Sunday, March 27, 2011

natural dyes at the organic mela, chennai

Last week I was a part of a wonderful "organic mela" put on by the Safe Food Alliance and ReStore Chennai. the mela (festival) was held in the Semmorzhi Poonga, the new park in central Chennai. It was a hot Saturday afternoon and there were hundreds of people who were coming through. The various booths included information on GMO, pesticides, local varieties of rices, and vendors selling organic groceries and handloom, organic cotton shirts. There was delicious food and the most refreshing drink made from organic palm sugar and lime juice.

I hosted a small table on natural dyes. We showed off some of the beautiful samples made by a friend highlighting local sources of plant dyes. I prepared a cold turmeric bath and those who came by made a little textile from the bright yellow color. I believe that we raised awareness about textiles and the abundance of local sources for beautiful color. It was an inspiring day for me and I am very thankful for the opportunity!

To see more photos visit this link

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crossandra infundibuliformis, Firecracker flower or Kanakambaram

our shrub in the backyard

never ending blooms!

very cool seed packet i found at a roadside seed seller in chidambaram

my harvest for today's garland

tying on

making my way, pair by pair, knot by knot

final garland

i had a blast today doing something that i've always wanted to do, but never got around to it - making flower garlands to wear in my hair. one of the simple luxuries of being in india is always being able to buy flowers in the market to tie in your hair. while usually they are made of jasmine, these kanakambaram (Tamil) flowers are another favorite. when i was little i would always prefer these bright orange flowers to the fragrant white jasmine. the flowers last a couple of days without wilting and the peduncles (flower stalks) are strong and forgiving when tying the flowers together.

we're lucky to have a large shrub in the back yard that seems to unceasingly produce flowers. i harvested a handful and sat down to begin stringing.

you start by taking two flowers and tying then end to end together with a knot. then you continue to add pairs until you have a full "maram" (as they sell them in the market) or arms length worth.

i was brainstorming on what sturdy and florabundant plants we could use in the bay area to make garlands, any ideas?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

coco de mer, double coconut, beautiful rump

a seedling growing
i was horribly afraid one of those 20 kg seeds would fall on my head

these strange coconut palms, native to the seychelle islands, were quite the sight at the royal botanic gardens in peradineya, sri lanka. the seeds are the largest and the heaviest in the world taking 5 years to mature and weighing upwards of 30 kgs!! it is a true case of island gigantism having also the largest female flowers of any palm and the longest leaves!

there's a story that when sailors came across these floating seeds in the ocean (where they get the name 'coco de mer'), they imagined them to be the beautiful buttocks of island ladies. this mythology corresponds with the archaic botanical name Lodoicea callipyge, where 'callipyge' is from greek words meaning "beautiful rump!" This later contributed to the legend that the nuts were aphrodisiacs.

With the seeds being highly valuable and prized, the plant is now threatened in its native environment with only two wild populations remaining, but can be seen in botanical gardens throughout the world.

Its true botanical name is Lodoicea maldivica and it is the sole member of the genus Lodoicea.

the nuts are apparently used in ayurveda and chinese traditional medicine.

A truly strange and intriguing plant!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

all fruits begin as flowers.

banana's have one of the most beautiful inflorescences (cluster of flowers on a single stem). when you peel back the brachts (often mistaken for petals) to reveal the fruits forming inside it really is a treasure and an image that reinforces teh fact that all fruits begin as flowers. i remember going out to some school gardens while working at the uc botanical garden and showing children the banana flower next to a bunch of bananas. it was an aha moment that i continue to have to date!

banana flowers (varzhapou) are used in south indian cookery. they add a special flavor to masala vada and can also be made on their own. this recipe is from one of my great aunties and is made with buttermilk.

chop up the flowers into small bits and boil in 1 cup of buttermilk plus a pinch of salt and pinch of turmeric until tender. remove from heat

heat oil and add mustard seeds (most), urad dal (a little), fenugreek seeds (very few) and a couple of curry leaves

add spice mixture to banana flowers! serve as an accompaniment to rice and sambar.

variations can include adding grated coconut, red chilis or garlic.

bananas are another multipurpose plant, cultivated throughout the world for its fruit, flowers, stems - all for eating and also its fiber, which can be made into strong yarns and textiles. its leaves are used as plates and parcels.

for more information look to Dan Koeppel's book " Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World" and visit his banana blog here.