Renosterveld in dire straits

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Veldkool

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Trachyandra ciliata is used as a vegetable. The flowering stalks are harvested and can be steamed or boiled in much the same way as asparagus, or cooked in a stew. Its use as a vegetable seems only to have been first recorded as recently as 1915 by Rudolph Marloth.

It’s flowering now and I have found some good patches of it growing.  Delicious when sauteed with garlic.

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Derivation of name and historical aspects

The name Trachyandra is derived from the Greek words, trachy, meaning rough, and andro, meaning male, and refers to the scabrid (hairy) filaments of the stamens. There are ± 55 species that mainly occur in southern Africa, particularly the Western Cape, but some species extend into tropical Africa as far as Somalia. Trachyandra ciliata (ciliatus means finely hairy) is most similar to T. arenicola and T. falcata in the congested inflorescence. It was described by Linnaeus’ son from a specimen collected by Carl Thunberg in the 1770s during his expeditions in the Cape.

Description
Trachyandra ciliata is an upright to sprawling herbaceous perennial up to 0.5 m heigh. Roots are wiry, often swollen and hairy. Leaves are linear, up to 100 cm x 4 cm, succulent, hairless or sometimes with hairs along the margins. Flowers are arranged into congested racemes, each lasting only a single day, tepals are white with a pink midrib and paired yellow spots near the base, usually curved backwards. There are 6 stamens with minutely hairy (scabrid) filaments. The capsule is round or cylindrical, hairless, usually recurved. Seeds are greyish black, sometimes with reddish brown streaking, and the surface has wart-like protuberances.

New species of fynbos found

A new rare species of Fynbos has been discovered near Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, the Robberg Coastal Corridor Landowners’ Association announced on Tuesday.

It was found on a 16km strip of land between Robberg and Harkerville, association chairman Chris von Christierson said.

The new plant, Psoralea vanberkela, with a unique purple and white flower, would be on display for the first time this week at the annual Cape Floral Kingdom Expo in Bredasdorp, in the Overberg region of the Western Cape.

“This rare and previously undescribed species of the family Fabaceae is an exciting find and further entrenches the Robberg Coastal Corridor as home to several uncommon and unique plant species,” Von Christierson said.

The plant was discovered by Nicky van Berkel, a member of Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (Crew), which is a project of the SA National Biodiversity Institute.

The discovery was confirmed by UK-based Professor Charles Stirton, an honorary research associate at the University of Cape Town’s botany department, who visited the site to study the plant.

Von Christierson, who viewed the plant in the veld on Sunday, said it had begun to flower, and was expected to be in full bloom when displayed at the expo from Thursday.

The expo would focus on conservation, cultivation, trade, and lifestyle options with wildflowers from the Cape Floral Kingdom where some 1000 botanical species would be on display.

The discovery of a new Fynbos species was significant because of the threat of extinction.

“Some 1700 species of plants in the Western Cape are currently threatened with extinction,” said Gavin Maneveldt of the department of biodiversity and conservation biology at the University of the Western Cape and Cape Nature in a preface to the expo.

“This equates to 68 percent of South Africa’s threatened plants. Of the known plant extinctions from South Africa, more than half… have been from the Western Cape.”

Von Christierson said his association had been campaigning to have the area where the Psoralea vanberkela grew declared a protected environment.

Plantain

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Plantain is a useful herb that is often considered a weed by most people.
The leaves are actually edible and somewhat similar to spinach, though slightly more bitter. They can be used in salads or other culinary uses.
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Nutritional attributes :

Ribwort plantain has good nutritive value with high vitamin and mineral content (Cu, Ca, Se) (Kostuch et al., 1997; Kozowski et al., 1996; Wilman et al., 1997; Moorhead et al., 2002; Bilbao et al., 2007). It is known to contain compounds such as anti-oxidatives and anti-inflammatories (Al-Mamun et al., 2007).
All plantain varieties are high in protein
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, boron, calcium, iron, molybdenum, potassium and sulphur.
The narrow-leaf plantain is more concentrated so best to use just one or two leaves in your smoothies. Leaves of the broad-leaved and buck’s horn plantains are less concentrated and can be used finely chopped up in salads, cultured with vegetables as well as in your smoothies.

Plantain Soup Recipe :

Soak 1 cup of yellow or green split peas overnight
Gather a large handful of plantain leaves & chop up finely across the ribs

Stir fry a large onion, 3 garlic cloves and 1 tsp of ginger, 1/4 tsp cumin & 1 tsp turmeric in some nice olive or coconut oil
To this mix add 1 Liter of filtered water. Bring to the boil and let it simmer an hour or until the peas are soft.
Add tamari sauce, a dash of your own mineral rich vinegar and salt to taste. Garnish with you favourite herb.

Herbal Uses:

The L. Plantago family contains 265 known species.
These plants contain compounds which:

reduce swelling (astringent)
reduces pain and itching (analgesic)
are healing for mucous membranes (demulcent) -think canker sores
protect and soothe the skin (emollient)
expel phlegm (expectorants)
helps the bladder/kidneys remove excess fluids (diuretic)
antibacterials
antiviral
eliminates/destroys toxins (detoxicant)- think poison ivy, bee stings, venom, etc.

The leaves can also be made into a tea or tincture, and this is said to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers when taking internally.

Externally, Plantain has been used for insect and snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts. I use it in making my Homemade Healing Salve, which we use as a natural antibiotic ointment on cuts and bruises.

The natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of plantain leaf make it great for healing wounds, and for itching or pain associated with skin problems. A tea made from Plantain leaf can be sprayed on mosquito bites to ease the itch.

Plantain has been used as a panacea in some Native American cultures and with some very good reasons. Many of its active constituents show antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, as well as being anti-inflammatory and antitoxic. The leaves, shredded or chewed, are a traditional treatment for insect and animal bites and the antibacterial action helps prevent infection and the anti-inflammatory helps to relieve pain, burning, and itching. There is some investigation ongoing to study its affects on lowering blood sugar.

A tea from the leaves is used as a highly effective cough medicine.

There is unconfirmed information that a plantain infusion, taken internally, can help protect the body from the effects of chemotherapy and that a plantain infusion can improve blood sugar. While taking plantain in these situations would generally be considered safe, one should still check with an attending physician before doing so.

Plantain History:

Plantain has been used since ancient times for snake bites, mad dog bites, and a variety of internal diseases.   It was brought to America by colonists, and they spread quickly throughout the New World.  Native Americans quickly discovered the usefulness of the plantain herb, and quickly adapted it to new uses with their already broad knowledge of herbal medicine. (1)

History records a black slave being granted a handsome reward and his freedom by the colonial assembly of South Carolina in return for teaching them how to treat rattlesnake bites with plantain.  Shakespeare even mentions plantain in Romeo and Juliet as being good for wounds.

Precautions:

Plantain is good for injuries because of its coagulating properties, but those with blood disorders or prone to blood clots should not use Plantain internally. If harvesting it yourself, make sure to get from an area that has not been sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides and make sure that you have correctly identified the plant before consuming.
Plantain is great for making blood clot, but should not be used by those who are taking blood thinners or are prone to blood clots.

The Num Num Plum

Natal Plum – Num Num

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Carissa macrocarpa, (Apocynaceae)
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If, until this minute, you believed that this ruby red fruit – fairly common in gardens and hedges throughout South Africa – was deadly poisonous, you wouldn’t be alone. The Natal Plum, or ‘num num’, has this unfortunate reputation for a reason. It’s a member of the Apocynaceae family, greek for ‘keep away from the dog’, and named for, well, poisoning many dogs. It’s relatives are deadly (like the oleander), and in fact, so is most of the num num bush. EXCEPT for it’s beautiful, sweet, fleshy fruit. Lucky us. To get you more familiar with this foraging / veldkos find, here are some brief facts:

In the garden: ornamental tough waterwise shrub; excellent  garden subject;  glossy green leaves, starry white sweetly scented flowers, red berries; effective thorny security hedge, can be kept clipped low or high; good for topiary; will grow to 3m high; several other varieties available, low growing, smaller fruiting.

As a food: fruit can be eaten fresh or cooked; good for jam, jelly, marmalade or cordial for drinking or use in dressings, sauces or stir-fries; delicious cooked in deserts combined with other fruit like quince or pear where they add beautiful ruby red colour; excellent added to chutney, or baked into brownies or muffins

For your health: It is rich in Vitamin C (much higher than citrus), calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Where to find it: currently not commercially grown for food, available in retail nurseries for ornamental use, can be foraged on our city pavements if you keep your eyes open.

When cooking with it:  the fruit exudes a white sticky latex on slicing, and is high in pectin. This makes it good to add to low pectin fruit like strawberries when making jam, to help it set. The seeds are soft, and don’t need removing.

Cooking ideas:

Cook as a dessert with pears, add red wine and water, sweetening and whole spices and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pears and reduce the liquid to a thicker syrup before serving with yogurt or cream.

To bake with the fruit, slice and cook it first, then allow it to dry out a little before incorporating into recipes.

Use the bright pink juice left from cooking to make jelly, cordial or juice reduction for use in dressings, sauces, or to deglaze a pan after cooking pork or game.

As it is fairly tart in flavour, it makes a good addition to chutneys or savoury onion marmalade.

It also works well to flavour and colour alcohol in making liqueur.

Paleofantasy : Stone Age delusions

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An evolutionary biologist explains why everything you think you know about cavemen (and their diet) is wrong, by Laura Miller.

Four years ago, biology professor Marlene Zuk was attending a conference on evolution and diseases of modern environments. She sat in on a presentation by Loren Cordain, author of “The Paleo Diet” and a leading guru of the current craze for emulating the lifestyles of our Stone-Age ancestors. Cordain pronounced several foods (bread, rice, potatoes) to be the cause of a fatal condition in people carrying certain genes. Intrigued, Zuk stood up and asked Cordain why this genetic inability to digest so many common foods had persisted. “Surely it would have been selected out of the population,” she suggested.

Cordain, who has a Ph.D in exercise physiology, assured Zuk that human beings had not had time to adapt to foods that only became staples with the advent of agriculture. “It’s only been ten thousand years,” he explained. Zuk’s response: “Plenty of time.” He looked at her blankly, and she repeated: “Plenty of time.” Zuk goes on to write, “we never resolved our disagreement.”

That’s not, strictly speaking, true. Consider “Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live,” a conclusive refutation of Cordain’s quixotic, if widespread, view of human evolution, along with many other misconceptions. Zuk — who has a puckish humor (she describes one puffy-lipped Nicaraguan fish as “the Angelina Jolie of cichlids”) and a history of studying evolution, ecology and behavior — found herself bemused by how the object of her research has been portrayed in various media and subcultures. She cruised the New York Times’ health blog and sites like cavemanforum.com, collecting half-baked interpretations of evolutionary “facts” and eccentric theories ranging from the repudiation of eyeglasses to the belief that carbs can make one’s nose “more round.”

Although she writes, “I would not dream of denying the evolutionary heritage present in our bodies,” Zuk briskly dismisses as simply “wrong” many common notions about that heritage. These errors fall into two large categories: misunderstandings about how evolution works and unfounded assumptions about how paleolithic humans lived. The first area is her speciality, and “Paleofantasy” offers a lively, lucid illustration of the intricacies of this all-important natural process. When it comes to the latter category, the anthropological aspect of the problem, Zuk treads more gingerly. Not only is this not her own field, but, as she observes, it is “ground often marked by acrimony and rancor” among the specialists themselves.

It is striking how fixated on the alleged behavior of our hunting-and-foraging forbearers some educated inhabitants of the developed world have become. Among the most obsessed are those who insist, as Zuk summarizes, that “our bodies and minds evolved under a particular set of circumstances, and in changing those circumstances without allowing our bodies time to evolve in response, we have wreaked the havoc that is modern life.” Not only would we be happier and healthier if we lived like “cavemen,” this philosophy dictates, but “we are good at things we had to do back in the Pleistocene … and bad at things we didn’t.”

The most persuasive argument Zuk marshals against such views has to do with the potential for relatively rapid evolution, major changes that can appear over a time as short as, or even shorter than, the 10,000 years Cordain scoffed at. There are plenty of examples of this in humans and other species. In one astonishing case, a type of cricket Zuk studied, when transplanted from its original habitat to Hawaii, became almost entirely silent in the course of a mere five years. (A parasitical fly used the insects’ sounds to locate hosts.) This was all the more remarkable because audible leg-rubbing was the crickets’ main way of attracting mates, literally the raison d’etre of male crickets. The Hawaiian crickets constitute “one of the fastest cases of evolution in the wild, taking not hundreds or thousands of generations, but a mere handful,” Zuk writes. Adjusted to human years, that amounts to “only a few centuries.”

There are human examples, as well, such as “lactase persistence” (the ability in adults to digest the sugar in cow’s milk), a trait possessed by about 35 percent of the world’s population — and growing, since the gene determining it is dominant. Geneticists estimate that this ability emerged anywhere from 2200 to 20,000 years ago, but since the habit of drinking cow’s milk presumably arose after cattle were domesticated around 7000 years ago, the more recent dates are the most likely. In a similar, if nondietary, example, “Blue eyes were virtually unknown as little as 6000 to 10,000 years ago,” while now they are quite common. A lot can change in 10,000 years.

Zuk detects an unspoken, barely formed assumption that humanity essentially stopped evolving in the Stone Age and that our bodies are “stuck” in a state that was perfectly adapted to survive in the paleolithic environment. Sometimes you hear that the intervention of “culture” has halted the process of natural selection. This, “Paleofantasy” points out, flies in the face of facts. Living things are always and continuously in the process of adapting to the changing conditions of their environment, and the emergence of lactase persistence indicates that culture (in this case, the practice of keeping livestock for meat and hides) simply becomes another one of those conditions.

For this reason, generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”

Social and family relationships, too, vary greatly. But to draw conclusions about ancestral hunter-gatherers by examining diverse forager communities existing now, as some anthropologists do, is dubious in itself. Tribal people, too, have had tens of thousands of years to evolve. And unlike paleolithic hunter-gatherers, they live on the margins of developed societies and are almost always affected by them in some way.

Furthermore, the fossil record of the Stone Age is so small and necessarily incomplete that its ability to tell us about paleolithic society is severely limited. Consider this: For all we know, the first tools were not stone implements but woven slings designed to allow a mother to carry an infant while foraging; it’s just that stone happens to survive longer than fibers.

Why are we so intent on establishing how paleolithic people ate, exercised, coupled up and raised their kids? That’s a question Zuk considers only in passing, but she hits the nail pretty solidly on the head: “We have a regrettable tendency to see what we want to see and rationalize what we already want to do. That often means that if we can think of a way in which a behavior, whether it is eating junk food or having an affair, might have been beneficial in an ancestral environment, we feel vindicated, or at least justified.” Even if we wanted to live like cavemen, Zuk points out (noting that the desire to do so somehow never seems to extend to moving into mud huts), we couldn’t. In reality, we don’t have their bodies, and don’t live in their world. Even the animals and plants we eat have changed beyond recognition from their paleolithic ancestors. It turns out we’re stuck being us.