‘TWAS CRUEL as smashing a budding green thumb: some years back, an abuela warned me about letting any clump of katigbi (Job’s tears or Coix lachrymal jobi for you botanists) from growing in our homeyard. That grass with rapier-like leaves that smelled of freshly pounded pinipig supposedly invited bad luck and sorrows—why, that biblical character Job wailed and howled a lot, didn’t he? (But was later rewarded with oodles of goodies, wasn’t he?)
Then, I came across some arcane text that practically goaded folks to grow katigbi in their gardens—why, there’s a starchy kernel wrapped shut in the seed’s shiny coat. A handful or more of kernels could be cooked as porridge.
Too, one could whisper a wish upon seven seed pods, throw ‘em pods in running water—a river or stream—and the wish would be granted!
I was warned, too, about planting kapok or talisay trees right in the homeyard—these trees form a cross-like branching pattern. Pasang-krus daw ang bahay na kalapit sa puno ng kapok, talisay, batino or any of such trees whose branches form crosses.
I found out later that kapok and talisay flowers were a delicious temptation for fruit bats. They hang about there most nights in feeding frenzy, why, bats aren’t exactly asuwang in disguise. Most are fruit-eaters. Too, bats are reckoned as symbols of longevity and good fortune among the Chinese.
So I was told not to grow thorny or spiky plants in the household garden—thorns are a no-no, bring ill-luck. Such superstition must have caused thriving stands of thorny native limes dayap and kabuyaw to be chopped dead; now, not even one kabuyaw (a natural shampoo) grows in Cabuyao, Laguna. Dayap, whose sweet-scented rind packs lots of pectin and is a ‘must’ ingredient in ube jalea, candied makapuno and leche flan is now hard to come by.
So I later came across a refutation to superstition—lime tree protects the household against negative influences, its wood serves as good luck charm.
Para raw sa patay ang amarilyo (marigold) and it shouldn’t be grown in a home garden. It turned out marigolds shoo off insect pests, can improve the flavor of onions and lettuce when planted near ‘em, why, it’s supposed to be the bride of the sun that rubs off protection on a household and can strengthen one’s psychic powers. To hell with lousy beliefs, I still grow marigolds!
Why, there isn’t a native body of lore to bring healing to the land or bring lots of suwerte to a household. All I grew up with was a huge smorgasbord of ‘don’ts.’ Not a word about how do’s that can woo in prosperity, sound health and an abundant life.
There’s this sinking feeling that some cultures are equipped with arcane know-how that somehow foster unexplained wealth—and ours have to contend with a lack of any decent counterpart to furyu, feng shui, vastu, geomancy and such mystical grasp of the environs. Does that lack account for our unexplained poverty?
As affront to rotten beliefs that somehow get in the way of care-free gardening, I’ve taken the cue from author Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery isn’t in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
With all due respect to my elders’ superstition that I had to be weaned from, here’s a shop-list of the plants that I grow for their supposed magical virtues. See ‘em with new eyes or in a new light:
Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia aurea) Tea made from leaves, flowers smoked. Decoctions made from leaves and seeds with water or maize beer is a potent aphrodosiac. Contains highly active tropane alkaloids.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinales) - A diuretic, it stimulates activity of kidneys and is depurative. People who eat a lot of asparagus have also many lovers.
Avocado (Persea americana)- An invigorator, abortifacient, bark used as remedy for women's ailments; seed can be grated for tea. Flesh and seed contain vitamins and oil.
Basil (Ocimum sanctum)- Some varieties used as spices, some for medical uses and the tulasi plant is one of the most sacred of Hindus. It is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and her spouse Vishnu and is planted on altars. Eat one leaf a day to express religious respect, maintain health, prosperity and fertility, gives a fucking wonderful sex life, ward off demons and negativity of neighbors.
Bamboo-- Grown near the house, bamboo gives its residents good fortune. Also, bamboo is placed over the door because, since its wood never changes color, it is lucky, as the Chinese folks have it.
Carrot (Daucus carota) -Invigorator, the root has diuretic and abortifacient powers and incites coitus, contains beta-carotene and vitamin A uncooked. Wild carrot seeds regulate menstruation. Chew a spoonful of seeds few hours before and after sex to avoid pregnancy.
Celery (Apium graveolenns) -Stimulant, fresh root eaten, it strengthens the sex organs. Celery root contains an essential oil and minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)-stimulant known since ancient Egypt and Palestine; add coriander to wine to increase the semen.
Fern – I grow the edible bracken (pako or Pteridium aquilinum ) species—perfect for green salad tossed with chunks of tomatoes, shallots and a drizzle of bagoong and palm vinegar; also makes a powerful barrier of protection against evil and can help induce rain.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Grown to attract success, power, money, love. Too, salabat sweetened with semi-ripe saba bananas is my idea of comfort food.
Mint (Good ol’ fashioned hierba buena or menthe) -- To bring money/prosperity to you, place a few leaves in your wallet or purse and/or rub where you keep your money.
Pineapple (Ananas cosmosus) - A diuretic, invigorator with great digestive effect, and purifying effect. Use fresh fruit juice. For aphrodisiac effect eat with chili powder or mix with honey and rum. A small glass taken daily promotes energies of love. Unripe fruits can cause pregnant women to miscarry.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinales)- Strong erotic effect upon the skin, ingested as spice, added to bath or wine. Contains essential oil with psychotropic effect. In large quantities, it can be an abortifacient.
Squash (Curcubita pepo)- Diuretic, invigorator, seeds eaten as aphrodisiac for women. Seeds contain fatty oils, protein and vitamin E that is important for healthy sexuality.
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) - Excessive consumption stimulate women's sex drive. Along with starch and sugar it contains substances with effect similar to some hormones.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)- The ‘little dragon’ is for compassion, love, peace, nurturing, and good luck. It also makes a wonderful tea and ingredient in fish recipes.
AS concession to what’s good to grow in the Year of the Hotdog – zero in on the southeast sector of your homeyard. That’s the money area. It stays as the money and material prosperity area whether it’s the Year of the Hotdog or steamy bitch.
Go dig dirt. Rebuild and rediscover an Eden—it’s going to be there in the dirt in your fingernails, in your callused palms, in the sweat trickling off your brow.
And by the way, every year is The Year of Our Lord!