Nov 032017

One of my favorite on-line resources is the Internet Archive, a repository of books, music, movies, and more. It is a virtual library that I love to get lost in. There’s always something interesting to find. 

Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

The other day while perusing, I came across a beautiful book titled “A Curious Herbal: Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful plants which are now useful in the practice of Physick,” by one Elizabeth Blackwell, a Scottish botanical illustrator. It was printed in London, England, for Samuel Harding, dated MDCCXXXVII (1737). It seems appropriate to mention this work in a website dealing with gardens and cultivation, and it is not really so curious to see how the common uses of herbs have held up over time and scientific scrutiny, as these same herbs and plants are still used for the same purposes today. 

Cover-A Curious Herbal by Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell (1707 –1758) was a Scottish botanical illustrator and author who was best known as both the artist and engraver for the plates of “A Curious Herbal”, published between 1737 and 1739. The book illustrated many odd-looking and unknown plants from the New World, and was designed as a reference work on medicinal plants for the use of physicians and apothecaries.

Wikipedia contributors, “Elizabeth Blackwell (illustrator),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Elizabeth_Blackwell_(illustrator)&oldid=788313721(accessed November 3, 2017).

The book presents a series of beautifully rendered color plates that include dandelion, mullein, rue, sage, stinging nettle, wormwood, primrose, fig, and dozens more–a total of 232 wonderfully rendered plates in this first volume alone. Below are a few excerpts from the book and corresponding plates showing Elizabeth’s delicate illustrations. 

Elizabeth Blackwell’s introduction to “A Curious Herbal”:

The undertaker, being desirous to make this Work more useful to such as are not furnished with other Herbals, is resolved for their Sake to give a short Description of each Plant, the Place of Growth, and Time of Flowering, with its common uses in Physick, chiefly extracted from Mr. Joseph Miller’s Botanicum Officinale with his Consent, and the ordinary Names of the Plant in different Languages.

Excerpts from “A Curious Herbal”

Plate 1: Dandelion, or Pissa bed. Dens Leonis

  1. The Leaves of this Plant lie on the Ground, the Pedikels or Pipes on which the Flowers grow are about six or eight Inches high; and the flowers Yellow. The Root grows about a Finger thick, and eight Inches long, full of a white bitter Milk.
  2. It grows almost every where in Fallow Ground & flowers most months in the year.
  3. The Roots & Leaves are used as cooling aperative provoking Urine and strengthening the stomach and are much eat as a sallad in the Spring.

Plate 15: St. John’s Wort. Hypericum

  1. This Plant grows to be two Foot high; the Leaves when held up against the Light appear full of small Holes; the Flowers are a bright yellow, with a great Number of Apices and Stamina, which being bruised between the Fingers, emit a bloody Juice.
  2. It grows in Hedges and among Bushes and flowers in June and July.
  3. St. John’s Wort is accounted aperative, detersive, diuretic, alexipharmic; good in tertian and quartan Agues; destroys Worms and is an excellent vulnerary Plant. A Tincture of the Flowers in spirit of Wine is commended against Melancholy & Madness. Outwardly it is of great Service in Bruises, Contusions, and Wounds, especially in the nervous Parts. The officinal Preparations are the simple and compound Oil.

Plate 125: The Fig Tree. Ficus

  1. It seldome grows to be a Tree of any great Bigness in England, the Leaves are a grass Green and the Fruit when ripe of a brownish Green. It beareth no visible Flowers, which makes it believe they are hid in the Fruit.
  2. Its Native soils are Turky, Spain, and Portugal, and its time of Bearing is in Spring and Autumn; the Figs are cured by dipping them in scalding hot Lye, made of the Ashes of the Cuttings of the Tree and afterwards they dry them carefully in the Sun.
  3. Figs are esteem’d cooling and moistening, good for Coughs, shortness of Breath, and all Diseases of the Breast, and also the Stone and Gravel, and the small Pox and Measles, which they drive out. Outwardly they are dissolving and ripening, good for Imposthumations and Swellings and pestilential Buboes.

A Curious Herbal” can be downloaded in various formats from the Internet Archive. 

Find out more about the Internet Archive

Apr 282016

Tropical vegetables in containers

It has been some time since I did a general update on my tropical vegetables container garden here in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. This year, lacking time to dedicate to the garden and general experimentation, I scaled back and stuck to a few of the tried and true greens that I just love to pick fresh off the vine.

I recently happened upon an article on growing tropical vegetables “… and growing vegetables in the tropics” on the Tropical Permaculture website. The article lists a number of veggies that they have found do well in hot and humid tropical conditions like the ones that reign here on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It has inspired me to compare their list of tropical vegetables with my own notes and experiences.

Garden peppers: tropical vegetables

Red Leaf Amaranth tropical vegetables

Red Leaf Amaranth, great in salads

Vegetables on Tropical Permaculture’s list that I have also grown successfully:

Amaranth — One of the easiest of tropical vegetables to grow. Although I don’t have it in my garden this year (except a few volunteers!), several amaranth varieties produce great tropical greens that can be used in salads and soups. I’ve had most success with the red leaf amaranth. (Learn more about edible amaranth.)  The tender leaves taste much like spinach. I planted what’s known as white edible amaranth (really just green) the first year I gardened, and it grew well and made nice salad and cooked greens, but I found that the variety went to seed quite a bit earlier than the red leaf amaranth and besides, the red-mottled leaves are much more attractive. Amaranth will easily reseed itself if you let it.

Arugula (rocket) — I’ve had good luck with all arugulas I’ve tried. Some of them are:  organic arugula rocket saladarugula wild rocket salad, wasabi arugula, and astro arugula. Supposedly, astro arugula is even more heat tolerant than other varieties; however, I saw little difference. I prefer either the most common cultivated arugula or the coarser and thinner-leaved Italian wild arugula, which lasts longer in the garden. It is part of my garden every year.

Asian greens and Chinese cabbages — I’ve planted baby bok choy/pak choy, toy choy, choy sum, and tatsoi over the past two or three years, and it grows well in the cooler season (November through March), but declines quickly once the more intense summer heat starts. My preferences are toy choy and tatsoi. I have not tried any of the larger Chinese cabbages such as the Chinese one kilo slow bolt variety, also known as Napa cabbage.

Beans and the like — I have planted several beans successfully, but you need to sow enough plants to make the wait for harvest worth while, which I didn’t. Those I tried were edamame, long beans, black-eyed (cow) peas, and mainly, the Goa winged bean, which grows fabulously well here, and you can use the tender leaves and beautiful purple-blue flowers in salads, eat the beans and pods green, or eat the mature bean when dried. I haven’t grown any beans this year, but I will most likely sow both black-eyed peas and Goa beans in the future.

Bell peppers — Peppers generally like the heat, although the sea breeze and perhaps lack of enough direct sunlight (we live under palm trees) contributed to stunted fruit, the peppers I harvested were sweet and tasty. In past years I’ve planted sweet California wonders and sweet cherry blend of miniature peppers, which were fun and pretty, but I much prefer the sweet California wonders for eating. No peppers (other than hot chiles) in the garden this year, but they’ll be back!

Chard — I’ve grown ruby red Swiss chard a couple of times. I’ve found it discouraging to watch the plants struggle at first, but those that made it through the heat turned into wonderful, healthy, leafy greens with succulent stems that I could keep harvesting over a period of several weeks.

Chilli (chile) peppers — I have grown mild jalapeños, Serranos, chile piquin (similar to cayenne), Thai hot peppers, Hungarian banana peppers, and Anaheim peppers. Most grow into healthy little bushes that bear over several months and sometimes years. I have serranos and Anaheims in the garden right now, and I do want to try out some ancho/Poblano peppers next season.

Cucumbers — I’ve planted cucumbers twice, the second time straight in the ground instead of in a container, and had much more luck with them in the ground, even though the variety I chose was Spacemaster, most suitable for container growing. Cucumbers do tend to mature and become seedy and sour very quickly in this heat, and they are especially susceptible to molding in our humidity, so they aren’t the easiest of vegetable to deal with.

Eggplant (aubergine) — Ah, eggplants love the heat. They’ll take the high humidity, but on the other hand, they also won’t hold it against you if you forget to water them every once in a while. The varieties I found easiest to grow here are the small eggplant varieties, Thai green eggplant and Japanese long purple, but I also had a nice little harvest of Black Beauties one year. I was going to plant some eggplants this year, but the seeds I’d saved just didn’t germinate.

Okra — Okra is a joy to grow here. Put in 16 or 20 plants (you can plant 5 or 6 plants in each large pot) and you’ll have a steady stream of yummy okra pods heading into your kitchen for a long time. I’ve grown Clemson spineless (my favorite) and red burgundy okra. I purposely did not plant okra this year because I didn’t have the time to prepare the space, but I’m regretting it now!

Tomatoes — Tomatoes grow well here in the winter season and hearty cherry tomatoes grow practically year round, as long as you have the direct sun on them and good air flow around them. My garden doesn’t have enough sun at the moment, so I didn’t put any in this year, but I’ve not given up on them. I’ve tried growing (amongst others) better bush tomatoes, Bedouin Tomatoes, Lizzano cherry tomatoes,  Cherry Sweeties, and Brandywine tomatoes, but my favorites are purple Cherokee and green zebra.

Tropical vegetables: tomatoes

Other tropical vegetables or vegetables that will grow in the heat and humidity of the tropics. The following are not on Tropical Permaculture’s list, but I have grown:

Beets — I grew one large pot of beets, mainly for the greens, but the roots, though small, were sweet and delicious. The tops provided delicious greens over a period of many weeks, into months. I was quite impressed and surprised by how well they did grow. I sowed them only one year, and used a mixed blend of beet seeds. I will definitely sow beets again.

Carrots — One year I planted a large, round, deep pot with baby little finger carrots. They were actually quite wonderful, small and sweet when they finally matured enough to eat, but I found container carrots are almost more trouble than what they’re worth for the harvest they give you. They would do much better sown in larger tracts in the ground.

chaya tropical vegetables

Chaya — Chaya, also known as tree spinach, is a native of Mexico and Central America and most prevalent in the Yucatan peninsula. It is a large bushy shrub growing up to several meters high, so cannot really be classed as a vegetable, but the leaves of the chaya are rich in protein and minerals and can be used as a cooked green and added to soups and stews. The caveats are these: The raw leaves contain a toxic substance, so even though eating a few of the raw leaves is okay, it’s safer not to eat the raw leaves at all, nor should any other part of the plant be ingested raw. You can cook the leaves in water for a minimum of 5 to 15 minutes and discard the cooking water. If you’d like to use chaya in soups or stews, cook the leaves separately, discard the water, and add the chopped cooked chaya to the dishes just before serving. Cooked chaya leaves don’t disintegrate into a mush like spinach, and they have a full-bodied, earthly flavor. + Chaya and Diabetes

Collards — I have had outstanding success with collards. I’ve tried Vates and Georgia southern. I found Vates handles the high heat better than Georgia southern, but both are worth having in your garden. I have tons of collards in my garden this year. They are so easy. Collard leaves can be blanched and used as wraps for veggie rolls, stuffed like grape or cabbage leaves, or used in any number of other ways. They will not fall apart. See recipe: Vegan Collard Rolls (AKA Cabbage Rolls)

Kale — Almost my favorite green of them all, kale actually grows in this heat! It bears for two years! I love having it in my garden. My favorite variety by far is Dwarf Curly Blue Kale, but I have also grown Russian red kale (which doesn’t like the heat very much) and Portuguese kale, which has a very hardy collard-like leaf. I couldn’t bear to not sow at least three pots of kale… and I think that next year, I’ll have to put in even more, and then have the two-year harvest staggered between this year’s and next year’s plants.

Malabar and New Zealand Spinach — Neither of these is really of the spinach family, but both can be used in similar ways and both take quite easily to the high heat of the tropics. Malabar spinach is a fleshy-leafed plant, somewhat gelatinous, that can be used in salads or in soups; it is common in the Caribbean islands. New Zealand spinach has sturdier leaves of a more kindly texture and a lovely flavor. Harvest the tender new leaves of the plant… they do well cooked and are also great in salads. New Zealand spinach is resistant to practically everything. The only reason I have Malabar spinach in the garden right now is because it reseeded itself. I’m kicking myself for not sowing some New Zealand spinach this year.

Turnips — One year, I grew only one container of Purple Top White Globe turnips and was surprised at the healthy and long-lasting harvest of turnip greens that culminated in a nice feed of small but tasty roots. Definitely worth trying in the tropics.

Chives and garlic chives — I’ve had both regular chives and garlic chives in my garden for at least three years, and they continue to thrive. Dig them up and separate them once a year or so. They are a constant source of great flavor for your kitchen. I grew the garlic chives from seeds, but the regular chives were purchased from a local nursery. Although I’ve tried many times, I have never been able to grow regular chives from seeds.

Tropical vegetables Dwarf curly blue kale

Mar 222016

Several years ago we came upon a green seed encased in a bewitchingly beautiful seed pod formed by a net of delicate, dried fibers. Fascinated by its intricacy, I did a bit of a photo study against various backgrounds, trying to bring out different aspects of the structure (however, I am no photographer!). The pod was actually stronger than it looked and held up to quite a bit handling. For the longest time, we didn’t know what kind of plant it came from other than that it was a hot-weather-tolerant species that grew in this tropical climate of ours in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Well, it appears that this seed pod is simply an intact, dessicated tomatillo husk with a diminuitive tomatillo fruit in its center. Who would have thought?

Tomatillo seed pod study

So what do you do with tomatillos (also called green tomatoes by some)…? Make Green Tomatillo Salsa !

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. A staple of Mexican cuisine, they are eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, particularly salsa verde.

Wikipedia contributors. “Tomatillo.” Wikipedia
The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2016

Here is a simple and straight-forward recipe for Mexican Chicken in Green Sauce, made, of course, with tomatillos!

 Posted by on March 22, 2016  Tagged with:
Feb 012016

The 15th Annual Zihuatanejo Sailfest (Regata en el Paraiso) is happening from Sunday, February 7 through Sunday, February 14, 2016 in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico.

Here’s the information from its poster about Sailfest events and schedule:

Zihuatanejo Sailfest 2016Sunday, Feb. 7

15th Anniversary Concert. 7-10:00pm
La Cancha Municipal. Zihuatanejo honors your volunteerism. Featuring the M-Dock band.

Monday, Feb. 8

Welcome Dance Party. 7-11:00pm. Celebrate the arrival of your compassionate cruising partners. Dance with your toes in the sand to live music at Casa Arcadia Restaurant at La Plaza Del Artista.

Tuesday, Feb. 9

Live Auction Party. 6:30pm. At La Plaza Del Artista next to Casa Arcadia Restaurant. Have fun & bid on fabulous auction items donated by 200+ artists & businesses.

Wednesday, Feb 10

Pursuit Race. Morning. A fun sailing race in and out of the Bay. Crew spots available.
Benefit Concert Party at Noselodigasanadie Bar, 7:00-11:00 p.m. Outstanding local & international musicians.

Thursday, Feb 11

Chili Cook Off and Street Fair, 1-3pm, at Plaza Del Artista next to Casa Arcadia Restaurant. Judge the chili and buy local crafts. Silent Auction, 2 to 4 pm.

Friday, Feb. 12

Gala Dinner,at Restaurent El Consuelo, 7pm, Great food, live music, raffles & two vacation door prizes.

Saturday, Feb. 13

Sail Parade around Zihuatanejo Bay, then to Ixtapa and back. The fleet “dresses ship” for a colorful procession. 9:00ish-2:00pm. Sign up at Casa Arcadia Restaurant to sail aboard one of the boats for a donation.

Sunday, Feb 14

Wrap-up Beach Party, Awards, and Raffle Drawings at Casa Arcadia, 3:00-6:00pm. Great food & great raffle prizes. Food tickets @ $100 peso donation.

Buy $10 peso raffle tickets for thousands of pesos in great prizes, all donated by local merchants to benefit children’s education. Drawings held during all major events.

Since 2002, Sailfest has built more than 90 classrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and playgrounds supporting disadvantaged children at twenty-nine schools in Zihuatanejo.

See the Sailfest website for more info.

Jan 052015

If you’ve been thinking of changing your lifestyle and eating habits by adopting a plant-based or vegan diet but don’t know where to start, here is a list of resources from which to pick and choose according to your own personal focus, be it ethical or health-inspired.

Plant-based diet

Basic Guide to Plant-Based Eating

A great article to read and contemplate as you decide how to transition to a more plant-based lifestyle, even if you’re not ready (and may never be) to give up animal foods or products completely.

Leo Babauta, in his article A Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet on ZenHabits.net, writes: “If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move to a plant-based diet.” This well-written article then goes on to answer these and other FAQs:

  • What’s a Plant-Based Diet?
  • Why Should I Change?
  • How to Change
  • What to Eat

The article is straightforward, easy to understand and follow, and encourages the would-be plant-baser to ease into the changes at his or her own pace and intensity.

Educate Yourself and Help Others: Plant-Based Nutrition Courses

Get a certificate in plant-based nutrition and take other courses through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies in conjunction with eCornell. The courses are based on research of Cornell Professor Emeritus T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study, and Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

Plant-Based Diet Update for Physicians

A paper presented by The Permanente Journal (2013, Spring) that appears on the National Institutes of Health website: “Nutritional Update for Physicans: Plant-Based Diets.”

Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.

–From the abstract of the study (Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66. doi: 10.7812/TPP/12-085
PMCID: PMC3662288)

What About Protein and Other Nutrients?

Do you wonder where vegans and plant-based eaters get their protein, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and other nutrients?

VeganHealth.org details major nutrients, health concerns, and research, and it can answer many of your more health-related questions. The site offers meal plans and a comprehensive guide to staying healthy on a plant-based diet, maintained by Jack Norris, registered dietitian.

Plant-Based and Vegan Recipes

Reading list

This reading list includes key titles that were instrumental in my personal transition to a plant-based lifestyle almost five years ago. I highly recommend them.

The Strict Vegan

If you are a true animal lover and your concerns center around animal well-being and the ethics of their treatment and exploitation on all levels, the Vegan Kit resource may be the place for you to start your journey. It’s for those who want to plunge into the strict, 100 percent vegan lifestyle as defined below.

Vegan Kit – a comprehensive vegan resource

Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.

–Definition of veganism as put forth by Donald Watson of the Vegan Society of the UK in 1944.

Abolitionist Vegan Outreach Pamphlet


Dec 052014

Sarsaparilla: an old-fashioned beverage made from the root of a tropical vine.

Sarsaparilla is a climbing plant native to tropical America; Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Jamaica are important sarsaparilla-producing countries.


Sarsaparilla Root

According to Medicinal Plants of Tropical and Subtropical Regions, a book that is found on-line in the Biodiversity Heritage Library at the Internet Archive (Archive.org), the root of the sarsaparilla vine provides flavoring for a soft drink that used to be popular in North America and is still a favored drink in Southeast Asia. It is also a main ingredient, along with sassafras root and other root and plants extracts, for what we know of as root beer. The plant likes heat, moisture, sandy soil, and a relatively hot climate (mean annual temperature of 70-80° F. [21-27° C]), and it grows well staked or on trellises.

The mature roots are harvested, cleaned, and sun dried. If smaller roots are left in the ground, they will form new root systems for continued production.

Medicinal PlantsMedicinal Plants of Tropical and Subtropical Regions, The Biodiversity Heritage Library at the Internet Archive. The book is available for reading on-line.

According to the Raintree Tropical Plant Database, sarsaparilla has been used in traditional and folk medicine as a general tonic and blood purifier. In Europe, sarsaparilla “was a popular European treatment for syphilis when it was introduced from the New World,” and for a period of almost 100 years, from 1820 to 1910, it was “registered in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a treatment for syphilis.” [Wikipedia contributors, “Smilax ornata,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Smilax_ornata&oldid=633609082 (accessed December 5, 2014)]

In many of the food sections of the municipal and local markets in Mexico, you can still see barrels of  “root beer” (cerveza de raíz) from which are dispensed mugfuls of the beverage, along with the other typical drinks of horchata, agua de tamarindo, agua de jamaica, and aguas frescas de frutas.

The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained in this website is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe, or replace proper medical care for which professional medical help should be sought.

Nov 062014

WilliamWalkerAtkinsonWith all the focus on the Law of Attraction during the past few years (see Jack Canfield’s Key to Living the Law of Attraction: A Simple Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams and The Secret), I was surprised to come across this reference to a book that was published way back in 1906, written by William Walker Atkinson: Thought Vibration, or The Law of Attraction in the Thought World .

Atkinson was a writer and publisher, attorney and merchant who published a number of texts under a series of somewhat mystical and metaphysical pseudonyms as well as his own name. He wrote over one hundred books during the latter years of his life and was a pioneer of what is known as the New Thought Movement. His texts delve into the subjects of the power of thought, the occult, memory, psychology, magnetism, yogic disciplines, and karma.

In any case, this audiobook from Librivox.org is free for the listening.

On Project Gutenberg, several books (in HTML, ePub, Kindle, and text formats) by William Walker Atkinson are available for downloading, including:

Your Mind and How to Use It: A Manual of Practical Psychology and Memory: How to Develop, Train, and Use It.


Oct 292014

I love finding troves of sometimes obscure information on the Internet. Today, I came across a wonderful find through the Internet Archive (archive.org) website: the Biodiversity Heritage Library sub-collection. Here is a list of heritage texts I found there dealing with Mexican plants, herbs, and botanical themes.

A botanical focus on Mexico

Trees and shrubs of Mexico – Standley, Paul Carpenter, 1884-1963


A monumental and comprehensive botanical reference with over 1400 pages detailing the trees and shrubs of all areas of Mexico.

Trees and Shrubs of Mexico

Notes on useful plants of Mexico – Rose, Joseph Nelson, 1862-


Maguey plantThis text covers almost every possible aspect of Mexican plants and their uses:

  • Cereals and vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beverage plants
  • Seasoning and flavoring plants
  • Medicinal plants
  • Soap plants
  • Tanning and dye plants
  • Fiber plants
  • Brush and broom plants
  • Fence and hedge plants
  • Plants yielding wood
  • Miscellaneous useful plants

In talking about beverage plants and the agaves and magueys of Mexico, Rose states, “One of the most interesting studies connected with the botany of Mexico would be the determining of the species of Agave which are used by the people in making their drinks–a subject upon which there is much ignorance.” The fermented pulque and distilled mezcal and tequila particularly caught his interest, it seems.

He also describes a beverage called agua de cebada, made by mixing barley flour with water or by first softening the barley grains in water and then grinding them together with cinnamon, sugar, and sesame seeds on a “metate,” or stone mortar and pestle. “This mixture is of a muddy gray color, with a sweetish, starchy taste. It is carried about the streets in earthen jars and sold for 1 cent a glass.”

The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. – Bateman, Jas.


Compiled from information and specimens collected during expeditions to Guatemala and Mexico in the mid-to-late 1830s

Inscribed on the cover of this book is a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude:

Like restless serpents, clothed
In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around
The grey trunks

The book includes beautiful color plates illustrating various orchid species with detailed botanical descriptions, listings of which varieties grow best in England, and notes on the care and cultivation of the orchid.


Stanhopea Tigrina orchid

Stanhopea Tigrina orchid

Plantæ Yucatanæ. (Regionis Antillanæ) Plants of the insular, coastal and plain regions of the peninsula of Yucatan, Mexico (Volume Fieldiana. Botany series v. 3, no. 1) – Millspaugh, Charles Frederick, 1854-1923


A serious botanical text providing detailed descriptions with illustrations of the true grasses, sedges (grasslike and rushlike plants), and ferns and seedless vascular plants of the Yucatan.

Catalogue of plants collected by Dr. Edward Palmer at Acapulco, Mexico, in 1894-95, 1894-1895. – Palmer, Edward


This is simply a hand-written field notebook cataloging the botanical names of the plants collected by Dr. Palmer in Acapulco in the late 1800s–more of a curiosity than anything. No additional notes or insights are provided.

Contribution [I]-III to the coastal and plain flora of Yucatan (Volume Fieldiana. Botany series v. 1, no. 4) – Millspaugh, Charles Frederick, 1854-1923


No illustrations, but plenty of information (some in Latin, most in English) on the flora of Yucatan, including botanical names, physical descriptions and characteristics, and habitats in which the flora grew and was observed.


Sep 092014

Chiles En Nogada

Chiles en Nogada, or Stuffed Chiles in Walnut Cream Sauce, is the traditional dish in Mexico for the Independence celebrations that fall on the eve of September 15 and carry on into September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day. The dish features the colors of the Mexican flag: green (from both the chiles and the parsley garnish), white (the creamy nut sauce), and red (pomegranate seeds).

Chiles en Nogada

A Recipe for Vegan Chiles en Nogada

Adapted from: http://nutricampeones.com/chiles-en-nogada-vegan/

Ingredients (serves 6)
• 1 small onion
• 2 plump cloves of garlic
• Olive oil
• Bay leaves, thyme, and marjoram
• 1/3 cup non-GMO texturized soya, already reconstituted and cooked with herbs and seasonings to taste (shredded seitan or tempeh could also be used)
• 1/2 cup chopped oyster or other mushrooms
• 1/3 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
• 1 apple, peeled and cubed
• 1 pear, peeled and cubed
• ½ cup raisins
• 5 tomatoes, pureed
• Salt and pepper

• 6 large Poblano chiles

• 1/2 cup walnuts
• 2 T sugar or honey
• 1/3 cup tofu
• 1/2 cup almond milk
• 1/8 cup Sherry
• Grated nutmeg
• Powdered cinnamon

• Cleaned seeds of 1 large pomegranate
• Sprigs of parsley

Prepare the filling for the stuffed chiles

Chop the onion and garlic finely and saute in a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and marjoram and stir until their aroma is released. Add the prepared texturized soya and let brown slightly, then add the mushrooms, cubed fruit, raisins, almonds or pine nuts, and finally the pureed tomatoes; allow to come to a gentle boil and season with salt and pepper.

Prepare the chiles

Wash and dry the chiles. Impale each chile on a fork and roast it over an open flame until the skin is charred. Place in a paper or plastic bag and let sit for about 15 minutes. Carefully peel off the charred skin layer, slit open along one side, remove the seeds and veins, and wipe clean and dry.

Prepare the nut sauce

In a blender, combine the tofu, almond milk, remaining 1/4 cup walnuts, 2 T sugar or honey, a pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and the Sherry. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more almond milk. Blend until smooth and creamy.

Put it all together

Place a spoonful of filling in each chile. Center on a plate and smother in the nut sauce. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and sprigs of parsley.

Sep 022014

The pomegranate is one of the most visually striking and intriguing of fruits. It is featured in recipes for Chiles en Nogada, a traditional recipe served during Mexico’s Independence celebrations in September, which tie in with the pomegranate harvest season.

Pomegranate seeds

Recent studies indicate that pomegranates are heart healthy additions to the diet and that they play a role in reducing cancer risks. Researchers have found that the concentrated polyphenols (antioxidants) and phytonutrients present in pomegranates may restore endothelial health, lower blood pressure, increase nitric acid synthesis, and generally provide protection to the cardiovascular system. Pomegranates appear to protect LDL (low-density lipids, or “bad” cholesterol) from oxidative breakdown and to reduce existing formations of atherosclerotic plaque on the arterial walls, something many previously thought impossible. Pomegranates also appear to play a role in suppressing the progress of prostate cancer by increasing the rate of cancer cell death and possibly reducing the risk of other cancers such as colon, lung, and breast cancers.

The pomegranate tree is bushy with multiple stems growing to no more than twenty or thirty feet. The pomegranate is native to Asia, extending from Iran through northern India, and was cultivated in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was brought to the New World with the early settlers. Despite its small size and apparent fragility, it is known as a long-living tree. Specimens in France have been identified as being more than two centuries old.

After conquering Granada, Queen Isabella is reported to have stood with a pomegranate in her hand and declared, “Just like the pomegranate, I will take over Andalusia seed by seed.”

Source URL: http://www.pomwonderful.com/pomegranate-wellness/history/3500-500-bc/

The pomegranate, or granada¸ as it is known in Spanish, is now grown in the cooler and drier interior highlands of Honduras and Mexico. Spanish settlers introduced the pomegranate into California in the eighteenth century, and it is cultivated in Arizona. The pomegranate likes hot, dry summers and cool winters.

In Mexico, the pomegranates of Tehuacan, Puebla, are the most prized. Some of the Mexican cultivars are “Granada de China” and the “Granada Agria,” meaning sour or tart pomegranate.

There are many varieties grown with different ranges of sweetness, color intensity, and juiciness. Some varieties have harder seeds and are more fibrous than others are. Some varieties are pinkish-white, and others are blood red; some are richly sweet, and some are decidedly tart and acidic, containing high levels of Vitamin C.
Although most studies and interest these days are concentrated on the fruit (seeds) and juice of the pomegranate, traditionally, the bark, root, and rind of the fruit was used in folk medicine in Asia, the Middle East, and in the early days of its cultivation in the New World.

In one of the classic books on Mexican medicinal plants, Las Plantas Medicinales de Mexico (Mexico, Ediciones Botas 1969), Professor Maximino Martinez says of Punica granatum L. that the only part used of the pomegranate is the root bark for the expulsion of tapeworms. However, these parts of the tree are high in tannins and best avoided.

Pomegranate juice is widely available alone and mixed with other fruit juices; an extract is available in powder form or as pills and capsules.

Releasing the Seeds and Extracting the Juice

The easiest way of extracting the seeds from a pomegranate and separating them from the white membrane with which they seem inextricably entwined, is to cut off the top of the pomegranate and then carefully score downward into the rind several times without cutting into the seeds so that they remain intact. Soak the pomegranates in cold water, top down, for ten or fifteen minutes. Leaving the fruit in the water, break apart the rind carefully and release the seeds with your fingers, trying not to rupture them. The rind and buoyant white fibrous membrane should float to the top while the heavier seeds fall to the bottom, letting you skim off the membrane and rind and strain the cleaned seeds through a sieve or colander. Dry the seeds on a towel and they’re ready to use.

The easiest way to juice a pomegranate is pressing the halved fruits with a common citrus press. The Mexican style pull-down arm juicer works well. When we were in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, that was how the juice stands in the area produced intensely tart, red, pure pomegranate juice in seconds flat, with very little waste. The resulting juice was run quickly through a small sieve to remove any stray bits of membrane and rind.

The extracted juice or the unbroken seeds (juice sacs) may be frozen intact for future use. In northern India, the juice sacs are sun-dried for ten to fifteen days and sold as a spice called anardana.

I felt my heart crack slowly like a pomegranate, spilling its seeds.

―Trebor Healey, A Horse Named Sorrow

Since ancient times, the pomegranate has symbolized fertility, good luck, and abundance to the Chinese, Greeks, and Arabs. Read the tale of Persephone and the Pomegranate, a “metaphor for the continual cycle of growth, dormancy, and regrowth which governs all things in the physical realm.” (http://www.aseekersthoughts.com/2009/12/pomegranate-symbol-and-myth.html)


Jun 052014

You may be wondering why I’m sharing an article on seitan–which is gluten–as a meat-like substitute in vegan or plant-based diets when there’s such negative hype about gluten intolerance and the inflammatory perils of ingesting even the slightest bit of it into the body.

Well, for one thing, in my mind, the jury’s still out about gluten being bad for everyone. Yes, I know there are people with celiac disease and similar conditions for whom even the slightest hint of gluten is impossible and dangerous. And yes, there are people with gluten intolerance that, while the condition may not be life-threatening, have uncomfortable and sometimes severe digestive and inflammatory reactions that can affect their ability to function on many levels.

However, I do not seem to have any intolerance to gluten, and I’ve never been a heavy wheat, bread, or pasta eater, anyway. I’m sure there are many other plant-basers out there who aren’t sensitive to gluten, and so for us, seitan can be a wonderful addition to our diets.

Recently, I’ve tried a couple of different methods of making seitan and my favorite so far is very similar to this recipe I’m sharing with you below. Rather than use vegan chicken or beef flavored bouillon powder, I just made a strong broth from homemade vegetable broth powder, powdered onion and garlic, liquid aminos, tamari, nutritional yeast, and a few fresh herbs from the garden. I didn’t put any seasonings in the gluten flour mix at all; the flavoring seeped in sufficiently from the strong vegetable broth during the slow simmering process.

Warning: My seitan pieces seemed to swell to about four times their size, not just double, while simmering, and they looked like big sponges bobbing around on top of the hot liquid. Once they were cooled, though, they did subside to about double their uncooked size. Use a big enough pot.

Seitan (Chicken or Beef substitute)

Seitan is often used in vegan restaurants as a substitute for chicken or beef in many recipes. I use it often in Irish Stew, Seitan Piccata, Grilled Seitan Buffalo Wings, Seitan Souvlaki, and Seitan ‘Beef’ Kababs. It has a hearty flavor and texture, and can be adapted to suit many dishes.

Seitan can often be found in health food stores, and some grocery stores. But in my hometown, it isn’t as readily available, or it’s ridiculously expensive (it’s wheat gluten and spices after all), so I make my own.

Read more and get the recipe at: http://diaryofahomebody.com/seitan-chicken-or-beef-substitute/#ixzz35aJVqAnw

Jun 022014

Oyster mushrooms are called setas in Mexico, and they are widely enjoyed here. The first recipe in this article is easily made vegan by using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Throw a tablespoon of nutritional yeast into the pot when adjusting the seasonings to give the broth a bit more body.

Three Delicious Oyster Mushroom Soup Recipes You Should Try

By Jason Hollinger (Oyster Mushroom  Uploaded by Amada44)

Oyster Mushroom

Whoever thought fungus could taste so good! Now, don’t make that face—mushroom is also a fungus! Oyster mushroom is one of the most widely eaten mushrooms. It is also known as the tree mushroom and resembles an oyster shell, thus, its name. Get the recipes at StyleCraze.com

May 242014

Vegan Colcannon with Sweet Potato.

Colcannon is a hearty Irish dish traditionally made of mashed potatoes, cabbage or kale, butter, and sometimes onions, scallions, or ham.

The first time I made my own vegan version of Colcannon, I used potatoes mashed with unsweetened almond milk, a touch of olive oil, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper. I threw in cooked curly kale and whipped it all together, adding some chopped scallions at the end.

It made a killer meal.

Today, I was ready for another dose of Colcannon but, inspired by the presence in my larder (oooh, that’s not a very plant-based word) of a sweet potato (called camote here in Mexico) and the presence in the garden of two types of kale ready for the picking, I decided on yet another experiment.

Colacannon kale

Colcannon with Camote

The potatoes:

1 large potato or two small
1 small to medium sweet potato
2 tsp olive oil or to taste
2 T unsweetened almond milk or to taste
2 garlic cloves, roasted in skins until soft (optional)
Salt and pepper

Peel and steam or boil the potatoes until tender (I prefer leaving the skin on the regular potato). Drain and mash, adding almond milk, olive oil (optional), and the squeezed-out softened garlic pulp. Mash to the consistency you prefer (I like mine really chunky, not smooth) and season with salt and pepper.

The kale:

4 cups kale, finely chopped (I used a combo of curly kale and the coarser Portuguese kale that I have in my garden, but use whatever you can find, including regular cabbage)
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil and water till bubbly in a heavy pan or pot. Add the chopped kale, season with salt and pepper, and braise for five minutes or so, stirring often, until the kale wilts and softens but is still a nice, vibrant green. If you’re using regular cabbage, cook until tender and darkened in color.

Putting it together:

Fold the kale into the mashed potatoes and combine well. Adjust seasonings and add:

2 T chopped chives (I used half garlic chives and half regular chives. Scallion tops work just as well.

Combine thoroughly and serve.

Colcannon camote bowl

This recipe, although not very different from my original version, stands out because the camote lends a touch of sweetness that helps bring out the wonderful and robust kale flavor in the mixture. It also gives the potato a nice orange-pink blush that complements the deep green of the kale.

This will make enough for three or four people as a side served with other dishes, but I actually like it as a full meal with just a sliced tomato as accompaniment.

The proportions are really quite arbitrary. I go heavy on the kale because I make it as a full meal and so like more greens than potato, but the dish would be just as tasty with less kale and more potatoes.

Here, for the sake of comparison, is a traditional Colcannon recipe from the Irish Food Board:

May 112014

I have found more treasures in our book collection. This one is an art opening announcement dating from 1958. The exhibition was of works painted by Mexican artist Mario Orozco Rivero during travels in China titled “45 Días en la China Popular,” and the venue was the Salon de la Plástica Mexicana of the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

The exhibit opened at 7:30 p.m. on May 9, 1958, and the works of art were on display through May 31. The catalog of paintings included eleven works in oils, ten works in watercolors, and three gouaches.

Mario Orozco Rivera (1930-1998) was a Mexican muralist and painter of Mexican social realism. He studied under Manuel Rodriguez Lozano and Carlos Orozco Romero, and participated significantly in the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros under the aegis of David Alfaro Siqueiros.


En sus murales está, en mayor o en menor grado, el ímpetu de los brochazos a lo José Clemente Orozco, la preocupación por los contornos del claroscuro a lo Diego, la lección de las texturas aprendida en Siqueiros. No repite ni sigue; simplemente, asimila y engrandece una tradición ejemplar

[My translation] In his murals there are, in greater or lesser degree, the power of brush strokes a la José Clemente Orozco, the preoccupation with form of a chiaroscuro a la Diego, the lesson on textures learned from Siqueiros. He neither copies nor follows; he simply assimilates and ennobles an exemplary tradition …

Joaquin S. MacGregor, “Mario Orozco Rivera, Muralista,” http://cdigital.uv.mx/bitstream/123456789/2983/2/196224P605.pdf

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find any examples of the artwork depicting China and its peoples that was featured in this exhibition. However, a few of Orozco Rivera’s murals and other works can be seen on the websites listed below:

Secretaria de Turismo y Cultura, Instituto Veracruzano de la Cultura: http://www.culturaveracruz.ivec.gob.mx/galeria/galeria.asp?coleccion=Murales%20de%20Mario%20Orozco%20Rivera

Pintores Latinoamericanos: http://www.pintoreslatinoamericanos.com/2013/11/pintores-mexicanos-mario-orozco-rivera.html


Colaboradores de Wikipedia, “Mario Orozco Rivera,” Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre, http://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mario_Orozco_Rivera&oldid=72073568 (descargado 8 de mayo de 2014).

Apr 292014

Today I discovered a recipe on-line for vegan no-bake pistachio-based energy balls infused with the delicate essence of rose water that sound exotically Turkish: .

Dried fruits and nuts, Istanbul, Turkey

Dried fruits and nuts, Istanbul, Turkey

Having visited Istanbul this past year and indulged in a variety of Turkish delights (the edible kind as well as the joys of a sumptuous Turkish bath from which we emerged sprinkled in fragrant rose water ourselves), this recipe brings back all of those travel memories en force.

Vibrant with green-flecked and distinctly-delicious pistachios and sesame seeds, given body via rolled oats and sweetness through agave, and dazzled into exotic excitement by a sprinkling of rosewater, these no-bake (high raw) pistachio rosewater bites are perfect for those moments where you want something sweet yet healthy, easy to make yet complex in flavour, and just a tad little tiny bit addictive. (www.WayfaringChocolate.com)

The recipe is published on the Wayfaring Chocolate blog at Pistachio Rosewater No-Bake Vegan Heavenly Bites.

When I make these, which look so much like the decadently sweet Turkish Delight candies in Istanbul, I’ll definitely take up the suggestion to add fresh cardamom spice for an extra touch of Turkish flavor.

Rose and Bosphorus Bridge

A rose under the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul

One challenge in making this recipe here in Mexico is finding food grade rose water. Here, rose water is not used in cooking but is used as a skin moisturizer
and freshener, so most rose water products are for external use only.

Fortunately, making homemade rose water is not a hard task, as long as you can get hold of fragrant and organic rose petals. En Guete! blog, by Kako, gives us (in Spanish) a straightforward and easy recipe for homemade rose water, which I’ve translated into English:

Rose Water Ingredients

4 large, organic red roses
1 glass jar, 1 liter capacity, sterilized
3 cups boiling water
1 small rose water storage bottle

Remove petals from the roses and place in the large jar. Pour the boiling water over top. Cover and allow to macerate overnight. The following day, strain out the petals and store the rose water in the fridge for up to four days.

(translated from “Agua de Rosas y Mermelada de Rosas,” http://kako-enguete.blogspot.mx/2009/06/agua-de-rosas-y-mermelada-de-rosas.html)

That same page also has a wonderful-looking recipe for Rose Petal Marmalade made from the above homemade rose water with a few rose petals added.

An alternative and somewhat more complicated method of making high-quality rose water through a home distilling process can be found here: How to make your own rose water, from Care2.com.

Apr 262014

This morning, I stood in my little tropical kitchen looking out into the garden as I skinned raw peanuts, readying them for roasting and grinding into peanut butter.  It crossed my mind that some people would think that what I was doing was a waste of time, that they had better things to do, like playing video games or text messaging their friends, than to stand there rolling peanuts between their fingers. Why not just buy already shelled, skinned and roasted peanuts to make the peanut butter?

But I was happy watching the sun play through the tree branches and cast shadow images of birds and leaves on the palm tree trunk in front of the kitchen window. I listened to the waves rustle (crash or thunder would be an exaggeration today: the waves are small) against the sandy shore of the bay. The early morning sounds of Easter crowds arriving at the beach floated through the fence as my fingers loosened the crepey crinkles of peanut skins to expose the vulnerability of the creamy-white peanuts inside. The moment was full and satisfying, and I was grateful for my simple activity and unbeatable surroundings; why would I want anything more?

Besides, packaged peanuts can be way too salty and contain questionable oils and other sneaky ingredients.

Basil plant Tropical Kitchen

This afternoon, I’ll pop those peanuts into the oven until they are golden and then run them through my wonderful Omega juicer using the nut butter/puree attachment. Simple. Delicious.

During my peanut-skinning reverie, I  decided to throw together a green smoothie for breakfast. I considered my inventory of produce on hand and opted for a combination of guanabana–or soursop–pulp (which I had liberated from its skin a couple of days ago and had stored in a sealed container in the fridge), papaya, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, swiss chard from the garden, and fresh basil leaves. I tossed in a tablespoon of organic coconut oil, plus a ration of 100 percent natural and pure vanilla-flavored  pea protein isolate I had inherited  from a friend (thanks, Victoria!).

The combination couldn’t have been better. The vanilla pea protein powder transformed an already killer smoothie into an even more creamy, tasty, and nutritious breakfast that will keep me going for hours.

Creamy Protein-Enhanced Smoothie

(all measurements are approximate)

3/4 cup guanabana pulp, seeds removed*
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (I’m sure orange would work just fine)
6 leaves of Swiss chard, chopped, no stems (use 10-12 leaves of baby spinach if you don’t have chard)
2 large sprigs of fresh basil, leaves only
1/2 to 3/4 cup diced ripe papaya
1 T organic coconut oil
1-2 T pea protein powder
water as needed to give the consistency you want to the smoothie

Simply blend everything together until smooth, adding water (or more juice) to thin as desired.

* Guanabana seeds are mildly toxic and should not be ingested. The easiest way I know to remove the seeds from guanabana pulp is to press the pulp through a sieve, adding a little water, if necessary, or soaking the pulp and seeds a bit before pressing. The alternative is to mash through the pulp and pick each seed out with your fingers, which is quite a bit more tedious. However, the wonderful taste of the fruit makes practically any effort worthwhile.

See Jamaica Gleaner, “Soursop Seeds are Toxic,” for more info on the guanabana or soursop.