry flower at 3 o’clock:

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And now as promised a recipe:

 

Elderflower Sorbet

8oz /1 cup/ 250 gm  fair trade unbleached granulated sugar

1 pint/0.5 litre  water

2 lemons

2/3 big heads of elderflowers

 

First pick the elderflowers  when they are freshly open , and on a dry day. Shake out the bugs but  do not wash. Keep the heads intact.

Pare the rind finely from the lemons, and squeeze out the juice.

Heat the water and sugar in a pan, starting gently until the sugar has dissolved,  add the lemon rind and then boil briskly for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Add lemon juice and elderflower heads. Leave to cool.

Strain  into a suitable container and freeze. After an hour or so,  when the sorbet is slushy and starting to set , you can give it a good mash with a fork to break up any crystals, and return  it to the freezer.

Alternatively, strain and churn in an ice cream maker.

This sorbet is delicious with  fresh strawberries.

 

And guess what, as I finish writing this post the wind has dropped, and it is suddenly HOT.  Just the weather for sorbet. Hurrah!

P.S. It didn’t last, so we had broad bean soup instead.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

 

Please do drop in on Jo’s Monday Walk and Meg’s Warsaw2015 if you are up for some more interesting excursions.

 

 

Seeking Spring ~ A Walk on Wenlock’s Wild Side

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I knew there was only a small window of opportunity. At nine thirty yesterday morning there was sunshine. Go out there at once, I told myself. The way the weather is these days, it might be the last you see of it. Carpe diem and all that.

So seized it I did, and it was certainly warmer to the touch than it has been for many days, and as you can see from the above photo, the ancient, and thus arboreally wise lime trees on the Linden Walk definitely think it is spring.  Drifts of green. Blissful.

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The dog walkers, too, were out en masse, owners chatting amiably on the Linden Field quite as if it were – well, spring. And despite Thursday’s appalling election results (Scots Nationalists excepted) and the return of a government that treats food banks as something to be proud of, and regards the nation as a resource for unbounded fracking, everyone I met seemed pretty cheerful. I will thus make no further mention of Tory attrition and spoil the moment.

The little green building you can see in the background behind the dog walkers is Much Wenlock’s Bowling Club HQ. It occupies a re-cycled railway carriage, a relic from our erstwhile lovely railway that once ran beside the Linden Walk and, until the 1960s, when the wretched Dr. Beeching axed thousands of miles of Britain’s railways, linked Much Wenlock to the outside world. But enough! Too much negativity already.

I headed off behind the Bowling Green to see what was growing on Windmill Hill. This quest was motivated by Meg at Snippetsandsnaps. In response to an earlier post here, she said she would like to see more of what happens on the old limestone pasture on which the windmill stands. I’d mentioned the wild orchids for one thing, so I thought  (given our erratic climate) I’d better go and check if they were flowering yet.

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They weren’t. Still too early. But the first thing I spotted were the cowslips, also known in Olde Shropshire as cowslops. The richly eggy coloured clumps were growing here and there. In the past they would have grown in yellow meadowsful all around Much Wenlock. I even remember them. When I was a child, my parents would make a point of driving out from Shrewsbury where we lived, simply to visit them. We’d have picnics amongst them.

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Once, too, cowslips were an important resource. In the days before modern farming methods seriously reduced their habitat, Wenlock’s school children would absent themselves from class at the National School in order to help with the annual gathering. The flowers were used to make herbal infusions to combat coughs and bronchitis, and in a town regularly doused in limestone dust from the quarries, bad chests would have been a common problem.

Doubtless, too, the town’s doctor, William Penny Brookes, (he who inspired the modern Olympics and planted the avenue of lime trees that we have just walked along), supported such an activity. He practised for the last fifty years of the 19th century and, as well as being a physician, he was also a highly knowledgeable herbalist, having trained both in medicine in London and herbalism at the renowned University of Padua.

And this was by no means quackery in action as some are wont to call herbal medicine. After all, from where does Big Pharma get so many of its notions if  not from trying to concoct synthetic (patentable) analogues of the deemed active chemicals teased from botanical compounds? All of which is to say, we lose our plant heritage at great cost to our future well being, to say nothing of the planet’s well being.

Besides which, flowers can mean fun and festivities. Cowslips were also used to make wine, and to strew the paths of spring brides. Mm. Just think of the air filled with their subtle, sunny scent in times when May was WARM.

And talking of warmth and nuptial pursuits, the next thing I came across while snapping cowslips, was a pair of mating molluscs, also known Cepaea nemoralis (Linnaeus, 1758), Britain’s commonest snails. Spring has certainly made this pair frisky, but I will spare you the more intimate shots, and leave you with their rather pleasing  Northamptonshire dialect name of pooties. Canoodling pooties then.

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Windmill Hill has more than its open, calcareous pasture. There are wooded flanks to the north and south and here, beneath the trees, I found violets and celandines. You can also see leaves of tiny wild strawberry plants (north of violets), germander speedwell (northeast of the celandine), and sprigs of Dog’s Mercury at the bottom of the shot.

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And coming up is Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis  perennis  or Boggard Posy) in full flush. This unremarkable looking plant is a member of the spurge family and very toxic, a fact reported in a letter from Shropshire in 1693 and published that year in the Philosophical Transactions of the  Royal Society, 203 VIII. The letter gave a detailed account of how one  Mrs. Matthews had gathered, boiled and then fried the herb with bacon for her family’s supper. Two hours later there was much purging and vomiting followed by heavy sleeping. Sadly one of her children died after remaining unconscious for several days. Mr. Matthews, however, reported going to work the next day three hours late, but feeling as if “his Chin had bin all Day in the Fire.” He had therefore been forced keep his hat at his side as he worked, filled with water, so he could keep dipping his chin in it.

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This next plant, Arum maculatum,  also has toxic characteristics. And it has a host of intriguing country names, some of them certainly alluding to what William Shakespeare referred to in Hamlet as ‘country matters’. For instance we have Lords-and-ladies, Ladies and Gentlemen (Shropshire version), Devils and Angels, Willy Lily, Cows and bulls, Red-hot-poker. Then there are the more curious Jack in the Pulpit, Cuckoo-pint, Fairy Lamps and Shiners. Its hooded sheaths (spathes) do glow in a faintly sinister, not to say priapic fashion in the shadiest spots. When done flowering, and presumably duly fertilised, the sheath collapses in a disturbing manner. In the autumn, though, there are spires of fire-red berries that light up gloomy days.

As to usage, in the times when people still wore lacy ruffs, the arum roots were crushed to make starch, although the processing apparently gave the launderers nasty blisters on their hands. It presumably did not do much for the ruff-wearers’ necks and faces either. So yes, it’s also good to remember the toxic properties of plants along with their more healthful aspects.

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And now for something seriously edible, if you like garlic and onions, that is. The Wild Garlic or Ransoms (Allium ursinum) grows in profusion at the foot of Windmill Hill, and especially along the banks of the old railway line. Those who don’t care for the smell will appreciate its vernacular names of Stink Bombs and Stinking Nanny.

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But you can certainly cook, or add to salads, both the leaves and the flowers, and their flavour is not as strong as the smell suggests. Excellent wilted in olive oil with pasta, for instance, or in soups – cream of potato and wild garlic say.

This wild garlic photo was taken while the sun was still shining, and as I said at the start, I knew it wasn’t going to last. Even if I hadn’t read the Friday forecast of rain by noon, followed by more rain all day, the green woodpeckers would have warned me. As I headed down the hill and along the old railway line their cries, known as yaffling, dogged my footsteps. It’s interesting how this member of the woodpecker family likes to alert everyone to a coming downpour. In Africa it is the red-chested cuckoo that performs reliable rainbird duty.

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Those yafflers were dead right too. As I turned for home, the sky was leaden, and the first drifts of rain were falling through the trees. Bye bye sun!  But then the old railway line is a good place to be whatever the weather. It is one of the town’s most popular footpaths, and it is hard to imagine that along it the Great Western steam engines once came rattling into Wenlock – the Olympic special bringing thousands of spectators to the annual Wenlock Olympian Games on the next-door Linden Field; goods trains from South Wales coming to collect limestone from Shadwell Quarry behind Windmill Hill. These days, then, there a trees as well as leaves on the line (NB for those living outside the UK,  ‘leaves on the line’ has long been the old British Rail’s excuse for non-arriving trains.)

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few more shots of botanical specimens discovered round Windmill Hill and along the railway line. Clearly the natural world is busy cracking on – full of vim and vigour – even as I shiver in the cold wind, and hang on to my much layered clothing. That’s good to know though – that nature will out, even if, as time goes on, it may not quite do what we expect.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Reference: Richard Mabey Flora Britannica

Forces of Nature

This post was also inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk at restlessjo, a great venue for walkers, whether in body, mind or spirit.

 

Desert Date ~ a real-life tree of life

 

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Badda, Othoo, Olokwai, Eroronyit, Mjunju, Kiwowa – are just some of the names that Kenya’s peoples use for this super-tree. Here, in the Maasai Mara, its  lone presence on the grasslands adds a sense of drama. Perhaps the spare silhouette springs some ancestral memory. For if we believe that humankind evolved in the Great Rift, then we must have an ages-old association with this tree, and not only as a source of food, but for firewood, the making of shelters and tools and, most especially, for medicine.

All the photos here were taken in the Mara, but the range of the Desert Date (Balanites aegyptiaca) extends across much of Africa, and into parts of the Middle East and India. But wherever it grows, its multiple uses have long been valued. Much like the baobab, it is a natural pharmacy. Every part of this unassuming tree has been scientifically shown to be packed with pharmacologically active substances.

Saponins are the key compounds. They protect the immune system, decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risk and cholesterol levels. They include diosgenin, from which hormones for the contraceptive pill may be produced. In short, the tree’s parts – roots, shoots, bark, fruits and seeds – have been shown in laboratory tests to have many healing and prophylactic properties: anti-fever, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, anti-cancer, antioxidant and liver-protecting. (For more scientific details see Bishnu P Chapagain 2006.)

And so it is that the practices of generations of traditional healers, from Africa to India, (and so often sneered at) may now be vindicated: all along they have been barking up precisely the right tree.

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For example, the Pokot pastoralists of northwest Kenya make a decoction of the root to treat malaria. They also boil the root in soup to ease oedema and stomach pains. For heartburn, the Akamba of central Kenya make an infusion of bark.  Throughout East Africa, the root is used to get rid of intestinal worms, and as a general purgative. The bark is used as a fish poison, and when mixed with fruit will kill freshwater snails and copepods that host the parasites that cause Bilharzia and Guinea Worm respectively, both scourges in many parts of Africa. In Sudan herbalists use Desert Date to treat jaundice, and in West Africa the fruit is mixed into porridge and eaten by nursing mothers. The seeds, when boiled, produce an excellent oil that is used in food preparation and to soothe headaches. Over 4,ooo years ago in Ancient Egypt this oil was a prized cosmetic. So much so, that the seeds were placed in tombs beside the dead as if to suggest that, in the afterlife, this was a tree that no one could be without.

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In fact Balanites thus once grew in profusion along the Nile Valley, and were possibly cultivated. But they are also well adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions, tolerating both sand and heavy clay. Their vertical roots reach down 7 metres, while the horizontal roots may extend 20 metres from the trunk. It can also cope with stock and wildlife grazing (the characteristic canopy is shaped by browsing giraffes), flood, and grassfire. Their boughs and long, thin spines photosynthesize even when the leaves drop off. This makes them a valuable famine food. No matter how dry, each year they can produce up to 10,000 date-like fruits. The flesh is bitter-sweet, but eaten by humans, their stock and most wild game. In fact elephants are one of the main propagators of this species, at least in Africa. While most other creatures spit out the stones, elephants swallow them, depositing them in due course in dollops of ready-made compost.

In Kenya the Pokot and Turkana also eat the tree’s young leaves and shoots, boiled, pounded and fried with fat. The Maasai eat the gum, and the Marakwet boil the seeds and eat them like beans. In other parts of Africa the small flowers are stirred into porridge, and the fruit is fermented to make alcoholic drinks.

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And then there is the wood. This is an excellent cooking fuel since it burns with little smoke. The wood is durable and used for house-building. It is also easily worked to make yokes, wooden spoons, pestles, mortars, handles, stools, combs. Resin from the tree stems is used to stick feathers on to arrow shafts and spear heads to shafts. The Turkana use it to repair cracks in tool handles. And the tree itself may be grown in farmsteads as a living fence that can be cropped for both human needs and livestock fodder. While it is protecting domestic animals and crops it is also fixing nitrogen in the soil.

And now you know why I called it a tree of life. It is ripe for development too, the kind of development that can only enhance existence on the planet. In fact one gasps at how much potential can subsist within a single tree species. AND THIS IS JUST ONE TREE. But doesn’t it show, and with glaring clarity, that instead of destroying the world’s wild places (and for mostly very pointless reasons), we need to protect and learn from them, and learn, too, from those indigenous peoples who still know them intimately and understand where the real treasure lies.

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 Copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

For my earlier post on the baobab:                                                                                                                                               

Anthology Baobab: African Story Tree

Jungle2Jungle and Bishnu P Chapagain 2006 for more about the Desert Date

Flickr Comments for more ‘D’ words