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.

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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 subsp. Macrocephalum) is still a relatively obscure plant to many Americans; however it is slowly gaining popularity in New York kitchens as immigrant farmers increasingly grow the herb and sell it in markets. Papalo is an ancient plant that is found throughout Mexico, the American Southwest and other South American countries. The stems and leaves of papalo were used as a condiment in Mexico before the colonization of the Spanish in the 16th century. Today, papalo is so popular in the state of Puebla, Mexico that people keep a bouquet of the herb on tables so it can be added fresh to dishes as desired. The name papalo is derived from the Nahuatl language and means butterfly, which could be attributed to the butterfly-shaped leaves of the herb.

People living in Mexico, Central, and South America commonly use papalo as medicine for high blood pressure and stomach disorders (Photo credit: Chef Jacques Gautier)

Papalo has a very unique flavor that has been described as tasting like a mixture of cilantro, argula and mint. And some people claim that the herb smells like laundry detergent or soap. The leaves of the plant have oil glands that produce chemicals used to deter insects, which is the reason behind the very distinct smell and flavor of papalo. The plant is often referred to as mampuitu in Spanish, which translates to skunk in honor of its pungent aroma.

The herb is usually eaten raw as a garnish in many central Mexican dishes and is particularly favored on cemitas (a type of Mexican sandwich). Papalo is also believed to have medicinal benefits according to some cultures. People living in Mexico, Central and South America commonly use papalo as medicine for high blood pressure and stomach disorders. In Bolivia, the Chacobo Indians utilized the herb on infected injuries to reduce swelling. The Quechua people consume papalo daily as they believe it reduces high blood pressure and treats liver problems. While Papalo is an interesting herb that is steadily gaining popularity in American cuisine due to its unusual flavor, it remains an important part of people’s daily diets in countries such as Mexico and Bolivia because of its medicinal properties.

Catherine Ward 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.

   

Sep10

Fonio: Feeding the Future with an Ancient Crop

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By Jameson Spivack

For many, crabgrass is a nuisance and a pest, an unwanted weed in gardens and lawns. However, its relative, fonio, is a delicacy in Africa with significant nutritional, agricultural, and economic benefits. Grown primarily in Western Africa, it is considered the oldest cereal in the region.

Fonio is a delicacy in Africa and has significant nutritional, agricultural, and economic benefits (Photo Credit: Fonio Bio)

Until recently, fonio was considered by many crop breeders and agronomists to be an inferior grain due to its small seed size. People are now discovering, however, the potential it has to provide nutrition to those in Africa who struggle to obtain proper nutrients.

Fonio can be grown in soils that are sandy, acidic, or low in nutrients. This flexibility makes it suitable for growing in regions that typically cannot support agriculture. It is also highly nutritious, providing the body with amino acids, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and other important minerals. Because fonio doesn’t contain any glutenin or gliadin proteins, which comprise gluten, those with gluten intolerance may consume the crop. And it is a tasty cereal with a variety of options for preparation.

In terms of growing the crop, there are added benefits. The crop comes in different landraces, or traditional breeds, with varying growing times. Since some breeds take a long time to grow and others a short time, farmers can ensure a continuous supply of produce, even in times of change or unreliable growing conditions. Also, the small size prevents insects from developing inside the grain, which makes it easier to store in facilities with conditions that are not optimal.

This small size does pose some challenges, however, for producing fonio on a large scale. Its size makes post-harvest processing more difficult, with de-husking and cleaning requiring large amounts of time and effort. According to the World Bank’s Olivier Durand, however, “New techniques will improve the productivity while reducing the work hardship for women.” Developing threshing and dehulling techniques would decrease the amount of labor needed to produce fonio, allowing the crop to be grown in higher quantities.

With its high nutritional content and flexible growing capacity, fonio has the potential to provide many in Africa with the nutrients needed to remain healthy.

Jameson Spivack is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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

Aug27

The Case for Cassava: A Potential Nutritional and Economic Powerhouse

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By Caitlin Aylward

After rice and corn, cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Although the cassava plant is a lesser-known crop, its rich nutritional content and powerful economic potential has many development specialists interested in the plant.

Cassava is the third most important calorie source for people living in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Nutritionally, the cassava plant is comparable to a potato, but has a higher fiber and protein content. The cassava plant is primarily harvested for its tuberous root, which is a major source of carbohydrates for many people in the developing world, and contains vital nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. Additionally, the leaves of the cassava plant are excellent sources of vitamins, protein, and lysine, an essential amino acid.

The cassava plant grows well in tropical climates with high humidity, and is also a uniquely drought resistant crop that thrives in nutrient-poor soils. Consequently, the cassava plant does not require extra fertilizer or additional inputs, making it an ideal crop for poor farmers.

Although cassava is tolerant to drought and poor soil conditions, it is not well suited to modern farming techniques. Unlike most plants that naturally reproduce on their own, famers can only breed the cassava plant by replanting stem cuttings from parent plants (also known as vegetative reproduction), which is labor-intensive and costly. In addition, the cassava root is bulky and highly perishable, making it difficult to manage. Because of these challenges, researchers have spent less time developing the cassava plant as compared to rice, corn, and wheat.

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Aug20

Aguaje: the Amazon’s New Superfruit Secret Is Out

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By Carly Chaapel

Researchers have stumbled upon yet another reason to save the Amazon rainforest. The aguaje fruit is just another nutrient-rich, pulpy gem with the potential to gain as much popularity as the now familiar acai berry or guarana extract. Local people living within the Peruvian Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve have cultivated this fruit, and a variety of others, as part of their culture. At the local market in the city of Iquitos, this small, scaly fruit generates US$4.6 million every year. But as global trends continue to rise in favor of unique, healthful food choices, the aguaje holds the capability to generate income for local growers and amp up Vitamin A intake for consumers around the world.

Aguaje is peeled and juiced for sale at the market. (Photo credit: Juan Forero, The Washington Post)

The aguaje fruit ripens on a palm tree, and when it is ready to eat, one must peel back the maroon scales before munching on the crisp yellow flesh inside. Tasters have compared the aguaje fruit to a carrot, although it boasts three times the amount of Vitamin A than this familiar orange root vegetable. Aguaje oil is also high in beta-carotene, oleic acid (also found in olive oil), and essential fatty acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own. Amazingly, the oil also contains a naturally-occurring SPF that can filter ultraviolet rays and treat burns when applied topically.

University of Florida geographer and Professor Nigel Smith has devoted much of his career to research in the Amazon. In addition to its health benefits and pleasing taste, he believes that cultivation of the aguaje fruit by small farmers may play a part in the survival of a healthy rainforest ecosystem. Commercial farmers in the Amazon are often demonized for their large clear-cuts of monocropped staples such as coffee, soy, and rubber. However, small-scale farmers can actually play a positive role in maintaining a biologically diverse landscape that benefits both the natural ecosystem and the people living within it.

By encouraging a variety of edible plants to grow within the forest, these small-scale farmers are engaging in a form of agroforestry that uses the complex forest ecosystem as a model for highly productive food gardens. As one more element of a forest garden that flourishes in vertical layers of plant diversity, the aquaje provides another form of sustenance, should other crops fail due to pest damage, a disease outbreak, or severe weather.

Will the aguaje fruit become the next trend in exotic health food? It is already popular among local consumers, and value can be easily added by processing the fruit into juice, jam, or ice cream. If harvested sustainably, this humble tropical plant could boost the health of both the Amazon rainforest and a planet of 7 billion.

(more…)

Aug18

Saturday Series: An Interview with Diane Ragone

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By Carly Chaapel

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Name: Diane Ragone

Location/Affiliation: The Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG)

Dr. Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute
(Photo credit: Julia Flynn Siler)

Bio: Dr. Diane Ragone is the Director of the Breadfruit Institute, headquartered on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The institute promotes the conservation and use of breadfruit, a tropical starchy tree fruit, for both reforestation and food.

What sparked your interest in breadfruit cultivation in the first place?

I’ve been interested in breadfruit since I began my graduate work in 1983. I was mainly interested in traditional fruit trees in the Pacific Islands. Then, I wrote a term paper on breadfruit, and I became really interested in its importance to plant diversity and food security. I set out to collect samples of each variety and study them from a conservation perspective. I lived in Samoa for a year, which is a center for breadfruit diversity. From there, I started traveling and eventually collected breadfruit varieties from over 50 tropical islands.

We are a private nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Hawaii. We have four gardens across the Hawaiian Islands and one in southern Florida. For me, the garden is the ideal place to be, as breadfruit is an important collection focus. I connected with NTBG for a partnership as a graduate student because I could help the garden accomplish their mission to discover, research, conserve, and educate people about tropical plants with my own work. I have worked there since 1989 in various programs, and in 2003, the garden created the Breadfruit Institute. Our main breadfruit collection is on Maui, and all the gardens are open to visitors for self-guided tours.

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