Archive for the ‘Indigenous Vegetables’ Category

May13

Camu Camu: A Little Fruit that Packs a Big Punch

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By Eleanor Fausold

Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) is a tiny fruit native to the Amazon region of South America that is rising in popularity, as both an element in local treats and a main component in dietary supplements. Although its high level of acidity once made it unpopular for consumption, the fruit is now valued for its exceptionally high vitamin C content and is, consequently, growing in demand in health-food stores around the world.

Camu-camu, a tiny, vitamin C-rich fruit native to the Amazon region of South America, is rising in popularity (Photo Credit: Youshi Guo)

Also known as camocamo in Peru and cacari in Brazil, among other names, the camu camu tree can grow up to 40 feet high. The species thrives in swamps along rivers and lakes such as the Rio Mazán near Iquitos, Peru, and in Amazonian Brazil and Venezuela. The base of the camu camu’s trunk is frequently underwater, and the tree’s lower branches are often submerged for long periods during the rainy season.

Despite its frequent submersion, the camu camu tree produces fragrant flowers with tiny white petals and tiny fruits that turn from yellow to a maroon or purple-black color as they ripen. In the right growing conditions, a single tree can produce as many as 1,000 fruits per year, which are harvested by boat.

Known for its extremely high vitamin C content (half-ripe fruits have been found to contain 1,950 to 2,700 milligrams per 100 grams of edible fruit, an amount greater than that found in 50 oranges), the camu camu fruit has a very acidic taste. In fact, until fairly recently, the fruit was used almost exclusively as fish bait and the tree, when dead, was used as a source of firewood.

(more…)

Jan30

Sea Buckthorn: A Shrub That’s Good for People and the Environment

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Sea buckthorn, also known as Siberian pineapple, sea berry, sandthorn, or swallowthorn, is a deciduous shrub that grows natively across northern Eurasia. As its name suggests, sea buckthorn’s branches are dense, stiff, and thorny, but its berries can provide nutrition for both people and wildlife.

Sea buckthorn berries offer benefits to both human and environmental health. (Photo credit: www.seabuckthornberries.info)

Sea buckthorn is valued in parts of Europe and Asia for its nutritional and medicinal properties. Its bright orange berries are high in carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamins A, C, E, and K; in fact, the concentration of vitamin C in sea buckthorn is higher than in strawberries, kiwis, oranges, tomatoes, and carrots. The berries have a fruity yet sour flavor and are often used in juices, jams, sauces, and liqueurs. The silver-gray leaves yield a tea rich in antioxidants, and the plants are even high in essential fatty acids.

While sea buckthorn is currently used medicinally in Russia and China, it has only recently attracted the attention of researchers across the world. Sea buckthorn oil, which can be extracted from seeds, is said to be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and adaptogenic (helping the body develop resistance to stressors). It is used as a treatment for mucositis, ulcers, radiation damage, burns, and scalds, as well as to relieve pain and promote tissue regeneration. While clinical studies are still needed to fully understand its medicinal benefits, a study by Hamdard University in India shows that sea buckthorn may help protect against diabetes.

Beyond its human health benefits, sea buckthorn also boosts the health of the environment in which it grows. Because its extensive root system can bind together even sandy soils, sea buckthorn prevents water and wind erosion on slopes and in open areas. It is fairly drought and frost resistant, tolerates soil salinity and low temperatures, and can withstand a range of soil pH levels. Sea buckthorn also adds nitrogen to the soil through nitrogen fixation, so it can grow in marginal soils and help restore them.

Sea buckthorn provides food and shelter for a variety of animals. In the Loess Plateau of northern China, 51 species of birds are entirely dependent on the shrub for food.

Despite the relative ease of cultivation, sea buckthorn is difficult to harvest, and machines to efficiently collect the fresh berries are still being developed. Harvesting berries by hand is time consuming (some estimate 600 person-hours per acre, compared to the 120 person-hours per acre required for tomatoes). Until harvesting machines become readily available, large-scale cultivation of sea buckthorn may not be viable.

Given the many potential benefits offered by sea buckthorn, groups such as the European Commission’s EAN-Seabuck network have prioritized the development of economical and sustainable production methods for this plant. In the meantime, sea buckthorn retains its ability to improve environmental and human health on a smaller scale.

Have you ever tried sea buckthorn berries or a product made with them? Let us know in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change. Practices such as using animal manure rather than artificial fertilizer, planting trees on farms to reduce soil erosion and sequester carbon, and growing food in cities all hold huge potential for reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global agricultural sector could potentially reduce and remove 80 to 88 percent of the carbon dioxide that it currently emits. By adopting more-sustainable approaches, small-scale agriculture in developing countries has the potential to contribute 70 percent of agriculture’s global mitigation of climate change. And many of these innovations have the potential to be replicated, adapted, and scaled up for application on larger farms, helping to improve water availability, increase diversity, and improve soil quality, as well as mitigate climate change. (more…)

Nov22

This Thanksgiving, Celebrate Traditional Food Production

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Nourishing the Planet wishes you a happy Thanksgiving!

Check out this op-ed published in Arizona’s Sierra Vista Herald by Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg and research intern Hong Gao. The article discusses the importance of supporting traditional Indigenous food production and culture, on Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Click here to read the full article.

Oct15

Pewa: Small Fruits that Pack a Huge Punch

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By Molly Redfield

The pewa (Bactris gasipaes or peach palm in English), while just about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, is a nutrient-dense fruit that provides more protein than an avocado, which contains approximately 3 grams of protein. Growing in South and Central America on palm trees that reach heights of over 20 meters, pewa is known as the “noble Panamanian fruit.” This nickname refers to the fact that 92 percent of its seeds, pulp, and skin are usable.

Pewa is an important staple food that grows across Central and South America.
(Photo credit: Washington & Jefferson College)

With a nutrient value similar to a hen’s egg, minus the cholesterol, pewa is an important food source for many birds, notably macaws, parrots, and parakeets. Its high fiber, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, ascorbic acid, and calcium content have also made it an important staple food for many Indigenous Peoples. For centuries, Indigenous groups have used pewa in jellies, compotes, flours and edible oils. Preparation of this fruit includes boiling, often in salted water, to remove the trypsin enzymes under its skin that would block protein digestion. After stewing, the pewa fruit is peeled and flavored with honey or salt, dried, smoked, or cooked into other foods.

Indigenous communities in Central and South America have also developed preservation methods for keeping this perishable fruit available during the offseason. After cooking the pulp, they would mash it and then store it underground in leaves. A month later, the pewa would be fit to consume and Indigenous communities could store them for roughly one year. Another way Indigenous groups have stored pewa is through creating a fermented alcoholic beverage with the fruit. Among various Indigenous Amazonian groups, this drink, called chica, is still used in various religious ceremonies and rituals.

In Costa Rica, stores sell whole pewa fruits, pewa flour, and pewa soups, and the fruit is also available in infant formula. Pewa’s popularity is currently increasing on global markets because it is a gluten free substitute for wheat flour. And according to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (APGRI), expansion of the fruit’s commercial success could lead to economic development for farming communities across South and Central America.

Without question, this small, inconspicuous fruit surely packs a huge punch.

For more information on pewa click here.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep17

Papalo: Smells like a skunk, but adds unique flavor

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By Catherine Ward

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale