Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Boswellia carterii--myth?

 This is a reprint of a 2010 AbsoluteTrygve post.

Going by what I found at the Botanical Garden (in progress) in Muscat and information gleaned from Plants of Dhofar by Anthony G. Miller and Miranda Morris, here are some of the aromatic plants native to Dhofar.

Lavender: Lavandula dhofarensis, Lavandula hasikensis and Lavandula macra are all native. The L. macra grows all over the southern coast of Arabia but the other two are here only. Lavandula hasikensis lives alone in the arid, and exposed outcroppings of Jebel Samhan and Jebel Hasik, the little hermit. In the Jebali language—that’s the native mountain language here-the name means “little plant of the bridegroom and bride” which refers not only to the sweet scent but the soft and delicate textures; unusual in this rugged areas, since most plants produce thorns or bristles.
Lavandula dhofarensis is also soft and sweet, with an innocent happy little air. He lives along the escarpment woodland and around the waterholes there. He likes it wet!
Lavender doesn’t have a strong tradition here, oddly, and these guys have not yet been extracted for oil. Traditionally, though, they are rubbed between the hands and over the body as a perfume and deodorant.
Even though he doesn’t have a strong place here in Dhofar, apparently lavender is used in Yemen, with the leaves being added to milk and drunk for stomach aches, as a vermifuge and against epilepsy. Smoke from the dried leaves is inhaled to strengthen the nerves and the intelligence. A decoction is also drunk for kidney disorders. In the rest of the Middle East lavender infusion is taken as a stimulent(!), a tonic and an antispasmodic.
Lavender, in captivity, but healthy and happy
We have basil. Ocimum forskolei. This is the only one that seems to be native to Dhofar and this time I have traditional uses to list! Basil is primarily used for his smell, not surprisingly, since breathing tainted air was traditionally considered to be dangerous for the health. Like with Berber people, basil has been traditionally worn tucked behind the ears, and, like lavender, the leaves were/are rubbed between the palms and then over the body, so even though there is no distillation tradition, we’ve got essential oil use! Leaves “were crushed and the juice put into the nose of someone with a stuffy headcold, or into the ear of someone with an infected ear. Both these were said to be painful remedies, but nonetheless were held to be efficacious.” Well. From what I know about Dhofari medicine, (which isn’t a whole lot, I’ll admit,) if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count. This is the land of the red hot poker….and where you can still find older people who sniff at todays wimps, women going to the hospital to have a baby, instead of just dropping it in the field and then going back to work! The book goes on: “ Juice expressed from the growing tips was put into and around a sore and inflamed eye or one that had been damaged or was bleeding. Again, this was a very ‘hot’ treatment, but the patients condition often improved.” Well, I’d jolly well improve too, I’ll bet. Basil plants were/are also dug up and replanted on the graves of the newly dead. And basil is highly prized for soothing the bites of tiny biting flies that appear during and after Khareef.
In Yemen, a basil paste is supposedly used to dress the hair to stop graying. I have to admit I’ve never seen this, but then why would I have? It makes me happy to think about it though.

Jasmine grandiflorum!! I danced a happy hula when I found that one. And jasmine is related to Olives (and osmanthus, and lilac), which I had forgotten completely, if indeed I ever knew it. So I danced twice. Because if Olive trees (Olea europaea) are here then there may be olive oil in our future. Always a delightful thought. Jasmine, both grandiflorum and floribunda, are apparently found wild all over the Dhofari woodlands, flowering all year long, traipsing in and out of trees…..another thanks to this fantastic book, Plants of Dhofar. The flower locally known as “jasmine” here is Plumbago zeylanica so I don’t feel like as much of an idiot as I could feel. Anyway, jasmine is obviously loved for how she smells, of course, with the added benefit her protective properties against disease and infection. I hear there is a clear and delicate jasmine honey to be found so those poor honey guys will have me pestering the hell out of them again. Jasmine flowers were traditionally pounded into a paste and used as a dressing for burns that were not too severe, like the ones you might get when you treat someone with a red hot poker... So it all works out. This same paste was also packed into a deep or suppurating wound, to disinfect it. And the stems were used to treat stinky leather, say for holding milk.

Interestingly, goats that are not local to the woodlands, ie, goats from the dry areas, that come into to graze after the monsoon, will sometimes pass blood in their urine from eating jasmine and so the herders call jasmine “the bleeder.” Other livestock ignores it.
In Yemen it was mixed with salt and used as a poultice!

 Limes. Citrus aurantifolia Swingle! These are our nice little limes. I didn’t realize they are a native species. Well, maybe not native, I think they are from Indonesia originally, but they grow wild here in Dhofar, if the soil is good, and water is nearby. Limes like to be petted and coddled a bit. I always prefer to buy them over the bigger, yellower and sometimes juicier lemons. These limes are like the cows here, littler and feistier. Maybe a little tougher. I just learned that citruses are technically berries known as “hesperidium.”
Sadly, “aurantifolia” means that leaves are like those of an orange tree.
Poor little, tough little ones.

But limes means lime flowers! So it’s possible we might one day have lime neroli….and lime petitgrain of course, and the lovely lime peels themselves. Limes are still used in cooking here, of course, and plenty of them. Limes of the mountains are/were known to be the best ones, and picked and sold not only here in Salalah but in Muscat, where they were/are dried and shipped overseas. Limes keep well, unlike other citruses, and even the most dried out and withered little black stumpy one will open to reveal life inside. They were/are usually pounded into a powder when in this state, and added to food like any spice. Medicinally, the juice is a tonic for the whole body and a blood cleaner. Here’s the terrifying part: “The juice of a fresh lime was squeezed into a painful ear which was infected and exuding pus….” Get better or else! And people suffering from epigastric pain drank hot water with fresh lime juice.
Wood from lime trees is not suitable firewood as it smells bad!
Wadi Darbat

Frankincense, obviously. Boswellia sacra is our species here. I was so very sure we had dozens of species since the trees differ so much—it seems impossible they are all the same species but I have been corrected. The frankincense area goes from Hasik west all the way to Hadramawt, as far as Habban, to be exact. Here’s an explosive tidbit: According to my Plants of Dhofar bible, B. sacra was thought to be B. serrata in 1846 by Dr. H. J. Carter, a surgeon aboard the East India survey ship Palinurus, while making its survey along the southern Arabian Coast. Then, in 1867, a Swiss chemist and botanist named Flueckiger re-examined Carter’s specimens and renamed them B. sacra. Three years later the English botanist Birdwood decided the specimens were actually the same as the Somali ones—Boswellia carterii! Then for years the Arabian trees were known as B. carterii. Now we hear that the African and Arabian trees are all the same species and therefore all must be called Boswellia sacra since sacra came before carterii. Following the logic, there is no such species as B. carterii! That’s sure to cause some small uproars. I have no opinion on this, as much as I’d like to. It seems to me that there must be a hundred different frankincense species—I don’t like this homoginization at all. But I am suspicious of Latin binomials anyway, as you might know from past posts.
Crazy and impossible, obviously.

Frankincense trees are technically not supposed to be planted but they are, from time to time. They say that the trees growing in the monsoon (Khareef) areas produce a low grade frankincense gum, not worth messing around with. I don’t know what they mean exactly, where they draw the line, by “in the monsoon area” but I strongly suspect that our lovely black beauty frankincense comes from there and she smells like heaven.

Also found here in lovely Dhofar is Cyperus rotundus (nagamotha,) various Commiphoras (myrrh family,) various Acacias (mimosas,) Caesalpinia erlanthera (supposed to be a substitute of Oudh,) Pavetta longiflora, at least one Ferula (galbanum family,) Tamarind, Coconut, and a whole host of other plants I’ll get to eventually. For the meantime, I just wanted to mention these delightful little ones that we already know: jasmine, lime, frankincense, lavender and basil.

If anyone out there is crawling with curiosity, Plants of Dhofar-the Southern Reigon of Oman Traditional, Economic and Medicinal Uses, written by Anthony G. Miller and Dr. Miranda Morris, illustrated by Susanna Stuart-Smith is probably insanely difficult to find. It's published here, in 1988 by The Office of The Advisor for Conservation of The Environment, Diwan of Royal Court, Sultanate of Oman, and the ISBN is 07157 0808-2. Good luck with that.

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