Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Leaf Thievery

My dad used to have a term for my "stealing" other people's rubbish. Manyak, as a verb. Minamanyak mo na naman yung mga paso na basura ng kapitbahay (translating roughly into: You're maniacking the pots that the neighbors threw away). Routinely going through empty lots for salvageable materials is a habit leftover from childhood, when I had half a bookshelf devoted to "garbage".

Of course, it is most fun to steal leaves that people do not want. I use them to compensate for my lack of having a perpetually shedding forest in the yard.

My bike can carry leaves both in the basket and at the back, where a steel contraption kind of holds stuff down.

But I'm also learning how to drive now, in case of emergencies. It will probably be a useless skill once I finish lessons, gas prices being what they are. On a recent short drive home with our pick-up, I loaded the back with alibangbang leaves. Seems the stormy weather makes people scared of falling branches, so there is lots of pruned stuff for me.

Monday, July 28, 2008


For the first time, our guava trees are fruiting successfully. The mulching seems to be working! They are native and the fruit don't get so big. They are still babies and not ready to eat yet now.

Below is a pitik spider eating a bee on an orange cosmos flower. My dad took the photo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sampa-sampalukan (Phyllanthus niruri)

If you have liver issues, or just want to keep your debauchery in check, I suggest you go through your neighborhood wasteland and pick up a couple of whole sampa-sampalukan plants.

Called such because it resembles a young sampalok or tamarind tree, this plant is excellent for liver and kidney ailments. I can attest to its effectiveness in de-gunking the liver. It doesn't taste pleasant-- the bitterness can be a little too much for me. A decoction of the whole plant works for fevers as well. In some cases, it is used for malaria.

Perhaps the most delightful thing about sampa-sampalukan is the location of its seeds, which can be found when you turn the plant upside-down. They are little balls that go down between the leaves:

Some people say the plant originated in India, where it has been reported during the 1700s. Some claim it originated from the Philippines. Others posit that it arrived here via the Americas. In any case, these are the places where the it is frequently used, primarily for medicinal purposes.

All across the Philippines it is called various things: kurukalunggai, sususampalok, talikod in Bicolano, taltalikod in Ilokano, malakirum-kirum in Visayan, ngingihel in Ifugao, and San Pedro in some parts of the Visayas, obviously post-Hispanic. The names with talikod in them probably refer to the fact that you have to turn the leaf around to see the seeds.

In Peru it is known as chanca piedra, giving the imagery of breaking or crushing stones. In fact, this is what it does to deposits in the kidney and liver, making it a cheap and effective alternative to surgery. Brazil has quebra piedra, meaning essentially the same thing.

In Indian ayurveda, it is called bhumi amalki and administered as a laxative and an intestinal anaesthetic. Some parts of the subcontinent use it mostly for reproductive and genital disordersl like syphilis and gonorrhea.

It can be made into eyedrops. Caution must be exercised with large and concentrated doses, however-- the plant can also be used to poison fish!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bangkoro (Morinda citrifolia)

Two bangkoro-related memories from the 90s:

1. Seeing bottles of the expensive "miracle" fermented Tahitian Noni Juice during the Noni craze. Drinking it, thinking it tasted like a pretty bad sweetened thing, generally finding it exotic.

2. Seeing a curious fruit along the rocky Batangas coast. Climbing up the tree, jumping to get it. Trying to bite into it (too hard), chucking it in bag, forgetting about it. Regretting it-- it was completely mushy and smelled like rotten cheese. (See a similar specimen below.)

Also known as Indian mulberry, in Sanskrit it is called achuka, which means long life. We Southeast Asians seem to have passed the tree around-- here the bangkoro is also called bangkudo and bangkuru. In Malaysia, it is called bengkudu, while in Indonesia, mengkudu. The Ilokanos call it apatot, which in my view sounds like a word that could mean "smelly". In Sur, there is a town and beach named after the tree.

It is present in many tropical coasts and secondary forests. I have to say that from my perspective, this fruit has tried to avoid human food consumption by fooling us into thinking it goes straight from unripe to rotten. But in fact, the fruit is perfectly ripe when it starts to smell like some form of cheese gone bad, and the skin is soft and looking like a yellow blister that is ready to pop. Below are some unripe ones:

Believed to have been brought by Southern Indians to the Pacific Islands (have you seen how some Southern Indians look Polynesian?) about 1,500 years ago, the plant is now a superstar in the supplement subculture, having what seems to me to be endless medicinal applications.

The more interesting and less known of them:
  • If your gums are rotting, char the fruit in fire, mix with sea salt, rub on problem area.
  • Take the mush from the ripe fruit and put it over a boil to extract the pus head.
  • If you have a wound or ulcer, rub some fresh leaves to slightly call forth their juice, and plaster it on the area.
  • For congestion, fever, nausea, the leaves can be heated and applied to the chest area.
  • If you don't get your menstrual period (and are female), a decoction of the leaves can help.
  • If you still have some leftover from above, use it as a sore-throat gargle.
  • Painful first aid! For deep cuts or broken bones (particularly those sticking out of your skin), pound a bunch of leaves with salt and apply.

The bark is used to make a red or purple dye, and the roots yield one that ranges from yellow to brown. Variations, I suppose, depend on your mordants. When you're using the roots, be sure to go for the thinner ones-- beyond half an inch yields almost no dye.

During famines, people have been driven to eat the fruits (unripe and bitter or ripe and presumably with cotton up their noses). Burmese sometimes include them (unripe) in curries, and aborigines eat it raw with salt. At all times, the young leaves can be eaten as vegetables.

Pick one and you'll find that it's actually an aggregated fruit-- many in one! Recently I was able to spot one while biking around. If you want to be sure the seeds are mature enough for you, search for ripe fruits, or those that have already dried out. I recommend wrapping them in some kind of large leaf to save you the hassle of cleaning up, as they are mushy. You're lucky if you get some that are dried out enough to not be messy about.

Plant the seeds and put the tree in full sun. From observation, they prefer lowlands and can thrive in sandy or rocky soil.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Free Mouse

Circa last year, I spotted a mouse running across the grass in the garden. Our white hunting mutt Oakley was unfortunately alerted by me ("Where's the cat, Oakley??! WHERE'S THE CAT!"). Before I realized what I had done, he went after it (it was hopping away furiously and so adorably), gnawed it to death and left it to decompose.

I felt really bad about that.

Redemption. The other day, I went outside to find our pup Sarge trying to get to the bottom of a pail. I thought he was drinking water but I found a cute little mouse cowering like... a mouse (wek). I shooed the dog away and let the mouse out gently. it hopped across into a tunnel beneath the dried leaves and swiftly scuttled away from canine and human presence.

I'm not sure if it was a house or wood mouse, but one thing is for sure: without their social history (and association with rats, I used to think they were baby rats*), mice would be some of the well-loved creatures today, because of their straight-up cuteness.

*There is one general word for rat and mouse in Tagalog (daga). There is also only one word for baby rat or mouse (bubuwit). Perhaps this is why I never thought there was a difference. A reliance on words without observation. Tsk.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Higad Season Again

The good thing about blogging about your garden is it lets you see patterns and cycles. These days, we're seeing the yearly higad invasion of our garden, just like last year's August wave. The guyabano is also fruiting again, about a month earlier than it did in 2007. I can't wait until people can aggregate garden and farm blogs to pinpoint the effects of climate change certain crops and locales.

Although it's not so bad outside my room now that the mucuna vines are gone, the itchy worms make you paranoid in the garden. You walk around more cautiously than ever, afraid of a ninja higad that is waiting for the right moment before it drops on your shoulder, in your shirt, unleashing little hairs that give you welts and won't quit until you get small red dots from scratching.

You find them under leaves, and when you're walking and look down, you see their droppings, usually dark "pellets". Below you can see one eating an oyster mushrooms, and it's turned the poop off-white. It's funny! (On the lower mushroom you see the droppings pre-mushroom eating.)

I am trying to find meaning in their existence. Is it rainy season, a season of regeneration, and is nature trying to keep me from intervention in the garden (while at the same time providing fertilizer in the form of castings)?

I can't really think of any predators to this moth-worm (the chickens won't eat it), but if there are any, I might need to develop their habitat to keep the prey in check.

In any case, I go on, trying to co-exist with these creatures.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oyster Mushrooms

Rainy season made resurrected the oyster mushrooms. Recently went from the garden to the stummy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mystery Trees

It's rainy season and that means the mosquitoes make it hard to garden. Nevertheless, I'm growing the following found seeds:

Mystery pod tree from National Museum garden.

Mystery berry (could it be related to bignay?) from Alabang.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Quick Decomposition Season

Rainy season has me happy as the seeds I've been tossing in the hole are growing. It's time to collect topsoil again and transplant various things.

But wait! It's also time to create a raised bed! I made a decision not to spend any money on it. But see, that's easy.

These are the beginnings of a raised bed outside my bedroom window. Now is the only easy time to drive sticks into the otherwise tough soil. So I made a border of stakes and then took long branches and wove them through. This is a good and cheap way to create a small "wall". Alternate the weaving to create tension for sturdiness.

Gino and April helped me put the initial layer of ipil-ipil leaves. These decomposed pretty fast and were soon like brown ash! Next came the leaves from Alabang, and kitchen compost. Of course, the chickens were all over it like the chickens that they are. I'm going to combine topsoil with the fiber inputs, and soon plant some vegetables.

The whole question of national food security has me thinking a lot about local food security. Sure, we've got wildish vegetables growing around (as you see below new crop of uray cousin, spineless kulitis). But perhaps some more deliberately cultivated ones can supplement the household.

I've transplanted a lot of duhat seedlings (lining the wall of the plot, in the first picture), as well as mahogany. I shall collect more from around the garden and surrounding areas. Maximum tree planting is about to ensue, whether I own the lot or not. We need more trees!