The magnificent Herbs and Spices of South East Asia ( Part 1)

When the RHS asked if I would like to lecture on the Voyages of Discovery aboard the MV Voyager sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai I immediately said, ‘Yes Please’. This being the first cruise in partnership with RHS Garden Holidays.

MV VoyagerI have always wanted to visit Thailand and India and see the Botanic Gardens and the new Garden by the Bay in Singapore.  So this was a chance not to be missed despite the fact that I am seasick  even when the boat is in harbour!

BANGKOK

Wat Phra Kaew

©Jekka 2014

In Bangkok we visited the  Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew  where we were surrounded by the Tamarind Tree, Tamarindus indica,  which were not only lining the streets but were also  trained and pruned.

Tamarind tree plus fruit

Tamarind Tree plus fruit                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The young shoots and leaves are edible and are eaten dipped in ‘sambal’.  They are also used in the preparation of curry and other food in Asian cuisine where they add the sour taste.  Tamarind is also medicinal, the fruit, leaves and bark are all used in various ways  to treat many ailments.   I have seen this tree before in Malaysia, but never have  I seen them pruned and trained.

Trained Tamarind

Pruned Tamarind                                                                                                ©Jekka 2014

Our next port of call was SINGAPORE.  We started our visit at the Botanic gardens which is renowned not only for its Orchids but also for its Ginger collection.      At the entrance I saw this Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus

Costus speciosus                                                                                      ©Jekka 2014

which is native to Malaysia . It is used medicinally to treat fevers and many skin diseases.  It is also reputed to have magical powers including protection from evil spirits.

Once inside it was, for me,  an exciting treasure trove.

Torch Ginger

Etlinger elatior                                                                                                       ©Jekka 2014

This magnificent Ginger is Etlinger elatior, Torch ginger, a  native of Malaysia where it is used in traditional Malay cooking; the flower bud, flowers and flowering stem are all used.

Sadly our time there was far too short as we had to visit the stunning ‘Gardens by the Bay’.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens By the Bay                                                                                               ©Jekka 2014

It is difficult to imagine that this is all on reclaimed land and that this garden was only officially opened in 2011.

The cloud forest dome

In the Cloud Forest Dome                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Cloud Forest Dome  has the best living wall I have ever seen, it left me speechless.

However my favourite part, from purely showing how imaginative and innovative these gardens are , was the Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove

The Super Tree Grove                                                                                    ©Jekka 2014

The Supertrees  are very impressive; they are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy and they are connected with sky walkways which give a wonderful view across the bay to Singapore.

In my next blog, after our open days which start this Friday 4th and Saturday 5th I will describe the next part of our journey from Singapore to Sri Lanka via the Andaman Island.

Please note all the photographs are  ©Jekka 2014.   We would  appreciate if you would kindly respect this.

Caribbean Herbs

This time last week I was sitting outside eating my lunch of  prawn salad and freshly picked avocado, it was a delicious  28°C (82F°), I was in Paradise.

Prawn Salad

That is one of the pleasures of travelling to different countries.    Just recently I was lucky enough to spend a short time on the magical island of Nevis.

Nevis, is a very unspoilt Island, which was a privilege to visit.

While there I found some very interesting herbs, some I knew and grow in the UK, for example the Plectranthus amboinicus.

Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this herb

Plectranthus amboinicus , Broad leaf thyme, Cuban Oregano, Basil, are many of the common names used to identify this culinary and medicinal herb.

and some like the  Blighia sapida I have never seen before.

The Akee tree was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

Blighia sapida, the Akee tree, Egg Yolk, was brought to the Caribbean in the 18th Century. The aril is the only edible part and only when the plant has turned red and split open, when unripe or overripe it is poisonous!!!

The Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Mangifera indica, the Mango. The fruit is well known, the leaves produce a yellow dye and the bark of the tree provides a tannin

Gardenia taitensis , used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs.  The flowers are used in perfumery

Gardenia taitensis , Tiare Flower, used medicinally to treat fevers and coughs. The flowers are used in perfumery

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is oven served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Annona muricata, Soursop, The fruit is often served as a cream or as soursop ice-cream.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish amd meat dishes, it is also added to curies.  It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce.  Medicinal used as a mild laxative.

Tamarindus indica, Tamarind, the fruit is used as a seasoning for fish and meat dishes, it is also added to curries. It is one of the main ingredients in Angostura Bitters, it is also an ingredient in Worcester Sauce. Medicinally used as a mild laxative.

Sterculia foetida,Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. Some sources report the seeds to be edible raw, but other sources state should be roasted first

Sterculia foetida, Java-Olive, Skunk tree, Poon tree. The flowers smell awful hence its botanical name.  The seeds are high in oil, some say they can be eaten raw, but others say they  should be roasted first; so please double check before eating!!

The last time I saw Couroupita guianensis, was in the botanical garden in Penang, where they have a spectacular example which made an indelible impression. So I was fascinated and pleased to find a smaller specimen of this rare tree on the island.

Couroupita guianensis, The flowers of Cannonball Tree have a wonderful smell and can be used to scent perfumes and cosmetics. The hard shells of the fruit are sometimes used as containers.

So if you are lucky enough to be visiting the Caribbean look out for these stunning plants for ‘Nature is amazing’.