TIME TO SOW THE PAPALO.

Despite the temperature roller coaster this spring, Cilantro is already setting flowers and going to seed.  I know many people can’t stand the taste or smell of Cilantro, but my daily diet would be sadly lacking without it!  I start my days with it chopped in with my scrambled eggs, along with Jalapeños, Moringa leaves and onions (sometimes mushrooms and mint, too!)  All this on a tortilla, topped with lashings of hot chunky salsa!!!

 

Cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has been cultivated as a medicinal and culinary herb for more than three thousand years.  References to this wonderful herb abound in Sanskrit texts, Egyptian papyri, a translation of The Arabian Nights and the Bible!  It was introduced to Central and South America where it quickly became associated with that cuisine by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Easy to grow, readily self-seeding, the only drawback is that it fails to cooperate in hot weather!

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Enter Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale).

Fresh Papalo Leaves

Papalo is known by many names; Quilquiña, Yerba Porosa, Killi, Papaloquelite and broadleaf in English. It is a member of the informal quelites), the semi-wild greens rich in vitamins and nutrients that grow among the fields in central and South America. These green edible plants grow without having to plant them. They sprout with the first rains or field irrigation, often providing a second or third harvest, costing no additional work but giving food and nutrition.   Other quelites include lamb’s quarters, amaranth, quinoa, purslane, epazote and Mache or corn salad.

Papalo pre-dates the introduction of cilantro to Mexico by several thousand years, which is a very interesting story all by itself. South America is thought to be the ancestral home of papalo.  The name Papalo originates with the Nahuatl word for butterfly, and Papaloquelite is said to mean butterfly leaf. The flowers provide nectar to feeding butterflies, while also attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden with their pollen.

Use this “summer cilantro” just as you would the real thing.  Although it is not related to Cilantro, it is a good fresh-picked substitute.

Poinsettias for Christmas.

Before coming to the United States, I was not familiar with the tradition of Poinsettias at Christmas.  I was used to plants such holly, ivy, cyclamen, Christmas cactus and amaryllis.   Research sources such as Wiki, cactus/succulent websites and Brookwood Community where they grow thousands each year, has helped explain!!
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Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to and. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning “flower that grows in residues or soil” Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua, meaning Easter flower. In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Hungary, it is called Santa Claus’ Flower, and is widely used as a Christmas decoration.

The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. The poinsettia has been cultivated in Egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett. There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

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In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates such as Australia, Rwanda and Malta.  The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts.  Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.  To produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma infection—whose symptoms include the proliferation of axillary buds—is used. The discovery of the role phytoplasmas play in the growth of axillary buds is credited to Ing-Ming Lee of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
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Poinsettia tree growing in Guatemala

In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia’s toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.  Sap introduced into the human eye may cause temporary blindness.

 

AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Nine

Sadly, our time has come to an end for this visit.  The suitcases were loaded into the truck, we loaded into the van, and we set off for Guatemala City and the airport.  Goodbyes were said to Jorge and Armando at the entrance to the airport (only travelers are allowed inside!); all the formalities were taken care of very quickly and without any problems, and soon we were shopping (again!) and sitting down to eating lunch.  The flight to Houston was clear and uneventful, taking a little over 2 hours, and once in the airport we scattered like cats in all directions heading for home, taking all our many memories with us!

Adios Guatemala!
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Adios Mexico!
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Hola Texas!

 

AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Eight

Our last full day of this trip started with no electricity, but that didn’t slow us down!  Early that morning we heard the rumble of the Electricity Company trucks rolling down the road – even more impressive since it was Sunday!  After breakfast we loaded up into the fourwheelers and set off for the area that had been chosen to plant our Macadamia trees.  That was a fun activity for we “adult kids”!  Each tree was given a number and plotted on a map, so we can receive updates as to its growth, health and wellbeing.

Next we went to see the buildings for the proposed learning center, a program to be implemented in the summer of next year.

and then took another trip “up the mountain” – our last for this visit!

Our final activity of the day was not for the faint-hearted!  While some took turns in enjoying a massage at the spa, others took to the treetops  by navigating the “Ropes” course and Zipline!

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As we were wrapping up before going to pack for our 8:00 am departure in the morning, the utility repairs trucks came down the mountain, having finished their job.  They said electricity would be back on in 2 hours; there was more than one Doubting Thomas in our group, but in fact the electricity was restored in about 2 1/2!!!   Kudos and thanks to the Guatemalan Utility Company!!!  So we packed (oh, that was a challenge to find space for all the things we had purchased, and some of the suitcase space had to be shared with other travelers)! and ate our last meal of this visit!

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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Seven

Out for breakfast this fine Saturday morning – to Valhalla Macadamia Farm, near San Miguel Dueñas.  Wikipedia states (and this I learned in school): In Norse mythology, Valhalla (from Old Norse Valhöll “hall of the slain”) is a majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Chosen by Odin, half of those who die in combat travel to Valhalla upon death, led by valkyries, while the other half go to the goddess Freyja’s field Fólkvangr. In Valhalla, the dead join the masses of those who have died in combat known as Einherjar and various legendary Germanic heroes and kings, as they prepare to aid Odin during the events of Ragnarök. Before the hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the hall’s ceiling is thatched with golden shields. Various creatures live around Valhalla, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún, both described as standing atop Valhalla and consuming the foliage of the tree Læraðr.  What has this to do with Guatemala and the Macadamia Farm? I would have liked to think that the founder was from Scandinavia, but nope!  He came from California, with a very Scandinavian or Germanic name!  I’m including the link to his webpage because there is so much of interest in the uses and benefits of the Macadamia Tree and it’s nut http://www.exvalhalla.net.  Breakfast is served outside, under the trees -most pleasant.  The Macadamia pancakes are to die for, made with macadamia flour and nuts, and go so well with that rich Guatemalan coffee!


After breakfast, and admiring the plant and flower filled restrooms, we took the tour.  We learned about the origin of the tree and it’s uses and saw the nut sorting and processing machines.  Some of our group took advantage of a free (tip appreciated) facial with macadamia oil, while others of us just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, and visited with a group of tourists on a cruise from Australia, whose ship berthed at Puerto Quetzal in the early morning and who arrived by coach.  We purchased enough Macadamia tree saplings for each of us to plant at the farm tomorrow, as well as some for family members.

Next we drove to La Azotea, Cultural Center and Coffee Farm.  Last time here, a year ago, I didn’t buy any of their Coffee Liqueur, but this year I had it on my list!  Mmmm,  mmm, good!  The tour took us through a series of dioramas showing all aspects of coffee production, from planting to harvesting.  We were told the history of the original owners, and admired displays of antique and vintage coffee pots, cups, and photos.  Then we went across the drying yards to the plantation itself, saw the wonderful composting operation, and the garden center.  And, of course, the gift shop!!!  That was good exercise to walk off the effects of the Macadamia Pancakes, but it was almost lunchtime already.


We ate a leisurely lunch in a beautiful setting at a restaurant in Antigua, Epicure, across from Mercado Artisanal de Carmen’s outdoor Saturday market!

Time to go home – while we were gone there had been a hail storm and a tree came down on the power lines – no electricity!  Supper and a family birthday party by lantern light – a perfect ending to another perfect day.
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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Six

Today, September 15, 2017,  marks 196 years of Independence from Spain.  It was great to share in the excitement of the Parade in Antigua!  The sun was shining and the streets were filled with music and color.  We found a perfect parking place and location from which to watch, a front row position!

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Parade-watching being thirsty work, we headed out to visit Casa Santo Domingo, once the largest monastery in Guatemala, now a hotel with historic ruins, museums and shops in the grounds.  There are Macaws in the trees, beautiful flowers and a wonderful volcano backdrop on a clear day.

Onward to Vivero Escalonia for lunch in a garden center!  Two favorite things!

After lunch paid a quick visit to Caoba Farms, an organic farm with a “destination” appeal.  Tours are available, lunch, shopping, and on weekends a lively farmers’ market.

Final stop was at the Mercado Artisanal for the final shopping session of the day!
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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Five

After all the hustle and bustle with the kids’ programs yesterday, we started a little later this morning.  First stop after breakfast was a visit to San Jose vegetable farm and greenhouses, next door to Xejuyu.   Acres of carrots were impressive, all in different growth stages.  The variety grown here is “Triton” which, after experimentation, has been the best performer.  No machinery is used to harvest any of the vegetables, which are all hand-washed.  This is not a certified organic operation, but chemicals are kept to a minimum.  20-20-20 granules are used in a drip system “fertigation”!!!  Beans were growing under tunnels, variety Serengeti.  Some of the problems they have there are whitefly, thrips, powdery mildew and rust.  They expect the workers to harvest 2 1/2 baskets of beans per tunnel, which takes half an hour.  Lovely bright orange sweet peppers (unable to read my notes for the variety) are grown for export to Germany, which owns the rights to this variety.  We were given a big box of them to take home for supper!

The plan for this farm is to go into full  time hydroponic operation; last year we saw the ground being prepared and this year the buildings are up but not yet functional.

Next on the agenda was a trip up the mountain on four wheelers to take in the wonderful views over the town and countryside (including looking down on San Jose greenhouses where we had been), to check on the new plantings of Cedar trees, and take pictures among the coffee plants.  The dogs love going on these excursions, running, running and running until they have to try to get in the vehicles for a rest!  While stopping for coffee pictures we met two local ladies loaded down with baskets on their heads carrying lunch to the farm workers.  They were gracious enough to stop and pose for pictures!

 

In the afternoon we went up the road again to visit with Tio Paul and tour his wonderful gardens.  All kinds of bromeliads and orchids grow in the trees, huge colorful blooming shrubs and small trees show off the under-plantings.  Fruit trees of every kind were loaded down with ripening fruit, as well as bananas, plantains, and even pineapples!  Vegetables were thriving in the rich volcanic soil, and the greenhouse contains a huge vanilla vine.  The beautiful view over the valley was a little obscured by cloud which just added to the mystique of the volcanoes!

Later we gathered in the kitchen back at the farm and “helped” prepare supper – well, we watched the preparation of a tasty dessert made from chayote.

Tomorrow would be Independence Day, and we were all looking forward to watching the parade in Antigua!