Hola from Colombia,
It’s been a profound experience so far here. Once we arrived at our first stop (yogeshram ashram), I was excited to begin discovering which plants were around us. As with most places I’ve been, all I had to do was look exactly where I was to see an incredible biodiversity of plants. In just 2 days of being here I have discovered over 30 familiar plants. From palms to many fruit trees right on the property that we are staying.
As far as palms, I found a tree on premise which fruits reminded me of the long racemes of acaii; the now famous jungle berry full of antioxidants ( and marketing) – to test this berry I carefully broke it open, smelled it, then touched it slightly on my tongue to get the signature of the plant. It instantly began to burn in a way that was familiar; the burn of calcium oxalate.
This is the substance that lichens secrete to digest rocks and is also found in North American plants such as the jack in the pulpit plant (Arisaema triphyllum). It is also related to the substance in the kidneys that forms as kidney stones (oxalic acid). After some facebooking and googling I was able to find that it was actually a fishtail palm – Genus: Caryota; C. mitis with it’s clumping leaf stems. Also, closely related is C. urens which apparently has individual stems. The fruit/seeds of all fishtails have oxalic acid in them.
From Green Deanes website:
This was one so-called toxic plant that was true. However, that did not keep natives from using this palm. The primary product of the genus is a sugar substitute called kitul honey or jaggery. The juice from the flowers is boiled in a large wide-mouth vessel making golden syrup. The fruits have raphides of calcium oxalate and are not eaten. The seed kernel is edible, however.”
Also about jaggery/panela:
“Jaggery/ Panela: a concentrated product of date, cane juice, or palm sap (see palm sugar) without separation of the molasses and crystals, and can vary from golden brown to dark brown in color. derived from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice. considered Non-centrifugal cane sugars. Non-centrifugal cane sugar (NCS) is the technical name given to traditional raw sugar obtained by evaporating water from sugarcane juice.”
And an article about the taste phenomenon of calcium oxalate :
Upon researching this plant, and knowing it was a palm, this led me to realize that all palms (minus sago which is a cycad) are in the same Family; Arecaceae – this also includes acaii, and coconut, dates as well as Palm fruits. It’s incredible to realize that Palms exist in one form or another all over the world. It’s also amazing to track this phenomenon biologically. All of these plants presumably have a common ancestor, and yet they are spread all throughout the world. Some being the most sweet and tasty sugary fruits of the world (dates coconuts etc) and some such as these fishtail palms have an immense self-protecting agent. It’s also interesting to meditate on the fact that this would enable some animals to spread the sweet seeds, and enable the other oxalic containing plant to deter predation, unless one animal was able to evolve past the oxalate. Always ask the question, how did this happen? If you get into the right state perhaps nature will reveal it to you.
Much more to come soon,
Nov 30, 2014