Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Botany Dentata

Supposedly epazote (also affectionately known as "pigweed") is one of those leafy herbs that does more than bring an earthy quality to black beans. It staves off some of the more combustive effects of consuming lots of Mexican food; namely beans and namely gas. If you stumble through ethnic cookbooks, developing countries, and an assortment of books in the "magic realism" genre, you will find any number of wise old remedies and additives of the botanical sort. I just recently learned that (once again) for intestinal gas a tea of fennel seeds will dull the roar in your pants. I love this stuff, and there seems to be no end to the wisdom and the claims (whether proven or not).

In some respects, I see this as a sort of rejuvination of the herbal and the historical. A few weeks back, I read an excellent New Yorker article about the now wide use of leeches in pre-op and post-op procedures and how the magic little black leech contains within it a magical anti-coagulant that keeps blood flowing to areas that would otherwise fall victim to any number of nasty degenerative conditions. Gotta love the leech. I think it is only a matter of time before Jamba Juice starts making a Bee pollen black leech smoothie with an optional acai boost.

Ok, but all this got me thinking about plants, herbs, and other flora that doesn't function as benevolent blood thinners, gas blockers, bacteria neutralizing, etc. Something that is not necessarily poison, but something that maybe has it's own agenda once consumed. I am not talking about poison plants (I repeat) but I am talking about a plant that is simply edible but, in essence, has teeth.

I remember my father telling me when I was young that the wonderful symmetrical seed pattern on strawberries were the berries way of insuring fertilization and distribution of it's seeds. From that point on, I felt it quite possible these little heart-shaped rogues were exploiting my GI tract, and that I was innocently subverting their grand plan by doing my business in the bathroom, rather than on a well-irrigated hillside.
They must have been disappointed.

So, the question remains. Where are, and what are these plants that exist to make use of our hunger, gluttony, whatever. When I was in Sri Lanka last December (pre-Tsunami) I took a photo of a flower that appeared to be a relative of a bird of paradise, but held a remarkably different architecture and seemed to have...er...teeth (see above). It was simultaniously beautiful and a bit unnerving. The book Life of Pi by Yann Martel revealed a carnivorous plant that consumed wayward sailors and castaways while retaining a set of teeth. Initially, when I read this passage I lost a bit of enthusiasm for the book, simply because I found it a bit silly. But, after coming upon this bloom on a rainy afternoon on the west coast of Sri Lanka, I took a moment to consider both the inspiration and the possibilities.