Friday, May 17, 2019

Basil - a Great Aromatic Herb


Basil is a member of the mint family and is one of the world’s most popular herbs.   In colder climates it is generally grown as an annual, but in Hawai`i   can be grown as a perennial.  After flowering, when seeds have matured, basils will stop producing new leaves.  To ensure continued growth, cut off any flower buds that begin to form. Be sure to cut the branch rather than just the tips, otherwise, new flower buds will quickly appear.  By pruning basil often (every 3-4 weeks), plans remain vigorous with many harvests throughout the season. 

Sweet basil is the variety most widely grown on the Islands, but there is also Thai basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil and royal basil.  Basil prefers a sunny location with a well-drained soil.  Typically, the best time to harvest basil is in the morning when the essential oils are strongest. However, University of Michigan researchers have found that harvesting basil in the evening between 6 and 10 p.m. increases its shelf life.

This aromatic herb can be used in soups, stews, and rice dishes, and with fish, chicken, and other meat. It can also be a key ingredient in cheeses, vinegars, oils, jellies and teas.  Even basil's flowers are edible and can be candied or added to salads and other dishes. For optimum flavor, add fresh basil in the last few minutes of cooking; the dried spice just doesn’t have the same robust flavor as the fresh.

Cooks often notice that fresh basil will quickly turn black.  This is due to oxidation of some elements in the leaves. To prevent this blackening and insure the best flavor, add basil to salads and other cold dishes soon after cutting. 


Pests – Basil is often grown with few or no pests.  But some of the more common problems encountered are thrips, leafhoppers, whitefly, spittlebug, scale and leafminers.  Insect pests that would be causing chewing damage to the leaves include the Chinese rose beetle, beet armyworm, a pinkwinged grasshopper and flea beetles.  If you see worms (caterpillars), pick them off, or you can spray the plant with an insecticide with the active ingredient, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Dipel, Javelin). Bt is an organic, bacterial preparation which will control the caterpillar but is harmless to humans.  


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hapuu, the Hawaiian Tree Fern, vs. the Australian Tree Fern



                                                        
The Hawaiian tree fern is native to most of the Hawaiian Islands. Although once common, hapu’u stands have been reduced due to a large number of ferns being harvested for orchid media and landscape use. The last remaining large stands of native hapu’u are found on the Big Island.

The Hawaiian hapu’u  are very slow growing; the young ones grow at about 3.5 inches per year while the older plants grow even more slowly, eventually growing to  15-20 feet tall.  The unfurled fronds are covered with silky, red-brown wool-like fibers called pulu.  In the past, pulu was used for stuffing pillows and mattresses and for dressing wounds.




The Hawaiian tree ferns are relatively easy to grow. They grow best in well drained slightly acid soils and partial shade; they will tolerate full sun in cloudy upland areas. They need a steady supply of water and occasional light applications of a complete, slow release fertilizer. Old and injured fronds should be pruned. It is illegal to ship tree ferns or products from the ferns internationally. 


 The Australian tree fern, Cyathea cooperi, is considered invasive in the State of Hawaii due to aggressively out competing native plants in the forest understory. As a threat to  Hawaiian forests, this fern eventually displaces the native ferns, including the slower growing Hawaiian tree fern, or hapu’u.  


Although invasive, the Australian tree fern is being sold in Hawaii at many commercial plant nurseries. This fern grows to 40 feet tall and tolerates full sun in cool wet areas. The spores are spread by wind and can travel over 7 miles from the parent plant.

 The best diagnostic characteristic to distinguish between the Australian tree fern and the native hapu'u is the hairs on the leaf stems. With the  hapu’u, the hairs are either fine and reddish-brown for hapu'u pulu (Cibotium glaucum) or fine and black for hapu'u i'i (C. menziesii). The hairs on the Australian tree fern are broad and white.
     



                                                Cibotium menziessi

  Photos: Native Plants Hawaii, University of Hawaii












Monday, April 1, 2019

Plant a Rainbow of Colors in Your Garden


When planting a vegetable garden, let color be your guide to healthy eating.  For a number of years, scientists have been discovering the health benefits of the color pigments in food.  For some gardeners, a vegetable garden is lettuce, collard, mustard greens and kale- all healthy, leafy green vegetables.   But for health sake, add some color such as red tomatoes, yellow squash and purple eggplant.  Grow a rainbow of colors to the garden for good health.

Red colored fruits and vegetables contain natural plant pigments called lycopenes or anthocyanins. These compounds may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. By the way, the lycopenes in cooked tomatoes with a small amount of fat are absorbed better than lycopene from raw tomatoes.  Sun dried tomatoes are reported to have twelve times the lycopenes as raw ones. So plant plenty of tomatoes, beets, watermelon and red peppers. If there is room in the garden, include a pigmented citrus tree like pink grapefruit. 

Orange and yellow colors come from natural plant pigments called carotenoids.  Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A which helps maintain healthy eyes.  Carotenoid-rich foods can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and improve the immune system function.  Plant plenty of yellow sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins and carrots.  Citrus contains hesperidin, also found in the skin of tomatoes, and naringenin, which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Curcumin, found in turmeric, known in Hawaiian as olena, has antioxidant properties. Turmeric is a popular Indian spice used in curries and other dishes.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that turmeric can be used to deter ants in the garden.

Other yellow and orange fruits grown in Hawai`i are pineapples, papayas and mangos. Pineapples contain bromelain, an enzyme which aids digestion.  Papaya and tangerines contain beta-cryptoxanthin, another carotenoid, playing an important role in vision and in bone growth. Papayas can easily be grown from seeds or purchased in abundance at local markets.

 Greens are colored by a natural plant pigment called chlorophyll.  Some greens contain lutein which helps keep eyes healthy. Here is a familiar list of green vegetables: green peppers, peas, parsley, watercress, arugula, spinach and kale.  Crucifers like broccoli and cabbage contain chemicals which may help protect against some types of cancer.  Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are excellent sources of folate, which is a B vitamin. 

The blue and purple colored fruits and vegetables also contain pigments called anthocyanins, powerful anti-oxidants which improve brain function and help to reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease.  Fig trees grow well in tropical and sub-tropical climates and should yield delicious, healthy fruit.  Anthocyanins, also found in strawberries and raspberries, act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. 

The whites contain pigments called anthoxanthins which are shades of white or yellow.   This group consists of onions, garlic, cauliflower, turnips, mushrooms, potatoes and bananas.  At least one of the group, garlic, contains a health-promoting chemical called allicin. This compound may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help reduce the risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. Potatoes, as well as bananas, are good sources of potassium.