What is a home?

My Home, Rooibos


Rooibos tea is more than just a hot drink.  It’s a sense. A feeling. It’s home.  I grew up helping my parents at the café.  Tea was one of my favorite drinks.  I remember the first time I tried rooibos tea; I was in Vancouver at the one place I stop every time I’m there, at Granville Island Market.  I could smell a magnificent sweet woodsy/earthy smell drifting in the air.  Following my nose in an almost dream like state I bump into the Granville Island Tea Company’s stand. I asked the lady “what is that wonderful smell coming from.” She replied “it’s African rooibos, which just came in for the first time last month” as she hands me a cup so hot that the steam looked like a misty forest floor where you can only see the edges of reality.

 After cooling for what seemed like an hour, I finally got to taste what seemed to be a scent from my dreams.  It was magical. Putting me into a dream-like state, memories of cold winter mornings up and Sun Peaks opening up the store and immediately making a pot of tea before doing my chores.  Memories of skiing on an ice cold day with the family and coming back to visit grandma for tea and cookies during lunch and more memories hit me all at once with a single sip.  My memories of what home is to me comes in a package of Rooibos tea. I have never had a real home in the sense of a house because I moved a lot before university.  My family never lived in the same place for more than six months at a time.  To me, Rooibos was new but it has long been important to the people of its native lands, Africa.  In its homeland it has been transformed from a plant that the aborigines would have to climb high up in the mountains to capture the crop that supports an economy that may have pharmacologic properties as well.  These pharmacologic properties include antioxidant properties that are equivalent to other plants, such as green tea, but lack the negative effects of caffeine.  Making this plant special in more ways than our North American minds can dream up.

Rooibos was traditionally harvested by the aborigines of the Cederberg and Bokkeveld region of South Africa found in the fynbos area.  Fynbos is Afrikaan for “fine bush” and is found in the Western cape of Africa that has a Mediterranean climate.  The aborigines call the area this because of all the edible plant life found there.  Afrikaan is the language of the aborigines of South Africa where rooibos is found.  One such plant is rooibos, Afrikaan for  “red bush.”  The name originates from the color of the leaves after the leaves have been oxidized in the “fermentation” (not real fermentation like that found in beer processing) process of the tea made from the needle like leaves.  Just like the aborigines, I have also worked hard for the things I have.  From the age of nine, till my parents moved away in the fall of 2008, I have worked in their café and restaurant up at Sun Peaks, BC.  With minimal time I focused on my schooling and so did another scientist Dr. Le Fras Nortier when he cultivated rooibos in the 1930’s when noticing aborigines coming down the mountains with baskets of sticks on the back of donkeys and wondered if it could be used as a economic crop. At the time Nortier wanted to find a crop that has economic value without bringing in a non-native plant into the area.  He chooses to focus on this tea/plant called rooibos.

Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis, is a shrub-like plant found in the Fabaceae family.  The plant has a small yellow flower that is typical of the Fabaceae family.  The flower, as seen in the diagram below, has a banner on top and two wings coming out the sides of the keel (two fused petals) at the bottom.  The leaves that are used to produces the tea are needle like (Diagram 1).

Diagram 1: Flower and leaf structure of the plant rooibos.

Cultivation of rooibos was complicated at first.  Just like the bumpy road through my first year at university.  I was tired and didn’t want grow up, just like the seeds, they also didn’t want to grow up.  The seeds of the rooibos plant have a hard seed coat that must be weakened before germination can occur.  Nortier discovered this through a process of trial and error.  He needed lots of seed that are wind-dispersed; this caused him to get the local aborigines and farmers to gather seeds.  He paid a dollar per matchbox full of seed.  Eventually one of his trials worked.  He found that if one were to soak the seeds for forty minutes then the seeds would be ready to germinate.  Once artificial germination was established Nortier could get the locals to farm this shrub.  Rooibos became economically important because it’s a caffeine alternative beverage only cultivated in one particular area, the fynbos area.

Once the crop is farmed you must harvest and process it.  Rooibos needs to be hand picked.  There are two choices after harvesting the tea: ferment it for the traditional flavor or leave it green for an increase in antioxidant properties.  To reduce or avoid the oxidation of the leaves of Rooibos one should denature the proteins/enzymes responsible for the oxidative process through slowly steaming the crop.  This is timely and expensive so most industries don’t use this method and therefore have some oxidation of the green tea blend (loss of some of the antioxidant properties found in rooibos). The other, red, tea blend is fermented by layering the leaves with wet Hessian (burlap) sacking covering a barrel to bruise the leaves for the fermentation, actually oxidation (no yeast used, a chemical breakdown), of the tea.  The bruised leaves are then left out in the sun to oxidize the leaves, turning them that traditional red color.  This is similar to the traditional methods of oxidizing rooibos by the aborigines; except, they bruise the leaves with axes and hammers rather than the Hessian sacking.

The aborigines traditionally use this tea as a herbal remedy for many common health issues.  Some of the first uses of rooibos were to treat infantile colic, allergies, asthma, and dermatological problems.  The modern world on the other hand mostly uses the tea as a relaxing drink rather than an actual remedy.  Although, there are modern uses that don’t just revolve around relaxation.  The tea is a caffeine alternative that is used like espresso in “red espresso” and lattes.  Researchers led by Marnewick found that the bad cholesterol (LDL) was reduced by drinking six cups of rooibos a day over six weeks and that good cholesterol (HDL) was also increased significantly.  This means that this drink could have medical benefits for individuals with heart complications and high cholesterol.  Rooibos has also been shown to help individuals with diabetes, decreasing the blood-sugar levels via promoting the uptake of sugar by muscles and promotion of insulin in insulin deficient individuals.  There needs to be more studies done to accurately depict the full benefits of rooibos.  Rooibos may be more than a tea for the aborigines, and more than a tea for those with high cholesterol and diabetes but it is home for me.

I had to meet someone, named Erik, before I would know what a traditional home is like.  Erik and I have been together for four years now and his home is extremely traditional. His grandparents built their own house and he has live here for almost 20 years.  The longest I have lived in a house is the last three years with Erik.  Before, Erik, home was a feeling, a sense, of family, happiness.  That sense of home was tapped that day at the Grandville Island Tea Company’s stand.  The aborigines must have a similar feeling when they still climb the mountains to pick the wild rooibos. From the mountains in S. Africa to my steaming cup of tea in my hand, rooibos is more than just another tea.

Literature Cited:

Hawkins HJ, Malgas R, Bienabe E. 2011.  Ecotypes of wild rooibos (Aspalathus linearis (Burm. F) Daghlg., Fabaceae) are ecologically distinct. S Afr J Bot [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 7]. 77: 360-370. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629910002425 doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2010.09.014

Joubert E, de Beer D. 2011. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) beyond farm gate: from herbal tea to potential phytopharmaceutical. S Afr J Bot [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 7]. 77: 869-886. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629911001086 doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2011.07.004

Marnewick JL, Rautenbach F, Venter I, Neethling H, Blackhurst DM, Wolmarans P, Macharia M. 2011. Effects of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) on oxidative stress and biochemical parameters in adults at risk for cardiovascular disease. J Ethnopharmacol [Internet]. [cited 2012 Feb 7]. 133: 46-52. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874110006379 doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.08.061

Morton JF. 1983. Rooibos tea, Aspalathus linearis, a caffeineless, low-tanin beverage. Econ Bot [Internet]. [cited 2012 March 18]. 37(2): 164-173. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254477 doi: 10.1007/BF02858780

Rooibos [Internet]. C2005. Wikipedia.org: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc; Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooibos


100 miles to my life

Smith, A. and J.B. MacKinnon. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada, Toronto.

Food.  It’s what nurtures us.  It’s our one last tie to the natural world.  Food for me has always been difficult.  When I was young I had problems with eating enough and now that I am older I have the opposite problem.  I eat too much of the wrong things.

Food has been an important part of my life right from the get go.  its more than just substance that we need to survive it can be so much more.  Food has different levels of passion depending on the time and care taken to create it.  I’m sure everyone has taken a bite of something and has gone to heaven.  Quite literally. The food hits you with an emotion that you can feel with every nerve cell as a pulse is sent up your spine and your eyes begin to water; it’s just that good. “We could eat anything, anything on Earth.” (page 253) explains it all.  We can eat and be happy.

Food can be like that with time and care.  But, what happens when we don’t have the time to care?  Well, I’m an example of what can happen when not enough time and care goes into your food preparation. My poor decision making skill when it comes to food didn’t start with food.  It started with my ADD.  When I was diagnosed at the age of 8 with sever ADD (not ADHD which has another combination of symptomes added onto those found in ADD patients).  My parents and I thought it was the answer we had been waiting for.  I never realized the answer was also the curse.  With an answer I thought that at least that means I can work on it. I can be better.

Sadly that is not the case.  I have been fighting this disorder (a disease on my life) for  over 16 years.  It started with trying to reduce the symptoms by taking a little orange pill three times a day.  This pill was Dexedrine.  Dexedrine not only effects your brain function causing the right and left side to reconnect rather than loss the connection during an episode (as I call them) but also depresses appetite.  I was one of the few patients that are so effected by the appetite depression that I had to take another little green pill to make myself eat enough to survive.  This is where my problems with food began


I was fine for a little while taking my orange and green pill three times a day every day.  I hated it.  I could not stand taking a drug for the rest of my life.  It was ludacrise that a purfectly healthy individual would have to do this.  I was an athelet at the time being an award winning jounor slalam ski racer.  We didn’t take pills.  We tourghed things out.  How could I keep taking these pills?  So, one day I told my dad that I was no longer taking these pills.  He agreed, my mother did not.  I did it anyway.  Not being a doctor I never realized what this would mean.

I started gaining weight.  Why, I asked.  Well, it turns out that your supposed to stop taking dexedrine by going through a special detox program done at the hospital by a special dialysis mechine.  I skrewed my thyroid hormone release for a while and would gain weight regardless of food intake or exersive.  It was going to take time.  With the gain in weight I started not to care what I ate or how much I did as a anthelet.  I was going to be fat regardless so I stoped caring and let myself go a bit.

Fast forward several years.  I’m now in my first year at university.  Now imagine that time is starting to dissappear.  Food just began to become more of a problem.  Now, it’s a major issue.  I see the people, look at me, judge me, and accuse me and my parents of my problems with food.  This book started me out looking into my life.

On the first few pages the book tells a story of finding food in hidden places (nature) to make a meal when there was none to be found (pages 1-3).  The food they made caused my mouth to water.  I wish I could pick my own food and feel safe with eating it (regardless of knowing many edible plants).  This made me think about the food that I am eating now and the food I used to eat. What a difference; the food I used to eat was a Mediterranean diet for the most part.  One of the healthiest diest your can eat and now its to fill a stomach cramp from lack of eating.  It has become about not wasting time rather than and enjoyment in my life.  This book (and class really) have made me waken up from my sleep walking life and realize what I have done to myself.

On pages 219-220 there is talk of critics and testing of food at the Raincity Grill; trying a 100-mile tasting menu.  My parents always said that I would make a good critic.  I was always about good quality food when I was a young teenager.  If it didn’t taste good, or wasn’t quality (cooked properly and of actually physical quality) it didn’t belong in anyones mouth.  I hardly ever ate anything that wasn’t cooked from real ingredients (not frozzen over processed slabs).

This whole book is a recognition that I need to get back to my Mediterranean ways.  Grow food in the garden and try and cook everything from ‘real’ ingredients not processed is what I need to do.  A change is needed and this book was the push to do it. A book of change.  The ‘diet’/life change is to incorporate mostly 100-mile foods with that of my Mediterranean menu.  This book is now a part of my life.

Ski bum to Disorder… A plant that Say’s it all!

Pollan, M. 2001. Marijuana. Page 113 to 178 in The Botany of Desire. Random House, Inc. New York.

After having a second sip of sambuca, before running outside to check on the burgers, I was offered a joint.  Being 14 at the time, my dad was having a traditional “ski bum” party.  I say it’s traditionally because every ski hill my ‘Bagg’ family has been to, has been to these very “ski bum” parties. One’s with many intoxicants; alcohol and marijuana being the least of concern. This party was the first time I ever came in contact with marijuana, although; I said no thank you and retreated back to my room with my friend (thinking I would never try this so called ‘wonder’ drug). It wouldn’t be until much later in my life, when I would try marijuana for the first time.

Living in British Columbia (BC), Canada I have a different picture of the marijuana plant than Michael Pollen did in the US.  Here, it’s all around us, in every nook and corner of Canadian, especially BC, culture.  Everywhere I go I am confronted by marijuana in either its distinctive skunk-like smell drifting from a nearby reefer or by someone talking about weed in one form or another.  With the marijuana laws (different from those stated by pollen on page 125) low enforcement rate there are only a handful of people that I know haven’t smoked weed and of those there is only one or two that are totally against marijuana. Or maybe I’m just looking at it from a different view being from a totally different generation, but I find that there is more acceptance for activities such as smoking pot or trying new things like outrageous outfits worn by Lady Gaga.  We now could be going in the opposite direction and it will be interesting to see if marijuana is legalized in the future.

I was rather insulted when Michael said: “No one would ever claim marijuana is a great beauty.” (pg 122) at first because I have seen the highly modified hybrides (pg 134) of the 21st century  which are these short shrubs with purplish green leaves that symbolize the culture I come from.  The image that pollen was getting at was the sativa variety (pg 122) not the hybrid with the indica variety making it has broader leaves and purplish veins.  I always thought of the marijuana shrub as beautiful and that I would love to be able to plant it in my garden, not to smoke, but to look at and care for.

When Pollan was talking about the increased yield and shortened flowering time, on page 135, a thought occurred; could we (modern society) use this knowledge to produce an efficient way of producing food crops in a smaller space with a higher yield? Is this the agriculture of the future?

I like Pollan’s description of being “literally absentminded” (pg 165) because I have lived with the extreme side of this having had been diagnosed with adult onset ADD (is a type of ADD that is genetic and will therefore be expressed throughout my life) at the age of 8. I sometimes feel lost until found without realizing how I got there.  I have learned to control it for the most part but it still comes out in my language skills.  Sometimes I’ll start a new subject without any clear flow into it or be on a previous subject that others are no longer talking about.  This has complicated my life, making it hard to communicate with people that don’t know me (don’t understand how my mind works) and I leave things out, thinking that one should be able to understand what I am saying through common sense (without spelling it out).  It was the first time I have seen it written out in almost the perfect form of how I feel. And like Pollen, I would love to be able to notice and remember every detail for “it keeps me from enjoying the pleasures of the sense and the moment, pleasures that at least in abstract, I prize above others.” (pg 166).

The biggest problem to marijuana’s image is the characteristics that many marijuana advocates like best; the “Nothing is easier to make fun of than pot-sponsored perceptions, long the broad butt of jokes about marijuana.” (pg 167). “Marijuana dissolves this apparent contradiction, and it does so by making us temporarily forget most of the baggage we usually bring to our perception of something like ice cream” (pg 167).

Persistence is key!

Nabham, G.P. 1990. Gathering the Desert. University of Arizona Press. 203 pp. Desert plants as Calories, Cures, and Characters.

Click Link Below:


This youtube video showed what the Nabham (1990) exert was also trying to show that persistence is key with a plant and its growth (the bamboo video above), the Creosote use by indigenous peoples (story on pages 17-18), or the cloning ability of a plant so that it outlives itself (pages 12-13).  This fact in nature can further be used by us as information on how to live.  Like Nabham (1990) says “There are both beneficial and detrimental effects on our health that have resulted from technological advances influencing food production, processing, and distribution during this century.” (page 4) we can gain knowledge from understanding our past with the ethnic food that grows around us (page 7).  The plants around us can give us our necessary requirements with a little hard work and patients.  But we will have to change our lifestyle to suit a sustainable diet.

Click Link Below:

My New appreciation for the Apple

Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire: a plant’s-eye view of the world. pg 3-58. Paperback Edition. Random House. Toronto, Ontario.

The sun stings me eyes.  Although, it is the afternoon, the sun is set low in the horizon on my way to school and theres the start of a slight nip in the air.  It’s october, one of my favourite times of year when the leaves turn brilliant colours, snow is only a dream away and APPLES are rip on my tree.  These aren’t your typical grocery store variety apples, although; I am not sure of the apple trees origin.  They are a pale green with a spongy tangy-sweet inside.  I have a bit of a sour tooth; this apple hits these cravings perfectly.  My apples are by far my favourite apples.  Reading this chapter, the apple, caused me to wonder how my apple tree in my backyard came to be?

As I’m reading a famililarity starts to form.  I have heard this before.  Plants benefiting as much as we  do from them. Michael Pollan talks about “… a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving their common lot.” (Pg 4).  And it clicks.  Lyn, my proffessor, has used this myth to explain how plants evolve with their ecosystem such as an orchid is designed for a spesific pollinator.  The modern apple was designed (intense sweetness) for us and has also benefited greatly from their ability to produce sweet hardy fruits.

The apple doesn’t originate here (Pg 6).  It was brought here, at least the apple we know as the modern apple.  “Even the power over nature that domestication supposedly represents is overstated.  It takes two to perform that particular dance, after all, and plenty of plants and animals have elected to sit it out.” (Pg 5).  A plant must have the need to enter into a formal agreement with humans.  The apple has the agreement, whereas; the acorn “…has never needed to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with us.” (Pg 5).

These agreements between plants and us doesn’t always work out, causing the resulting plant to go extinct.  This is not so with the apple.  With the help of people like John Chapman the apple has been part of North American development (Pg 8).  The apples success in North America is due to his cunning ability to know were settlements where likly to come to be (Pg 8).  “Chapman explained that he preferred to get out ahead of the settlers moving west, and this would become the pattern of his life: planting a nursery on a tract of wilderness he judged ripe for settlement and then waiting.”  “Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier.” (Pg 9).

I didn’t care for the hoopla on gods and how Appleseed could be compared to the god Dionsys on pages 38-39.  But after that jibber-jabber I got interested again.  When the conservation side of me was awakened.  No diversity.  We need diversity.  And the farm thats conserving it, all found on pages 40 to the end.  “… Chapman and his leap of fait by planting seeds rather than grafting.” (Pg 42-43) caused a huge diversity jump.  Were “every time an apple failed to germinate or thrive in American soil, every time an American winter killed a tree or a freeze in May nipped its buds, an evolutionary vote was cast, and the apples that survived the great winnowing become ever so slightly more American.” (Pg 44).  An orchard in Geneva, New York, is conserving apple trees with historical significance and wild varieties from Kazakhstan.  Which is an amazing side story.  My apple tree could be a copy or an original, but more likely a copy!

Corn: a Hidden Cost

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a natural history of four meals. pg 15-119. Paperback Edition. Penguin Group. Toronto, Ontario.

Bam I was smacked in the head.  I of all people should know how much american’s rely on corn and corn derived products.  In the summer of 2009 I started feeling ill and later found out that I had formed my worst nightmare an allergy! But not just any allergy I gained several all being lethal but the hardest one was CORN.  When those fateful word came out of her mouth I knew instantly that I was doomed to either a chemical in the form of an allergy pill or pain in two forms.  On form of pain coming in the form of finding food that don’t contain corn and the other in the pain that corn causes when I consume too much.  There would be no simple answer of giving something up that I love (like peanuts being another allergy gained) but a problem of finding foods that don’t contain the ingredient.  Yet, after all that it shocked me that corn is used in such an extent as illustrated in the section called “The Plant: Corn’s Conquest” (the section this blog is dedicated to).  To illustrate this turn to page 18 bottom paragraph leading into page 19 where he goes into detail of how much we rely on corn stating “There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn.” (pg 19).  A scary thought considering an allergy like mine (never seen by my allergists before) could be horrific to deal with an increased sensitivity.  I couldn’t imagine how my life would be like if my sensitivity to corn were to increase.

This dependence illustrated on pages 26-27 also has me wondering.  What would happen if the corn crop crashed like the potato in Ireland? There are so many commodities made from corn and products that the average consumer relies on as a time saver in a world were time is your enemy, that if something where to happen to it a ripple event would be sent out that would affect everyone.  especially those individuals such as ourselves in the Americas’.  Another alarming fact that scares me is that the only people benefiting from this excessive corn production is the big fat companies who buy the cheap corn that are profiting.  Look at page 63 where”… these companies are the rue beneficiaries of the “farm” subsidies that keep the river of cheap corn flowing”. It’s amazing that we even allow this to happen.

Although, I loved the information portrayed in this section as interesting, the story did lag in spots that made it hard to continue so I found myself stopping and starting a lot. Which is fine when you have the time but when you don’t it becomes frustrating.  All in all I loved the story.  But, it left me wondering, how can humans as intelligent as they are, can fall for an idiotic plan as to supplement or diet with mostly corn?  How did we let this happen?

Is this the World we Want?

Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire: a plant’s-eye view of the world. pg 183-238. Paperback Edition. Random House. Toronto, Ontario.

Wow, another mind-blowing experience by Michael Pollan and followed by an amazing talk by Percy Schmeiser just made this week a highlight in my university career.  This week in The Botany of Desire, Micheal takes us through a journey of how desire leads to us tries to create order in a place of disorder causing harsh consequences.  Through the potato he inspires me to take a better look at what I am eating.  He specifically looks at Monsanto and other farmers who grow either genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) or organic and tries to show us the problems with these, positively, artificial organisms.

As I read this book I am thinking of the mashed potatoes that I made the last week. I thought I knew what was in my mash for I took the time to make them from real ingredients but do I  really know?  This is a question that is startling for I should have the right to know what I am eating. Isn’t that why we put those nutritional labels on all packaged foods. Why wouldn’t this go for the plants that we eat?

There are many issues that I had cause for concern with the discussion topics of this book.  One, we don’t know what is GMO and what is not, we don’t know is there are any health issues with GMO’s, Cross pollination between GMO’s, what these GMO companies are saying and doing, and greed.  I was sitting on my couch in shock. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I had heard things and have had suspicions about my food for a long time now but I was not expecting that this would be allowed in Canada.  Where are all our laws and restrictions. Oh wait, politics, that’s where all laws and restrictions end right. You even see it being made fun of in the latest cartoons such as the Simpsons when Bart says “mom my potato is eating my carrots.”

This seems like there are going to be huge consequences like when Micheal states “… one manifestation of human power [pulls] the rug out from under another.” (pg 185).  Some examples of these consequences man has had to endure such as “… the freshly hoed earth invites a new crop of weeds, the potent new pesticide engenders resistance in pests, and every new step in the direction of simplification-toward monoculture, say, or genetically identical plants-leads to unimagined new complexities.” as seen in GMO’s (pg 185). Here he is trying to tell us that when we create order is prone to creating more disorder and the order originally created.  So that when we make GMO’s like the New Potato mentioned in this book it is prone to create havoc in some way.

I loved when he mentioned, compared the organic farms income per acre and the amount that a Monsanto farmer would make; showing that the organic farmer actually makes more although he would have to hire people to maintain the fields for a big operation (pg 219).  This could give more jobs were needed and increase the health of our nation.  If all farmers did what Heath does, as described on pgs 221-225, all the issues stated in my third paragraph would disappear. This ideal situation will never happen but we could limit the amount of GMO-like farmers by buying our produce from a local farmer such as those found at the farmers markets found in most populated areas.

I also had things i was disgusted with in this book. An example that causes and image of super bugs and penicillin to pop into my head is when he quotes Dave Hjelle, Monsanto’s director of regulatory affaires as saying ” there are thousand other Bts out there” and that they can conquer the problem of the super-weed and bug with “… new products. …”.  This is truly scary to me.  What are we going to do with all these weeds that we can’t control and that also have genes that make them fitter than the other plants around them and therefore kill the natural ecosystem of plants.  Are all my kids going to have to look at is WEEDS?