Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Name This Plant: Celosia "Twisted"

Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana by Sara Reeves on 500px.com

I first saw this plant in Ghana at the Cocoa Research Institute and snapped this picture. It did not occur to me that I could do a Name This Plant with it until I happened upon the same plant in Whole Foods just a few weeks back and was provided the name. Otherwise it would have been hard to google red squiggly flower and find the name.

As it turns out, it is possible it hails from East Africa where it is known in Swahili as mfungu. But I do not remember running into any while we were in Kenya. It also appears to grow back home in Indiana where it is called cocks comb, but I do not remember having seen it there before either.

This particular variety of celosia is know as "twisted." It appears the more common variety looks like this:

Surprisingly, in addition to being decorative, celosia is also edible. According to Wikipedia:
Celosia argentea var. argentea or Lagos spinach (a.k.a. quail grass, Soko, Celosia, feather cockscomb) is a broadleaf annual leaf vegetable. It grows widespread across Mexico, where it is known as "Velvet flower", northern South America, tropical Africa, the West Indies, South, East and Southeast Asia where it is grown as a native or naturalized wildflower, and is cultivated as a nutritious leafy green vegetable. It is traditional fare in the countries of Central and West Africa, and is one of the leading leafy green vegetables in Nigeria, where it is known as ‘soko yokoto’, meaning "make husbands fat and happy". In Spain it is known as "Rooster comb" because of its appearance.
Clearly, its the leaves and not the flowers that are being eaten. It also appears to have many medicinal purposes.

So now you know.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Name This Plant: Mango

Strangely enough, despite living in Samoa for two years and spending three months eating all the mango and sticky rice in SE Asia, I had never seen a mango tree before. I am not sure why I found how they grew surprising.

The entire time I was in Samoa, I didn't eat a single mango. During training, another member of our group discovered that he was allergic to mangoes by developing a full-body rash and swelling. He itched everywhere. In one commiserating session, he compared his allergies to my boils and we both came to the conclusion that we would rather have my boils than his allergic reaction. They told us in training that the mango tree is in the family of poison sumac and poison ivy. Though I am not allergic to poison ivy, I decided I didn't want to take the risk.

However, by the time we got to Thailand, I was over my fear. It was probably the mango and sticky rice that did it. Seriously, best food item ever. Sweet. Salty. Delicious. We ate it I think just about every day for breakfast in Chiang Mai.

I wasn't totally free of the mango allergy. As it turns out, it's the skin of the mango that is the problem. As long as I ate peeled mango, I was usually ok. However, if the skin had rubbed against the flesh or if it wasn't skinned well, I would get what I called mango lips. Aesthetically, mango lips are great. My lips would swell a little and take on a redder hue. Looked great. But they also had a strange rough texture and itched. According to Wikipedia:
The skin of unripe, pickled, or cooked mango can be consumed, but has the potential to cause contact dermatitis of the lips, gingiva, or tongue in susceptible people.
I am a susceptible people. Just like I am one of those lucky few that have a reaction to doxy. Lucky me.

Cale's family is from rural southern Indiana near the Kentucky border. Apparently, they referred to bell peppers as mangoes when he was growing up. It had never occurred to him that was unusual until we were listening to a Way With Words where an Indiana listener called in to ask why her family calls bell peppers mangoes. Wikipedia explains:
When mangoes were first imported to the American colonies in the 17th century, they had to be pickled due to lack of refrigeration. Other fruits were also pickled and came to be called "mangoes", especially bell peppers, and by the 18th century, the word "mango" became a verb meaning "to pickle".
Fun mango facts!