Southern California Garden Club
Southern California Garden Club's
2017 - 2018 Signature Plant
Excerpts taken from The Green Thumb,
Our Signature Plant program started in September 2000 at the encouragement of then Pacific Region Director Lisa Stephens of Arizona. Each Pacific Region Director selects a Director’s Special Project in which all the states in the region may participate for the two years of their term. Our Pacific Region is the most climatically diverse, covering the eight western states of Washington, Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii. If you take the first letter of each state in this order you have the name of the Pacific Region newsletter: WACONIAH. It is chock-full of garden club news and floral design and horticulture articles from around the region. An online subscription is free. The NGC award-winning newsletter is edited by club members Robin and Greg Pokorski and they’d be happy to tell you how to sign up.
Our club enjoyed studying one specific plant so much we continued the program beyond the first two years. Since 2000 we have studied geraniums, roses, irises, tulips, orchids, ferns, azaleas, African violets, and tomatoes last year, among others. Each year at the April or May board meeting, the Signature Plant for the following year is selected. Do you have a suggestion? Join us at the Board Meeting next year (all members are welcome) and make your suggestion known.We’ll study spices this coming year – from the historical to the latest breaking news on the peppercorn and its relationship to preventing cancer – from planting to harvesting to using. Spices date back to at least 2,000 BCE. There’s plenty of information for us to learn this season – so let’s get to our 2017 – 2018 Signature Plant – spices….next
For an interesting article about the recently discovered relationship of the Indian pepper and cancer see
As we begin we need to be sure we know what we’re talking about. Spices are made from the bark, fruit, seed, stem, or root of a plant, while herbs are made from a plant’s leaves.
The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind."
The spice trade developed throughout South Asia and the Middle East by at least 2000 BCE with cinnamon and black pepper , and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in China , Korea , and India . Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.
Archaeological excavations have uncovered clove burnt into the floor of a kitchen, dated to 1700 BCE, in modern-day Syria . The ancient Indian epic Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as Pliny the Elder wrote about them.
In the story of Genesis , Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem Song of Solomon , the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from early Egyptians that dates from 1550 BCE describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures.
Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans.
With the discovery of the New World came new spices, including allspice , chili peppers , vanilla , and chocolate . This development kept the spice trade, with America as a late-comer with its new seasonings, profitable well into the 19th century. Today, India contributes 75% of global spice production.
One issue with spices today is dilution, where spices are blended to make inferior quality powdered spices, by including roots, skins and other admixture in production of spice powder.
SIDEBAR – admixture is a noun that means something mixed with something else, typically as a minor ingredient as in as in "green with an admixture of black"
Handling spices / nutrition
A spice may be available in several forms: fresh, whole dried, or pre-ground dried. Generally, spices are dried. A whole dried spice has the longest shelf life, so it can be purchased and stored in larger amounts, making it cheaper on a per-serving basis. Some spices are not always available either fresh or whole, for example turmeric , and often must be purchased in ground form. Small seeds, such as fennel and mustard seeds, are often used both whole and in powder form.
The flavor of a spice is derived in part from compounds (volatile oils) that oxidize or evaporate when exposed to air. Grinding a spice greatly increases its surface area and so increases the rates of oxidation and evaporation. Thus, flavor is maximized by storing a spice whole and grinding when needed. The shelf life of a whole dry spice is roughly two years; of a ground spice roughly six months. The "flavor life" of a ground spice can be much shorter. Ground spices are better stored away from light. Some flavor elements in spices are soluble in water; many are soluble in oil or fat. As a general rule, the flavors from a spice take time to infuse into the food so spices are added early in preparation.
Because they tend to have strong flavors and are used in small quantities, nutritionally spices tend to add few calories to food, even though many, especially those made from seeds, contain high portions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate by weight. Many spices, however, can contribute significant portions of micronutrients to the diet. For example, a teaspoon of paprika contains about 1133 IU of Vitamin A , which is over 20% of the recommended daily allowance specified by the US FDA. When used in larger quantity, spices can also contribute a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and many others, to the diet.
Most herbs and spices have substantial antioxidant activity, owing primarily to phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids , which influence nutrition through many pathways, including affecting the absorption of other nutrients. One study found cumin and fresh ginger to be highest in antioxidant activity. These antioxidants can also act as natural preservatives, preventing or slowing the spoilage of food, leading to a higher nutritional content in stored food.
SIDEBAR - If you use sage only to stuff turkeys, then you’ve been missing out. Sage is great for preventing foot odor because it kills the odor-causing bacteria that grow on your feet in the warm, moist environment inside your shoes. Just crumble a leaf or two into your shoes before you put them on. At the end of the day, just shake the remains into the trash.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus , commonly known as the "saffron crocus." Saffron crocus grows to 8–12 in and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas , which are the distal end of a carpel . The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to Southwest Asia and was probably first cultivated in or near Greece . As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa , North America , and Oceania .
The plants grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal. Planting is mostly done in June, where corms are lodged 2.5–6 in deep; its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February. Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors in determining yields. Mother corms planted deeper yield higher-quality saffron, though form fewer flower buds and daughter corms.
C. sativus prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay- calcareous soils with high organic content. Traditional raised beds promote good drainage. After a period of dormancy through the summer, the corms send up their narrow leaves and begin to bud in early autumn. Only in mid-autumn do they flower. Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes. All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks. Roughly 150 flowers together yield 0.035 oz of dry saffron threads.
Allspice isn’t all the spices . Lots of people are surprised to learn that allspice isn’t a combination of multiple spices. English explorers named it allspice because its aroma has suggestive notes of cinnamon, cloves, and other recognizable spices.
Allspice is the dried fruit of the P. dioica plant. The fruits are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry, they are brown and resemble large, brown, smooth peppercorns . The whole fruits have a longer shelf life than the powdered product, and produce a more aromatic product when freshly ground before use.
Fresh leaves are used where available. They are similar in texture to bay leaves , thus are infused during cooking and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they lose much flavor when dried and stored, so do not figure in commerce. The leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Allspice can also be found in essential oil form.
Additional spice fun facts, tips and tricks you can use throughout the year as filler.
Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying; the heat ruptures cell walls in the pepper, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying. The drupes are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.
White pepper consists solely of the seed of the pepper plant, with the darker-colored skin of the pepper fruit removed. This is usually accomplished by a process known as retting , where fully ripe red pepper berries are soaked in water for about a week, during which the flesh of the pepper softens and decomposes . Rubbing then removes what remains of the fruit, and the naked seed is dried.
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 13 ft in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, 2-4 in long and 1-2.5 in across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 1.5-3 in long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 2.8 to 5.9 in as the fruit matures. The fruit of the black pepper is called a drupe and when dried is known as a peppercorn.
Pepper can be grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter (the vines do not do too well over an altitude of 3,000 ft above sea level). The plants are propagated by cuttings about 16 to 20 in long, tied up to neighboring trees or climbing frames at distances of about 6.5 ft in apart; trees with rough bark are favored over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are covered in leaf mulch and manure , and the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years. The cuttings are usually cultivars , selected both for yield and quality of fruit.
A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two fruits at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is fully mature, and still hard; if allowed to ripen completely, the fruit lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected and spread out to dry in the sun, then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes.
Sidebar - Peppercorns have been used to spice up foods for more than 4,000 years. As early as the 4th century BC, texts describe pepper being used as a seasoning for Indian feasts.
Sidebar – A drupe is a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed, e.g., a plum, cherry, almond, or olive.
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla , primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla ( V. planifolia ). The word vanilla , derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as "little pod." Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs . Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.
Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of Melipona bee. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavoring is derived. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, Edmond Albius , a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered that the plant could be hand-pollinated . Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.
The main species harvested for vanilla is V. planifolia . Although it is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics. Indonesia and Madagascar are the world's largest producers. Additional sources include V. pompona and V. tahitiensis (grown in Niue and Tahiti ), although the vanillin content of these species is much less than V. planifolia .
Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron , because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy .
The distinctively flavored compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the pollination of the flower. These seed pods are roughly a third of an inch by six inches, and brownish red to black when ripe. Inside the pods is an oily liquid full of tiny seeds. One flower produces one fruit. V. planifolia flowers are hermaphroditic : They carry both male ( anther ) and female ( stigma ) organs; however, to avoid self-pollination , a membrane separates those organs.
The fruit , a seed capsule, if left on the plant, ripens and opens at the end; as it dries, the phenolic compounds crystallize , giving the fruits a diamond-dusted appearance, which the French call givre (hoarfrost). It then releases the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit contains tiny, black seeds. In dishes prepared with whole natural vanilla, these seeds are recognizable as black specks. Both the pod and the seeds are used in cooking.
The term French vanilla is often used to designate particular preparations with a strong vanilla aroma, containing vanilla grains and sometimes also containing eggs (especially egg yolks). The appellation originates from the French style of making vanilla ice cream with a custard base, using vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks. Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the former French dependencies or overseas France may be a part of the flavoring. Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard flavor.
Vanilla grows best in a hot, humid climate from sea level to an elevation of 5,000 feet. The ideal climate has moderate rainfall, 60-100 inches, evenly distributed through 10 months of the year. Optimum temperatures for cultivation are 59–86 °F during the day and 59–68 °F during the night. Ideal humidity is around 80%, and under normal greenhouse conditions, it can be achieved by an evaporative cooler. However, since greenhouse vanilla is grown near the equator and under polymer (HDPE) netting (shading of 50%), this humidity can be achieved by the environment. Most successful vanilla growing and processing is done in the region within 10 to 20° of the equator.
Soils for vanilla cultivation should be loose, with high organic matter content and loamy texture. They must be well drained, and a slight slope helps in this condition. Soil pH has not been well documented, but some researchers have indicated an optimum soil pH around 5.3. Mulch is very important for proper growth of the vine, and a considerable portion of mulch should be placed in the base of the vine. Fertilization varies with soil conditions, but should be applied to each plant besides organic manures, such as vermicompost , oil cakes, poultry manure, and wood ash. Foliar applications are also good for vanilla, and a solution of 1% NPK (17:17:17) can be sprayed on the plant once a month. Vanilla requires organic matter, so three or four applications of mulch a year are adequate for the plant.
It is an herbaceous perennial which grows annual stems about a yard tall bearing narrow green leaves and yellow flowers. Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae , to which also belong turmeric (Curcuma longa), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and galangal . Ginger originated in the tropical rainforest in Southern Asia. Although ginger no longer grows wild, it is thought to have originated on the Indian subcontinent because the ginger plants grown in India show the largest amount of genetic variation. Ginger was exported to Europe i n the first century AD as a result of the lucrative spice trade and was used extensively by the Romans .
Ginger produces clusters of white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of its aesthetic appeal and the adaptation of the plant to warm climates, it is often used as landscaping around subtropical homes. It is a perennial reed -like plant with annual leafy stems, about 3 to 4 feet tall. Traditionally, the rhizome is gathered when the stalk withers ; it is immediately scalded , or washed and scraped, to kill it and prevent sprouting . The fragrant perisperm of the Zingiberaceae is used as sweetmeats and also as a condiment and sialagogue (see sidebar) .
Ginger produces a hot, fragrant kitchen spice. Young ginger rhizomes are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste. They are often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They can be steeped in boiling water to make ginger tisane , to which honey is often added; sliced orange or lemon fruit may be added. Ginger can be made into candy, or ginger wine , which has been made commercially since 1740.
Mature ginger rhizomes are fibrous and nearly dry. The juice from ginger roots is often used as a seasoning in Indian recipes and is a common ingredient of Chinese , Korean , Japanese , Vietnamese , and many South Asian cuisines for flavoring dishes such as seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes .
Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavors of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. Powdered dry ginger root is typically used as a flavoring for recipes such as gingerbread , cookies , crackers and cakes, ginger ale , and ginger beer .
Candied ginger, or crystallized ginger, is the root cooked in sugar until soft, and is a type of confectionery .
Galangal /ɡəˈlæŋɡəl/ ( Indonesian ) is a common name that is loosely attributed to any of several tropical rhizomatous spices.
Cloves and Cumin
Archeologists have found cloves in a ceramic vessel in Syria , dating back to 1721 BC. In the third century BC, a Chinese leader in the Han Dynasty required those who addressed him to chew cloves to freshen their breath.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 26–39 feet tall, with large leaves and sanguine flowers grouped in terminal clusters. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. Cloves are harvested at .5 - .75 inches long, and consist of a long calyx that terminates in four spreading sepals , and four unopened petals that form a small central ball.
Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum , a member of the parsley family. The cumin plant grows 12–20 inches tall and is harvested by hand. It is an annual herbaceous plant , with a slender, glabrous, branched stem that is 8–12 inches tall and has a diameter of 1.25 – 2 inches. Each branch has two to three sub-branches. All
the branches attain the same height, therefore the plant has a uniform
canopy. The stem is grey or dark green. The leaves are 2–4 inches long, pinnate or bipinnate, with thread-like leaflets. The flowers are small, white or pink, and borne in umbels . Each umbel has five to seven umbels. The fruit is a lateral fusiform or ovoid achene 1 ⁄ 6 – 1⁄ 5 inch long, containing two mericarps with a single seed . Cumin seeds have eight ridges with oil canals. They resemble caraway seeds, being oblong in shape, longitudinally ridged, and yellow-brown, like other members of the Umbelliferae family such as caraway, parsley, and dill .
Cumin is a drought-tolerant, tropical, or subtropical crop. It has a growth season of 100 – 120 days. The optimum growth temperature ranges are between 75 and 86° F. The Mediterranean climate is most suitable for its growth. Cultivation of cumin requires a long, hot summer of three to four months. At low temperatures, leaf color changes from green to purple. High temperature might reduce the growth period and induce early ripening.
Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds . It helps to add an earthy and warming feeling to food, making it a staple in certain stews and soups, as well as spiced gravies such as curry and chili. It is also used as an ingredient in some pickles and pastries.
Nutmeg & Mace
Nutmeg seeds showing "veins"
Mace (red) within nutmeg fruit
The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans , an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. The seed of the tree is roughly egg-shaped and about 0.8 - 1.2 inches long and 0.6 - 0.7 inches wide, and weighing between 0.2 and 0.4 ounces dried. The first harvest of nutmeg trees takes place 7–9 years after planting, and the trees reach full production after twenty years. Nutmeg is usually used in powdered form.
This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices, obtained from different parts of the plant. Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils , extracted oleoresins , and nutmeg butter. The essential oil obtained by steam distillation of ground nutmeg is used widely in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries.
Nutmeg trees are dioecious plants which are propagated sexually and asexually, the latter being the standard. Sexual propagation by seedling yields 50% male seedlings, which are unproductive. As there is no reliable method of determining plant sex before flowering in the sixth to eighth year, and sexual propagation bears inconsistent yields, grafting is the preferred method of propagation. Epicotyl grafting, approach grafting, and patch budding have proved successful, with epicotyl grafting being the most widely adopted standard. Air-layering, or marcotting , is an alternative though not preferred method because of its low (35-40%) success rate.
Nutmeg and mace have similar sensory qualities, with nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron -like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is used for flavoring many dishes, usually in ground or grated form, and is best grated fresh in a nutmeg grater .
In the 19th century, nutmeg was used as an abortifacient , which led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning. Although used as a folk treatment for other ailments, nutmeg has no proven medicinal value today. Nutmeg is highly neurotoxic to dogs and causes seizures, tremors, and nervous system disorders which can be fatal. Nutmeg's rich, spicy scent is attractive to dogs which can result in a dog ingesting a lethal amount of this spice. Eggnog and other food preparations which contain nutmeg should not be given to dogs.
Nutmeg trees actually produce two spices: nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree, while mace is the lacy, reddish covering on the nutmeg seed. The flavor is similar but mace is slightly more pungent. Nutmeg was once so exotic that the Dutch traded the entire island of Manhattan to the British for the islands that grew nutmeg.
Cinnamon is an evergreen tree characterized by oval-shaped leaves, thick bark, and a berry fruit. When harvesting the spice, the bark and leaves are the primary parts of the plant used. Cinnamon is cultivated by growing the tree for two years, then coppicing it. The following year, about a dozen new shoots form from the roots, replacing those that were cut. A number of pests can affect the growing plants.
The stems must be processed immediately after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet. The cut stems are processed by scraping off the outer bark, then beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark, which is then pried off in long rolls. Only 0.02” of the inner bark is used; the outer, woody portion is discarded, leaving yard-long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls ("quills") upon drying. The processed bark dries completely in four to six hours, provided it is in a well-ventilated and relatively warm environment. Once dry, the bark is cut into 2- to 4-inch lengths for sale. A less than ideal drying environment encourages the proliferation of pests in the bark, which may then require treatment by fumigation. Fumigated bark is not considered to be of the same premium quality as untreated bark.
A number of species are often sold as cinnamon:
Cassia is the strong, spicy flavor associated with cinnamon rolls and other such baked goods, as it handles baking conditions well.
Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a lighter brown color, a finer, less dense and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be subtler and more aromatic in flavor than cassia, losing much of its flavor during cooking.
The barks of the species are easily distinguished when whole, both in macroscopic and microscopic characteristics.
The flavor of cinnamon is due to an aromatic essential oil that makes up 0.5 to 1% of its composition. This essential oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark, macerating it in seawater, and then quickly distilling the whole. It is of a golden-yellow color, with the characteristic odor of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent taste and scent come from cinnamaldehyde (about 90% of the essential oil from the bark) and, by reaction with oxygen as it ages, it darkens in color and forms resinous compounds.
“Coppicing” is a verb meaning to cut back (a tree or shrub) to ground level periodically to stimulate growth. As in “coppiced timber." “Macerating” is a verb meaning (especially with reference to food) soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid.