August Vegetable of the Month is an Edible Mushroom

PARASOL MUSHROOM or KABUTE

Scientific name: Macrolepiota albuminosa (formerly Agaricus albuminosus or Termitomyces albuminosus)
Family: Agaricaceae (Button Mushroom Family)
Common names: Parasol mushroom, Kabute, Uong, Mamarang

It has been raining non-stop for about a week, and mushrooms have been sprouting like crazy everywhere. So I thought that we’ll digress from featuring green vegetables for just this month, and talk about edible mushrooms in the Philippines. Just to jog your memory, mushrooms belong to a completely different taxonomic kingdom than plants or animals. 😉

There are several kinds of edible mushrooms in the Philippines that can be cultivated, but this one is very rarely, if ever, grown commercially. This is why you’ll never find this in the markets all year round. We’ve only ever obtained this particular type of mushroom by foraging around, and never from the market.

We are lucky enough to have an area in the garden as well as access to vacant lots in the village where mushrooms appear every year during the rainy season. Mushrooms are just one of the lovely things that rains bring about!

Edible mushrooms in the Philippines are usually associated with Chinese dishes, for some reason. I personally love them in soups and omelets. Cook them however you will, they’re packed with fiber, proteins, B Vitamins and minerals!

To encourage growth in the garden, keep an area relatively shaded with trees, allow the fallen branches and leaves to decay instead of sweeping them away. Alternatively, go mushroom-hunting in your vicinity. You’ll usually find this variety growing under the shade of trees in areas that are damp.

Just be careful and make sure that the mushrooms you pick are the edible kind and not the poisonous ones! There are poisonous mushrooms that look similar to this edible one, so it goes without saying that you should do your research first to confirm if what you have is edible or not.

 

Vegetable Gardening at Home: How To Grow Bok Choy In Containers

JULY VEGETABLE OF THE MONTH IS BOK CHOY or PECHAY

Scientific Name: Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis
Family: Brassicaceae (Cabbage family)

How to grow Bok Choy in containers is fairly easy. But before that, a little background. The word Bok Choy comes from a Chinese term that literally translates to “blue-green vegetable.” And if you stare at the dark green leaves of this vegetable, you may indeed detect a bluish hue. A mainstay in Chinese cuisine, this has very low calories (20 calories per cup!), and is full of Vitamins A, C, and K, and lots of minerals like Potassium and Calcium.

How to grow Bok Choy in containers

Bok choy can grow quite well in 1.5L soda bottles.

Tips on how to grow Bok Choy in containers

When growing Bok Choy in containers in your home garden, keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Use containers that are at least 15 cm (6 inches) deep. In my experience, 1.5 liter soda bottles seem to work fine.
  2. Well-drained, loamy soil is best. These plants hate watery soil
  3. Germinate seeds in a seedling tray.
  4. Transfer seedlings to containers when at least 2 or 3 true leaves have appeared. Make sure to keep that the center of the whorl where the new leaves appear above the soil level.
  5. Keep plants in sunny area with at least 6 hours of daylight.
  6. Never allow soil to dry up. These plants wilt easily.
  7. To avoid cabbage worms, loopers, etc., you may choose to cover plants with a net or spray with an organic pesticide.
  8. Harvest only outer large leaves to keep the supply going for a longer time.

Note: These tips on how to grow bok choy in containers are based on my experience. Other gardeners sow the seeds directly in the pots. I prefer to transfer so that the hypocotyl (lower stem) can be planted below soil level (see photo below).

bok choy seedlings

Bok choy seedling showing hypocotyl. I prefer sowing before transplanting, so the lower part of the stem can be planted below soil (Photo courtesy of gardentowok).

How to grow bok choy in containers successfully may take a little bit of dedication, but it’s a rewarding experience to have readily available fresh, chemical-free Chinese greens at home. The challenge lies in keeping the cabbage worms at bay. Make sure to harvest before they proliferate in your area.

Stir fried Bok Choy

Use minimal ingredients to bring out the mild flavor of bok choy (Courtesy of Not Just Baked)

Cooking Suggestions for Bok Choy
  • Stir-fried is still the most popular. Use minimal ingredients (garlic and soy sauce) to retain the delicate flavor.
  • Boiled in soups, like the Filipino “Nilaga” or “Pochero”.
  • As ingredient in stews, like “Kare-kare”, a type of peanut stew.
  • Chopped and eaten raw with tomatoes, onions, and vinaigrette dressing.

 

Review of Banana Varieties in a Philippine Market

Banana is the most economically important fruit in the Philippines in terms of areas planted and tonnes harvested.

There are dozens of banana cultivars across the country, but only a few of them reach the markets in highly urbanized areas, including Dasmariñas City in the Province of Cavite where we sometimes go to buy fruits and vegetables in bulk.

During our most recent trip there, my mother and I made a stop at the Market Mall, a five-story building (2 basement, ground, and 2 upper levels) nestled in the Kadiwa market district, where almost anything can be bought at very low prices (if you have the time and the adventurous spirit to visit).

The uppermost level is where truckloads of fruits and vegetables are delivered, hence the moniker “bagsakan”, which literally means a place for dropping things.

While helping my mom carry stuff she bought, I tried familiarizing myself with the banana varieties that were available that day. I apologize for the low quality of the photos that accompany this post, as I was shooting using a cheap camera phone while my arms were unsteadied by the bags I carried.

Random Trivia: A hand of banana is “piling” in Tagalog, while the entire cluster with several hands is “buwig”.

I identified five varieties of bananas on that day at the market, and here is my review of each of them. The descriptions I provide are based on the varieties’ characteristics when they are very ripe. So even though I rate Latundan lower on the sweetness scale than Lakatan, a less ripe fruit of the latter may be less sweet than a more ripe one of the former.

 

Lakatan

External appearance: Probably my favorite variety, it has slightly angular, medium to large-sized fruits. Yellow-orange skin is relatively thick and does not crack when ripe.

Taste and texture: Quite an aromatic variety, Lakatan’s flesh is of a light orange color, and is firm even when a bit overripe. It is usually eaten raw and is also the one popularly used in banana shakes. Sweetness level: 5/5.

 

Latundan

External appearance: Arguably the most popular cultivar, the Latundan’s fruits are small to medium-sized, and appear more rounded unlike the angular Lakatan. Its skin is bright yellow and very thin, and cracks open when very ripe.

Taste and texture: The white flesh is soft, becoming almost squishy when overripe. Not as aromatic as Lakatan. Mostly consumed raw. Sweetness level: 4.5/5.

 

Señorita

External appearance: In most aspects superficially similar to Latundan, but is much smaller, hence the name. The fruits break off from the stem very easily.

Taste and texture: Surpasses Lakatan in being aromatic, but has a similar color and texture, if a bit softer. Sweetness level: 5/5.

 

Saba

External appearance: Angular fruits are short but wide, giving them a stouter look. Skin is a dull yellow and very thick.

Taste and texture: The cream colored flesh is not aromatic and is firm and very starchy, making it ideal for cooking. Can also be eaten raw when ripe, although it is best when fried or boiled. Sweetness level: 3.5/5.

 

Lagkitan

External appearance: Relatively unpopular until recently, this medium-sized fruit can be easily mistaken for Latundan due to the similar yellow skin, which however appears duller than the latter. It has a plumper and more angular appearance too, and the skin is thicker.

Taste and texture: White flesh can be described as being a mix between Latundan and Saba. More starchy and firmer than Latundan, but softer and sweeter than Saba. Tastes good either raw or cooked. Sweetness level: 4/5.

 

These are only a few of the several varieties of bananas you can find in Philippine markets. If you know of other varieties in your area, I’d be delighted to hear about them!

June Vegetable of the Month is Bitter Gourd or Ampalaya

BITTER GOURD or AMPALAYA

Scientific Name: Momordica charantia
Family: Cucurbitaceae (Squash Family)

Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) is literally a bitter pill to swallow. But once you get used to its taste, you will even crave its unique flavor and texture. The fruits should be harvested while young and green (they’re not good once they start turning yellow). They’re best stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, and garlic (add beaten eggs if you’re not vegan). And don’t forget that the leaves are also edible, and are amazing in munggo (mung bean) soup/stew. This plant is also known for its medicinal uses, and has been marketed as an anti-diabetic. Pregnant women should not consume too much of this vegetable though!

Growing this vine, which is also known as bitter melon, is fairly easy. Just plant seeds directly in soil, not need for special germination treatment. It can even thrive in soils that are relatively not very fertile. It can also be grown as a potted plant, but wherever you plant it, you will need to support it with a trellis or if you prefer, just allow it to creep up the stems of your other plants. It may be grown in shady areas to get large leaves, but for it to flower and fruit, a more sunny side of the garden is needed. Flowers are unisexual, so there are pollen-bearing and fruit bearing flowers. Beware of the pests — the fruits and leaves of this plant are prone to insect attacks. Harvest before the bugs get to them!

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Medicinal Herbs that are Mistaken for Weeds

“A weed is a plant whose virtue is not yet known.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There was a time when people went to their gardens rather than drugstores to get medicines. But did you know that 80% of people in developing countries still rely on traditional medicine, which for the most part uses medicinal plants?

Cracks on the pavement, tiny recesses in concrete walls, empty or abandoned lots, waste open areas — these are some of the many places where you will find weeds growing. But take a moment to look, as those weeds just might be one of the most potent medicines for some of the common (and sometimes not-so-common) human illnesses.

I went around in our garden looking for weeds that have known medicinal properties, and it didn’t take me long to identify a few of them. Here are five medicinal weeds found in our garden, their short descriptions, illnesses they cure, and typical ways that they are prepared. Take note that I am including here only those that are often considered weeds, i.e. herbs that people don’t usually plant on purpose, and that typically grow everywhere voluntarily. Disclaimer: I am not in the medical profession, so I am not giving any exact formulations or dosages for these plants. Please use these plants, or any other medicine, with caution. I referred to the website  http://www.stuartxchange.org for a lot of information, so please visit that site for more details.

1. Oregano (Plectranthus aromaticus)

Description: Like its scientific name says, this plant has aromatic leaves. It belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae), but unlike the mint, it has larger leaves that are a bit succulent and have fine velvety hair.

Used for: Cough, asthma, dyspepsia and many other conditions.

Preparation: Leaves can be boiled or steeped in hot water and drank as tea.

2. Tawa-tawa (Euphorbia hirta)

Description: Leaves are small, and dense tiny greenish flowers are found in the axils. Has a milky white exudate, like many members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).

Used for: Asthma, Malaria, Dengue fever and illnesses associated with blood.

Preparation: Whole plant is boiled and drank as tea.

3. Pansit-pansitan (Peperomia pellucida)

Description: Soft small herb with leaves and stems that are translucent, hence the scientific name. Belongs to the black pepper family (Piperaceae), and bears flowers/fruits in a similar manner, i.e. on slender spikes.

Used for: Urinary tract infection, other fungal and bacterial infections.

Preparation: Whole plant can be boiled or steeped in hot water and drank as tea or applied to skin externally. Can also be eaten fresh as a salad vegetable.

4. Kulitis (Amaranthus spinosus)

Description: Looks very similar to the wild spinach (Amaranthus viridis), with its arrow-shaped leaves, and whitish-green numerous flowers on spikes, except it has spines on the stems.

Used for: Fever, snake bites, anemia, and a lot of other diseases.

Preparation: Leaves are usually boiled or steeped in hot water like tea. Also eaten and prepared just like spinach.

5. Golasiman (Portulaca oleracea)

Description: Succulent herb with slimy sap. Flowers usually pink or yellow with petals that bruise and wilt very easily.

Used for: Stomach problems, painful urination, wounds, etc.

Preparation: Fresh crushed or boiled leaf juice used externally on skin. Leaf infusion drank as tea. Eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked.

Those are the medicinal weeds that I found after just a few minutes of search in our garden. I wonder what other weeds with virtues I can find if I spent more time and searched farther? Do you know of any other plants that are usually mistaken for weeds but are actually medicinal? Let us know in the comments below.