In the recently inaugurated HOCUS exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts, one of the paintings depicts Fr. Blanco’s garden. Coincidentally, the Vibal Foundation launched the 5th edition of Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas, edited by Dr. Domingo Madulid on the Dìa Internacional del Libro at the Instituto Cervantes.
Last week, I began writing about the plants in our “Bahay Kubo” song that I found in Flora de Filipinas; this is the second part:
Sitaw. Dolichos Sesquipedalis. String bean, illustrated by
Felix Martinez. Fr. Blanco’s common name: sitaw (Tag.) A native of tropical Asia, it is found all over Manila and grows throughout the Philippines, observed the good friar. This vine flowers in January and has pods that are either green or purple; they are cooked and eaten. Dr. D. Matulid adds that the sitaw grows even in poor soil and to this day is still an important vegetable in Asia. Marketable pods appear after 60 days and if picked twice a week, pods grow more abundantly.
Bataw. Lablab Cultratus. Hyacinth bean. Fr. Blanco’s common names: bulai (Batangas), batao (Manila). He found the bataw all over the “settled areas” where it is eaten as a vegetable. It was not flavorful enough for his taste. Soon enough, Fr. Blanco became aware that the 3-inch long pods cured ear and throat inflammations. Dr. Matulid said the Hyacinth bean found its way to Europe and America; Thomas Jefferson grew it in his Monticello estate.
Patani. Phaseolus lunatus. Lima bean. Fr. Blanco’s common name: zabache (Tag). According to the priestly botanist, patani originally came from Peru, sent to Europe and the rest of America packed in boxes labeled, “Lima, Peru” – that was how it got its name. Fr. Blanco did not say much about this plant; it blooms in October; the bean is white with red or black dots and it is edible. Dr. Matulid noted that there are black patani, which are usually toxic.
Kundol which, I think, is also called winter melon cannot be found in the 5th edition of Flora and Fauna.
Patola. Cucumis acutangulus. Sponge gourd. Illustrated by Francisco Domingo. Blanco’s common name: patola (Tag). Using its tendrils, the plant grows upwards, he observed; the fruit should be cooked while still green so it remains juicy. Its taste is not disagreeable when eaten while tender. It must have come from Asia and was brought to these islands long ago. There is a Patolang-Uwak, Spiny bitter gourd, probably a cousin of the one in our song. There are notes about sautéing the patola with pork and shrimps and making loofas out of the dried gourd, which may have come from Dr. Matulid.
No Upo, no Kalabasa, nor Labanos, Mustasa. No Sibuyas, Kamatis, Bawang, nor Luya, not even under their Spanish names.
Linga. Sesamum Indicum. Sesame. Fr. Blanco’s common names: linga (Tag.), longa (Bis), langis (Kpm)
The plant is well known in these islands, said Fr. Blanco; natives extract oil from its seeds but not ingest it. The Spaniards call it ajonjoli or aljonjoli (and so do the Mexicans). Unlike coconut oil, it doesn’t become rancid, Blanco seemed please to note. Referring to the Flora de las Antillas, by Fr. Mercado, Fray Blanco said sesame oil is as sweet as that of almonds. Moreover, it gives light, fixes dyes, and is excellent for burns when mixed with limewater. Sometimes the indios eat the leaves, which are harmful even when cooked. Egyptian women use sesame oil for their hair and skin, wrote Fr. Blanco, Its ashes are an effective cleaning agent and the husk an excellent fertilizer.
Perhaps the missing flora are in the original edition, I cannot believe that Fr. Blanco did not find kundol, upo, kalabasa, labanos, mustasa, sibuyas, kamatis, bawang, luya during his field trips to the provinces. Could these vegetables have come to this archipelago after Fr. Blanco’s demise? I must ask Dr. Domingo Matulid, he should know.