Pawpaw – Largest Native Tree Fruit

pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-1This October, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grove has continued to produce heavy yields, many more than we can eat. By we, I mean me and the possums. Bob is not a fan  – these people do exist! Since the possums are usually more attentive gardeners than I am (after all, they are up all night), I try to survey the ripe ones, often fallen, every evening before the possums arrive for their nightly feast. But I often “forget” in the interest of starving possums and keeping the kitchen paw paw piles at a reasonable level. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-3

I love to eat them fresh, which means within 2-4 days, but do freeze some for winter smoothies. Their flesh is generous, thick, creamy, and incomparable to any other fruit, not too sweet, but certainly not tart or sour, but rich with flavors indescribable but akin to butterscotch, bananna, and mango – though deeper and more profound. They freeze well, and keep frozen till the next harvest, but their taste is changed from the fresh experience. These are tough but delicate trees after all, going all the way back to the fossil era, when there were no freezers – they just don’t understand the concept. But I still force them into the modern age, and freeze them to make up smoothies with pineapple, papaya, and vanilla as companions. The base can be milk, nut milk, or a citrus juice. Or anything else you may come up with. pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-2

For many more recipes, attend the Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, where I intend to go next year, September 15-17 (2017).  Find out more at Ohiopawpawfest.com. I’m hoping to come back with many recipes, such as perhaps a pawpaw salsa, which sounds intriguing. And maybe, pawpaw’s unique flavor could make some exquisite pairings with rare spices and Chinese tonic herbs – ashwagandha? There seems to be much to explore with this forgotten but rising fruit. Also available on the net is The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook by Sarah Bir, with 12 recipes, such as pawpaw gelato, pawpaw cornbread, and pawpaw pudding, which she says tastes like pumpkin pie. Interesting! Her website is Sausagetarian.com. And she has an article on pawpaws at Pastemagazine.com titled:  “5 Ways to Get Your Pawpaws On This Season“.

If you happen to be a nutrition nut like I am, you may be interested to know that pawpaw fruits are very nutritious, being especially high in potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, phosphorus, iron, and niacin. These values are substantially higher than our most common fruits:  banana, apple, and orange. Their amino acid profile is mostly higher also. See Pawpaw.kysu.edu. For fiber, a very small pawpaw (3.5 oz.) has 2.6 grams of fiber or 10% of your daily requirement.

Even more than nutrition, the pawpaw tree has medicinal properties. The leaves, bark, and twigs are used to treat cancer, one of the most difficult tasks for any plant. They contain compounds called acetogenins which modulate the production of ATP in the mitochondria, the energy producer of the cell and which also regulates cell division. Pawpaw twigs also enhance digestive health and help eliminate parasites. The fruits contain papain, which helps with digestion, may improve skin, and supports healthy blood sugar levels. The twigs should be harvested when “biologically active”, which would be in May, just before the tree leafs out. Pawpaws are late to leaf out, putting out flowers first, so there would be no spring rush. Since I just discovered twig benefits in my latest research, I definitely plan to harvest some next spring. I plan to try a twig tea as a pesticide spray on my apple trees as well. For more information and stories relating cancer cures, see herbs77.com. For more on the research on acetogenins, see pawpawresearch.com.

If  you are thinking of growing pawpaw trees, I have found that they love the heat and humidity of the Midwest and Michigan, where I live at about latitude 43, which could be their northern most range (before global warming!).They are also hardy to zone 5 and -25 degrees. They have taproots, which seem to protect them from drought, once they are a few years old, and bring up deep nutrients. Probably because of their perfect adaptability, I have experienced no pest or disease problems in my 20 or so years of growing them. Mine are at the edge of the woods, yet in the sun, in a lower area relative to the rest of our acre, but not in wet soil. I haven’t fertilized them either except for some Azomite minerals ocassionally. They are pollinated by flies and beetles – I haven’t noticed the beetles, but I never thought I would be glad to see flies. Mine are located along a deer path – and we have rabbits, but neither are the least interested! These trees are by far my favorite fruit producer. So easy, so beautiful with their tropical leaves, and so nutritious!  pawpaw-trees-and-fruits-4

PS My varieties are Taylor and Sunflower (which I can’t tell apart) and have formed producing groves. RaintreeNursery.com has 8 or 9 varieties for sale.

 

 

Native Plant Lecture and Plant Sale

Good view of the bermed design of Cedar Creek building

Good view of the bermed design of Cedar Creek building

Because I love the bermed architecture of the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Main Cedar Creek building from the southeast and because I can’t resist a plant sale, we dropped urgent gardening tasks and drove out to investigate. I had diminished expectations of any lecture on native plants. Hoopla abounds in the breeding of more and more dazzling and talented plants, so it seemed that native plants would only be  poor, deprived, pitiful cousins in need of some type of genetic infusion. However, I had gone so far as to become enchanted by bumblebees in the dead of winter and had a list of nine wild plants which are loved by them. The website Xerces.com sells a kit of the plants, but tracking them down seemed more interesting.

Entrance to main Cedar Creek Institute Building

Cedar Creek entrance and plants for sale

Upon arriving, one from my list (which of course I forgot), jumped out – Wild Bergamot.  Another one just looked powerful:  Great Blue Lobelia. Lobelia was the herb raved about by the herbalist Jethro Kloss in his book Back To Eden, the first herbal I ever read. Everyone but Mr. Kloss had a deep fear and dread of lobelia instilled by powerful war volleys put forth by the makers of the War On Nature. But Mr. Kloss could cure just about anything with this potent herb (including suspended animation). So I bought that one too. What bee wouldn’t want to revel in this herb?

Wild plants I bought

Native plants I bought, from left: Columbine, Bottle Gentian, Great Blue Lobelia, Little Bluestem, Wild Bergamot

We sat in the back at the lecture in case a quick exit was necessitated out of boredom. But I was shocked to have been immediately gripped by a new fever for the pristine, the unadorned, and the utterly natural world of native plants. The earnest and learned lecturer, Vern Stephens from Designs by Nature, began by explaining the advantageous nutritional value of native seeds and berries for the birds. Similar plants hybridized for other characteristics such as color or hardiness don’t have the high quality amino acids and proteins possessed by native plants. Birds who eat them often cannot fly fast enough to escape predators or lay fewer eggs. Some birds will not even eat non-native seeds and fruits. Native plants  have a crucial position in the woven tapestry of interdependence between plants, insects, and birds.

Seeing myself as at least somewhat bird-like, I couldn’t help but think about my human diet as well – that perhaps I am lacking in wild native foods too. Aside from Chaga mushrooms, I am not eating that many wild foods. I think I am surviving – but surviving may be more than walking and talking. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we are all still in a game of survival. We have crude “foodstuffs” but do we have foods that can help us to survive on a higher human level……was the question. We perceive that we are safe, but what about higher human functions – the idea that never emerged, the mental retreat, the smile that never found its way from our brain to our face?

Since humans ideally bridge the gap between the physical and the spiritual, I suddenly found myself engrossed in the idea of spiritual ecology. Could there be foods that can help us break barriers between physical and spiritual realms, that can help us fly away to a safer place? The idea that our gardens and yards can help us survive on a higher level seemed worth exploring. Gardening always leads me to see relationships I never knew existed, and this lecture sparked new avenues and threads I’ll fly off to……if I can find the right amino acids.

The Music of Moss

Moss in a Circle

Lately, every time I turn around, I see moss. Moss cannot be ignored – it needs to be looked at, thought about, considered. There is so much of it, for one thing – that in itself is commanding. It is also so primeval, the diametric opposite of hard-edged civilization, a constant link to our mysterious past. Extracting nutrients from air and water, it is both primitive and sophisticated at the same time. There is a spiritual quality in moss with its humility (it gets walked on!) and breatharian feats that always inspires me.

But there are many ways to look at moss.

Some years ago, I took a class on moss at the Matthei Botanical Garden near Ann Arbor, Michigan. In the back of my mind, I think I believed I was going to visit an oracle – to get a translation of deep wisdom straight from the earth itself. Maybe the translation would be scientific in nature, but it would still have startling undeniable kernels of truth which would startle and shock me out of my normal complacency. When I got there, it appeared that no one else had these expectations. Lists of mosses on the blackboard with names difficult to pronounce or remember hung lifeless  in the arid room. I had to unearth bits of Latin learned in bygone days, the tail ends of a classical education in a public school, in order to decifer them.  I finally enjoyed the field trip where we discovered those dusty names in real life:  dicranum on rocks, racometrium – a fast spreading carpet moss, bryum – the velvet carpet moss which can survive between sidewalk cracks, and brachythecium, another tongue twister fast spreading sheet former.

Leaving the halls of scientific learning, another way to look at moss is through the lens of design – both interior and exterior. Bonsai growers find moss to be the prefect soil topper with its storybook appearance and its ability to evoke landscapes with hills and valleys. According to George Schenk in his excellent book, Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts and Other Miniatures, Bryum, Leptobryum, Pohlia, Hupnum, Antitrichia, and Homalothecium are known to work well for bonsai. They can be transplanted from such common places as sidewalk cracks in the case of Bryum, as sown bits of dried moss, or as a spread of slurried moss pulverized in a blender; he tells how in his book.

Spring MossMoss has an ancient place in the gardens of Japan. One thousand years ago, Zen Buddhist Monks saw a spiritual kinship in these zen-like plants and began to cultivate them. Mr. Shenk’s book has a photo of the remarkable moss garden, Saihoji, a naturalistic design where mosses ramble over bridges, logs, stone and earth, creating rythmic tapestries with a timeless quality. I would love to see this garden, but since Japan isn’t on my to do list, I’ll have to content myself with creating my own moss garden – fun in its own way. Mr. Schenk gives good grounding for such an endeavor. Daffodils in Delft

I took this spring photo of the up and coming daffodils and miniature forsythia, “Little Peep”. The moss seemed to emphasize the fresh yet ancient qualities of spring. These moss buns are fake – our Siamese cat mix Smart little Luvy loves to bat them around the floor, but they look quite like Bryum – that always green sidewalk moss.

If anyone out there follows the interior design work of Vicente Wolf, I just happened upon an interview in the latest House Beautiful (May issue) in which he states his design philosophy in a nutshell:  “First I make sure there is always a flow. Like water flowing down a river. There might be a little rock here and a little bit of rapids there, but the river never stops flowing.” Moss and mossy rocks would fit right in, “the minimal with the primitive.”

But mostly, moss reminds me of music – again because of its flow. Moss seems to flow around like little rivers and small lakes. A beautiful photo of a sea of Leucobryum in the book Moss Gardening, shows it as the moss version of white foaming waves. You can almost hear the sound coming from its undulating motion. If there were music emanating from moss, it would have to sound like the music of Philip Glass This music is not sentimental ( like the exquisite moodiness of Debussy), but a music which obliterates both thought and emotion and leaves us with a purity of sound and experience. A primeval sound, mysterious, direct, and both elusive and powerful – like moss. Glass has said that he doesn’t compose music, he simply listens to it, and sometimes can just barely hear it. In an interview on the DVD, Glass, a Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, he describes the origins of his music as a an underground river, always flowing.  I’m hoping one day to be able to just barely hear the river of moss. Then my science class will be complete….

            On the shingled gate

            Where in rain moss grows jade-bright

            Earth and heaven merge.

                      Ikiru