Familiar flora

Flora Filipina, the monumental opus of Fray Manuel Blanco, first published in 1837 by the Augustinian Order, is to this very day, revered as a magnificent contribution to Philippine botany. It is unassailable evidence that not all Spanish friars were like Padres Dámaso or Salvi. That is why in the recently inaugurated HOCUS exhibition at the National Museum, one of the paintings depicts Fr. Blanco’s garden.

The Vibal Foundation was kind enough to give me a copy of the 5th edition of Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas, edited by Dr. Domingo Madulid and launched on the Dìa Internacional del Libro.  Once home, I had to satisfy my curiosity – did Fr. Blanco include all the plants in our “Bahay Kubo” song?

SINGKAMAS. Pachyrhizus Angulatus. Mexican turnip. Illustrated by Rosendo Garcia. Fr. Blanco’s common names: Sincamas, hicamas (Tag.) He described this as a common plant that entwines itself around trees and anything in its way. Both indios and Spaniards like its bulbous top-shaped root, which is eaten raw with oil and vinegar. Some people say its bean-like fruits are poisonous, but the water with which the sincamas is washed can cure the cataracts of horses.

The sincamas came from Mexico where it is called jicama derived from the Nahuatl, xicamatl. From here it spread to other parts of Asia.  Dr. Matulid added that the seeds, called fruits by Blanco, can poison fish and dogs, yet the tincture made from it can cure herpes.

TALONG PUNAY. DATURA METEL. Devil’s trumpet.  Blanco’s common names: Talompanai (Tag.), tacbibung (Bis.) This is not the long purple eggplant but the round spiny one which Fr. Blanco called the Philippine hemlock even if it has curative properties. Pills, teas, poultices can be made from it to cure cankers, scabbies, tumors, and to relieve the discomfort of bronchitis and asthma.  Blanco tried it on himself and concluded that the indicated procedures should be followed lest it become poisonous. Dr. Matulid adds that when the flower – Devil’s trumpet — is dried and smoked, it is more potent than shabu and marijuana.

SIGARILYAS. Dolichos Tetragonolobus. Winged bean. Illustrated by Francisco Domingo, Blanco’s common names: Calamismis (tag.) pal-lam (Ilk). Seguidillas was its name in colonial Manila, said Blanco. He called it a fruit,  favored by Europeans and natives alike though he  himself found it quite  tasteless. It blooms in December and the flowers are used for coloring rice and cakes, its seeds are roasted and brewed like coffee.

According to Dr. Matulid, the sigarilyas is an excellent source of calcium, iron, and vitamin B. In fact, the entire plant is edible, that is why it is called a “one stalk supermarket.” It used to be known as the poor man’s veggie but in 1975, after an international symposium held in Los Baños, attended by 200 researchers from 26 countries, the lowly sigarilyas gained worldwide popularity.

MANI. Arachis Hypogaea. Peanut. Blanco’s common name: Mani (Tag) He was not sure if the plant came here via America although he did know that in Mexico the peanut is called cacahuate and that the natives there made more use of the plant than the indios in the Philippines who fed the peanut plant to horses. To Fr. Blanco,  the nuts  taste like hazelnuts. When mixed with ground api-api (a mangrove) peanut oil is transformed into soap and a paint base. A Mr. Fremont told Blance that the mani has moisturizing and laxative properties.

For his part, Dr. Matulid says that the peanut is not a true nut like beans and peas. It belongs to the legume family and grows underground unlike nuts like almonds and walnuts. European explorers spread the Mani all over the world. (more)