PEARLS FOR FOOD

It is so  often that tiny rural roads, bereft of traffic and burly trucks , unfurl Pellets of Joy.

The narrow road from Yawat, off the Pune-Solapur Highway , Maharashtra,India,  leading to the Spectacular and Ancient Bhuleshwar Temple was one such Bundle of Joy. It winds through the most interesting agricultural fields of Food and Flowers.

green-fields
Monsoon Clouds over a Lush Bajra Field

Bajra ( Hindi) is a mineral rich, gluten free Millet which has a History of over 5000 Years in India and predates the advent of Wheat by hundreds ,nay thousands , of years.

Also known as Pearl Millet ( English), Pennisetum glaucum ( Scientific name), it forms the staple food of many a rural households in Maharashtra in the form of a Bread ( Roti)  called “Bajra Bhakri”.

fields-and-clouds
Resembling  “Pearly” Rush Reeds

I often confuse Bajra with Jowar , another millet known as Sorghum in English. Both are mineral rich millets and a wonderful alternative  for those that are Gluten Intolerant and cannot consume Cereals like Wheat.

I remember a delicious milk pudding ( usually served Hot) called ” Bajre ki  Kheer” which I had when I was younger. Little did I realize that one day I would be fortunate to see the Little Black Pearls in the Pudding growing in fields near Pune.

green-one
A Young One  emerging from a Leafy cover

Is it not Enchanting to see “Pearls Grow” ?

WHAT AN EYE

The Cattle Egret ( English), Bubulcus ibis ( Scientific name) is a common but graceful White Heron which had adapted to both Urban and Rural Human habitations.

They have a symbiotic relationship with domesticated cattle and have thus earned the name Cattle Egret.

Keep a sharp eye for the antics of this specimen photographed in the  sprawling Gardens of a Hotel in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.

foot has grass
What’s stuck to my foot

What an eye ? 

seeing the clump
Let me have a closer look at my foot

The Sharp and focused eyes of the Cattle Egret have spotted Food and it stretches out low over the ground to approach it’s prey .

flat out
Food is the focus

Satisfied with a full meal the White Heron takes off for greener pastures.

Do observe the beautiful Boomerang like formation of the Wings as it skims over the Grass.

in flight
Let me see what the others are eating

I spent a Wonderful Sunday Afternoon being Enchanted by these lovely Keen Eyed White Herons who had come come to feast on the worms and insects churned up by the gardeners while manicuring the green lawns.

BLACK BEAUTY

A friend and an avid Naturalist introduced me to an intriguing subject “History of Food”.

Captivated to the subject as it is closely intertwined with Nature I now look at my Food, in particular Vegetables and Herbs,  with more respect. Each vegetable  tells me a story of how they have integrated the World in more ways than we can imagine and the Continents they have traversed.

The Black Beauty , Aubergine , EggPlant or Brinjal is a prehistoric vegetable known to Indian civilization since the dawn of time.

egg plant.jpg
BLACK BEAUTY

The vegetable Baingan ,( Hindi), EggPlant ( English) ,Solanum melongena ( Scientific Name) belongs to the potato family Solanaceae.

If you see cuisines across the world  today it is hard to imagine there was once a time when THE BLACK BEAUTY was unknown to regions beyond the Indian Subcontinent.

Imagine no Moussakas? ( friends in Turkey and Greece please note)

The picture below is of a vegetable farm  near the village of Kichan ( do check my blogs WINTER GUEST and A FEAST) , Rajasthan.

brinjals till the horizon
Baingan and Maize grow together in a field near Jodhpur

The beautiful mauve flowers of the BLACK BEAUTY look like lamps as the sunlight filters through their petals.

They are however carriers of the poisonous alkaloid Solanine , which like modern drugs causes hallucinations as well.

The  EggPlant or Black Beauty was therefore also known as the “APPLE OF INSANITY” or MAD APPLE .

the flower
The Nightshade Family

Tomatoes & Potatoes both belong to the  NIGHT SHADE (Solanaceae)  family  of the Brinjals and also carry the same alkaloid Solanine.  

Hybrids of the Black Beauty or Aubergine can also be White and hence the name  EGGPLANT.

Consumption of the BLACK BEAUTY  however brings with it a plethora of health benefits like  Flawless Skin, Healthy Hair, Weight Reduction and a control on diabetes and high blood pressure.

Do look well at your vegetables, they may have come from a distant and exotic land.

 

 

SUPERFOOD

These lovely golf ball sized fruits are called AMLA ( Hindi) or Indian Gooseberry ( English) .

These lemon-green coloured balls are the richest natural source of Vitamin C. They contain 4 times the Vitamin C as is found in  Citrus fruits like an Orange.

the amla tree.JPG
The tree bearing the fruit AMLA

Phyllanthus emblica or Emblica Officinalis are the scientific names of the tree of the Amla or Amlaki ( Sanskrit).

Used by the  traditional Indian school of medicine, Ayurveda for thousands of years, the Amla has numerous curative properties.

One of the tools of classification of Ayurveda, is Taste. All fruits/herbs are clubbed under 6 different tastes.

The Amla  amazingly falls under 5 of the 6 tastes  (Sour, Astringent, Sweet, Bitter and Pungent). The only taste left is Salty.

I will classify Amla under the heading SUPERFOOD.

branches laden with fruit

branches laden with fruits

The tree is extremely hardy and requires little water and care making it an ideal fruit bearing tree for the near desert like climate of Pushkar in Rajasthan.

The Amla is a miraculous fruit and has numerous curative properties as it revives and conserves the forces of Life.

The website

(  http://ayurveda-foryou.com/ayurveda_herb/amalaki.html) enlists all the  medicinal properties extensively.

bunches of fruit
abundance of Amla

 

You will find the Amla being sold on the streets in Pushkar , do have one daily for breakfast with a pinch of Rock salt or Kala Namak. Far better than popping pills.

amla in the market
Fascinating colours of the Amla  Street Vendors

Do try to find the Amla trees laden with this miraculous herb or better still stay at Resorts like the Pushkar Risala located in the the midst of an Amla Orchard.

BLACK EYED SUSAN

This single extraordinary flower stands out from a sea of green at the amazing HOTEL FATEGARH in Udaipur.( Rajasthan, India).
At first glance it is difficult to identify what belongs to which plant. It is a maze of leaves, branches, buds and flowers.

eye catcher
                                                                      Eye Catcher

It is indeed a lot of fun ( and sometimes frustrating ) to identify a flower or a plant. Try it.

My recent education makes me hone it down to the Malvaceae family ( A  diverse family including the flower Hibiscus,  the cash crop Cotton,  vegetable Okra  and the fruit Durian) .

Recent education was in a vegetable market in New Delhi, where I saw the  conical tell tale buds of Roselle ( Hibiscus Sabdariffa )  for the first time. ( a rushed picture from my mobile)

Thus the Genus Hibiscus  is clearly  established from the buds , now onto the tougher part of identifying the species.

Roselle
                                                           Roselle bunched with Raw Mangoes

I have a recent picture of  the Lady Finger ( Okra) plant which shows the similarity of the two family members in the typical cone-shaped buds, the whorl below the buds and the leaves.

This picture was taken at THE CORN VILLAGE near Mussoorie in the Himalayas.

( please check out the blog http://www.travelwithmukul.wordpress.com)

Can you imagine the vegetable Okra ( Abelmoschus esculentus and the flower above belong to the same family?

Okra
                                                            Okra or Lady Finger

When I checked out from the  initial look and colour of  the flower ( yellow with black centre)  I came up with no less than seven options from the Genus Hibiscus.

Hibiscus calyphyllus, Hibiscus caesius ( five-fingered mallow) ,Hibiscus hispidissimus,

Hibiscus lampas ( Jangli Bhindi) ,Hibiscus manihot ( Jangli Bhindi).Hibiscus vitifolius, Hibiscus abelmoschu.

Do remember all I have are photographs taken from a digital camera close to two decades ago.

malvacae family
                                                        Malvacae or Hibiscus  family

The habitat where one locates flora ( or fauna)  is an extremely useful tool in identifying the species.

After a pain staking comparison of the buds ( they have no hair in the picture), the typical whorl below the buds and the leaves resembling the head of a coconut tree ,I think the flower is christened Hibiscus Caesius Garcke.

( Please  verify at  http://efloraindia.nic.in ) 

As i leave you to ponder and decipher the correct identify of Susan, I move onto identify the white flowers seen along with these eye catchers.

SKYBLUE

An entire wall at the Polo Heritage Hotel, Jodhpur was covered with these glorious skyblue-violet flowers. There was a wonderful cover , almost as far as the eye could see  with these marvelous sun gazing blooms.

Commonly called the Skyblue clustervine, they are native to Florida, USA.( only the four southernmost counties of Miami etc)

little blue pennies
                                                  Little blue pennies

I was amazed to see a creeper native to tropical America flourishing in the near desert climate of Jodhpur, Marwar.

The skyblue clustervine has beautiful  heart shaped leaves ( see the picture below) adding to the majesty of this perennial climber.

The scientific name Jacquemontia pentanthos is in honour of a French naturalist Victor Jacquemont.

skyblue flowers
                                                            Sky blue flowers and heart shaped leaves

The flowers belong to the same family as the Morning Glory and thus open their petals with the rising sun.

Do check out my blog THE CHAMELEON FLOWERS to know about The Morning Glory as well.

Though the ultramarine coloured  flowers are relatively small  ( less than an inch or 2cms in diameter)  they grow in large clusters.

Being vigorous climbers they can be  glorious covers for a   garden wall , fence or a trellis.

cluster of flowers
                                                                 cluster of flowers

The violet-blue coloured flowers  in vast numbers are a huge attraction for bees in particular.

See the picture below, the camera had spotted a bee stealing the nectar.( top right) .

Do observe how the vine curls and stretches with the unidirectional leaves.

leaves with outstretched palms
                                              leaves with outstretched palms

The pentagon shape of the flowers  or the five petals give it the latter part of it’s name “pentanthos” .

The flowers also have five white coloured  stamens besides a white core.

close up
                                                      Close up of the Pentagon shaped flower 

I wonder why the THE SKYBLUE CLUSTER VINE is enlisted as Endagered in the state of Florida.

It contrast it is  extremely happy in its adopted home of Jodhpur which was also hosting the wonderful musical festival titled THE RIFF.

THE BUTTERFLY BUSH

The Butterfly Bush ( Scientific name :Buddleja davidii) is a beautiful flowering shrub with its origins in the mountains of China.

Bushels of flowers adorn the bush and it forms a splendid natural boundary to the gardens of the JW Marriott Hotel in Mussoorie, located in the lap of the Himalayas.

the hedge or the border of the garden
                                       the hedge or the border of the garden

The sweet fragrance of the abundant flowers attract bees and butterflies in droves and hence the name BUTTERFLY BUSH.

The lavender coloured flowers also give it an alias, THE LILAC BUSH.

A basque missionary of the 19th century Father Arthur David lends his name to this profusely flowering bush. ( scientific name Buddleja davidii)  

butterfly bush
                                                                  Butterfly bush

Found naturally in the mountainous zones of China the butterfly bush has  flowers in several colours , however I was witness to two colours, lilac and white.

On close observation you will see the flowers have an orange centre and  hence the shrub  is also called ORANGE EYE.

orange eye
                                                                  Orange eye

With drop dead looks and the sweetest of fragrances, the deceptive Butterfly Bush is now classified as a NOXIOUS WEED in many countries where it was introduced in the 19th century.

The rapidly growing bush spreads quickly and the profuse number of flowers ensures the plant a steady supply of seeds for self propagation.

The shrub grows back quickly even if cut from the stump and the seeds can lie dormant in the ground for several years. The shrub further ensures it’s survival as the male and female flowers occur on the same plant.

It has become an Invasive weed in countries like New Zealand and United Kingdom where they have been compelled to introduce a leaf-chewing beetle Cleopus japonicus as a biological control agent.

sweet fragrance
                                                       Sweet fragrance of the Lilac Bush

Recalling an old saying ” LOOKS ARE DECEPTIVE”, we should be careful what plants we introduce in our gardens as unknowngly we can upset a delicate ecosystem.

If we plant trees and plants ENDEMIC to the region it will ensure the survival of native species as well.

TEAR DROPS OF JOY

Fuschia (fyus-chia) is an attractive  colour which is similar to Magenta.

These lovely pendulous flowers in the driveway of JW MARRIOTT, Mussoorie bear the name  Fuchsia  ( mark the correct spelling) and adorn  the colour Fuschia  as well.

Growing profusely in the shade I call these magnificent flowers TEAR DROPS OF JOY.

chandelier of fucshia
                                           Drooping  flowers  of Fuchsia look like little bells

The flower is called Fuchsia ( fook-sia) in honour of the 16th Century German Botanist Fuchs.  ( sorry, but  that was the name of the scientist) It is rare for the scientific and common name to be same, this lovely flower shares this honour. Scientific name is Fuchsia hybridia.( there are however over a hundred species and the last name could change).

Do observe the colour of the stems as they turn Fuschia as well.

fucshia deep purple JW
                                       Fuchsia  with deep purple petals

This is obviously another species of this wonderful flower within the lovely garden of Prateek’s home and part of the Brentwood Sanctuary, Mussoorie.

Please do read my previous posts ( THE WALNUT TRAIL, THE SECRET TRAP, THE CORN VILLAGE( http://www.travelwithmukul.wordpress.com) and THE MUSHROOM TRAIL ) to connect the dots.

The buds look like a Lady’s Ear Drop, which is also another common  name for these stunning flowers.

The petals and  sepals seem to be in conflict as one gazes downwards and the other reaches out to the Sun.

fucshia white centre
                                              Fuchsia with white petals

These gorgeous flowers are native to Central America and cannot bear the harsh summer heat of the plains of India. Hence they are relatively rare to see in this country.

They however love the Himalayan mountain air and were adorning the gardens of the Hotel  like little chandeliers.

They also bear an edible berry ( the fruit of the Fuchsia) .  Do try it and let me know how it tastes.

fuschia purple centre
                                           Fuchsia with fuchsia  coloured  petals

Bearing testimony to the phrase  ” LOOKS ARE DECEPTIVE”, a species of this gorgeous looking flower is an invasive weed in many parts of Australia, New Zealand and many Islands of the INDIAN OCEAN.

Fortunately they brought me only  TEARS OF JOY.

THE MUSHROOM TRAIL

Very often Nature casts a spell and leaves a message or a sign.

The featured image is of toadstool mushrooms in the  lush gardens of the JW Marriott Walnut Grove & Spa, Mussoorie.

It was probably the first picture I  took in this beautiful Resort  overlooking a stunning Himalayan Range.

It was also a sign by Mother Nature for what was to follow.

The following  picture is of  a signboard in the enchanting  Jabarkhet Nature Reserve, Mussoorie.

( though I took this picture I realized the significance only after I began writing this article)

mushroom trail
                                                             The Mushroom Trail

The J. Nature Reserve is part  of a privately owned  gorgeous enchanting forest .

The Nature trek  around FLAG HILL ( Jaburkhet Reserve is located on the Flag Hill)   was one of several  memorable trips organized by JW MARRIOTT under the umbrella WALNUT TRAIL .

( do check my previous post titled  THE SECRET TRAP)

This mushroom resembling a Garden Umbrella was discretely camouflaged under some dried leaves . Am positive that even our cheerful group leader  Aditya  ( hope you read this post)  missed this specimen of the Fungi family.

frilled mushroom
                                                             Frilled mushroom

As the J.Nature Reserve conscientiously guards the forests from intrusion the undergrowth in the forest has flourished.

 Deadwood is neither collected or  tampered with and therein lies the secret of the abundance of Fungi ( mushrooms) .

The lifeless  stump of a tree had given birth  to an unusual and attractive colony of mushrooms.

tree of mushrooms
                                                           Tree of  Mushrooms

The shaded mountainside preserves moisture which provides a perfect home for Moss.

Moss in turn holds the topsoil of the mountain and is a reservoir for water as well.

This unique and magnificent species of Fungi thrives in this delicately balanced ecosystem.

mushroom forest
                                            A Mushroom Forest

Such glorious  rare sights can be witnessed only in forests which are untouched by domesticated animals like cows and goats.

Bracket mushrooms adorn the mountainside . Homes for elves and  fairies?

two together
                                                 Two together

The largest and definitely  the God Father of mushrooms photographed by me in this enchanting forest of the Himalayas.

bracket mushroom
                                                             Bracket Mushroom

The tiny toadstools under the Walnut tree in the gardens of the JW Marriott Resort was my sign that I would shortly be on a Mushroom trail.

Is it not ironical  that I noticed the signboard read “Mushroom Trail”  only whilst writing this article.

I guess Nature has its ways? ( hope the nature loving and wonderful staff of  JW Marriot  would discover the toadstools in their garden after reading this post  )

THE PERFECT TRAP

The luxurious  JW Marriot Hotel  at Mussoorie has studied nature beautifully.

They organized an enchanting  trip called Walnut trail.

Pictures that follow are part of this splendid trail.

What a delightful sight as the mountain spring gurgles down the mountainside.

Waterfall below the walnut tree
                                             Waterfall under the walnut tree

The gorgeous  violet and yellow wildflowers  sway with  the gentle cool breeze and the sunlight filters through the undergrowth around the mountain stream.

A gentle movement and a glimmer in the sunlight reveals another  marvel of nature.

wildflowers sway
                                            wildflowers sway in the breeze

Strategically placed between two species of wildflowers  is  a perfectly made spider’s web.

The rays of the sun reflect off each strand, revealing a marvelous trap setup for insects that would approach the flowers.

the spider
the spider

A spider  patiently awaits it’s prey and sits  right in the centre of this circular web.

the beautiful trap
                                                               Perfection in nature 

The Spider has chosen a perfect location to weave a geometrically perfect web.

What can we learn from the Spider? Do comment.