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Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a large African native with a smooth and shiny trunk, thick, wide branches and a girth that can compete with its height. The leaves are hand sized and divided into five to seven finger-like leaflets. The tree produces large, white, fragrant flowers and pendulant, egg shaped fruit, consisting of a woody outer shell covered with yellowish brown hairs that give it a velvety appearance. This fruit is filled with a dark colored kernels of the fruit and a dry, tangy powder similar to cream of tartar in flavor. Baobab trees are deciduous, boasting leaves during the rainy season and losing them for the rest of the year. The flowers begin to bloom at the end of the rainy season. Some trees flower every year and some may never fruit, and it can take a Baobab tree up to two hundred years to produce its first fruit. Some trees produce high volumes of the fruit and others far less.
Baobab season is sporadic and nearly every part of the tree is useful to humans. Fresh leaves are only available during the rainy season.
Adansonia digitata is regarded to be the largest succulent plant in the world, with some specimens thought to be over 1000 years old. This important tree has been used to provide food, water, shelter and medicine to African people for millennia. Typically reaching a height of 25 meters, large Baobabs can grow up to 28 meters in girth and appear to be growing upside down. The tree bears large, heavy, white flowers that blossom in the late afternoon, falling within 24 hours. The carrion stench of these flowers attracts fruit bats, which act as the main pollinator for the trees. Found in dry, hot climates of sub-Saharan Africa, Baobabs are widely thought to store water in their stems.
Baobab is considered by some to be a superfood. The powdery substance within the fruit is rich in ascorbic acid, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. The kernels of the fruit are a good source of energy, protein, fat, calcium, potassium and magnesium. The leaves are rich in calcium and protein as well as vitamins A and C.
Nearly every part of the highly regarded Baobab is useful. The powdery, tangy substance found inside the fruit is used to make a refreshing and nutritious drink, or added to sauces to create complexity in flavor and enhance the nutritional value. The seeds can be roasted and ground for use in a drink, pounded to extract the oil within, fermented to use as a flavoring, roasted as a snack, or used to thicken soups. The leaves are cooked fresh as a vegetable, made into a relish, or dried and crushed for later use in recipes during the dry season. The young tree sprouts can be eaten like asparagus. The wood is used for fuel and timber. Baobab is utilized for medicinal purposes as well. The fruit powder is believed to fight fevers and settle the stomach.
The Baobab tree is rich in myth and legend throughout Africa. Many traditions maintain that Baobabs grow upside down due to the way that the branches spread out from the trunk like the capillaries of a root system. African bushman legend has the god Thora taking a dislike to Baobab growing in his garden, so he throws it over the wall of paradise to Earth below. The tree lands upside down and continues to grow. Another story states that when Baobab was planted by God it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to prevent it from walking away. The trunks of the trees are often hollowed out and used to store grain, water and act as shelter. Baobab is highly regarded wherever it grows.
Baobab typically grows in dry, hot areas, and is native to most of sub-Saharan Africa, although it has been introduced to other countries including India and many other compatible climates. It is slow growing, mostly due to low rainfall, and is not found in areas where sand is deep. It is sensitive to waterlogging and frost. The scientific name of the tree comes from the French explorer and Botanist, Michel Adanson, who officially “discovered” it in 1749 on the island of Sor in Senegal. It is also prominently used as a metaphor in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince.
Recipes that include Baobab. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Zimbo Kitchen||Baobab Fruit Cake|
|African Epicure||Baobab Fruit Juice|