Saturday, March 11, 2017

Karaka Berry Flesh Makes a Pungent Dip or Topping

I find the fried orange flesh of the berry of Karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus)  makes a very pungent dip or pizza topping resembling a strong cheese, a real kick to it with what I find to be an almost "rude" quality also like that of strong cheese. Also the consistency is somewhat like cheese, not that I believe in one food pretending to be another, it never works, like a person trying to be someone else.

I collect berries from the foot path and gutter below trees in the suburbs, then wash them obviously. I try to select berries that have not started to ferment/rot but by the time I have prepared them this process has invariably begun to an extent. I assume this at least partly accounts for their powerful flavor, I also assume if they have just started to ferment or decay they are still safe to eat but have no expertise in this area, I noticed no odd effects at all after eating it several times.

I should probably mention here most people know the kernels or"seeds"of the berries are extremely poisonous unless properly prepared, even in historical times when they were a major food of Maori there were occasional poisonings, possibly from prepared kernels although this does not seem to be clear. As far as I can gather they are rarely used as food today. It would be good if there was some scientific study on how much boiling and/or other processing is required to eliminate the toxin, known as Karakin.

Andrew Crowe writes about the edibility of Karaka in "The Native Edible Plants of New Zealand" Penguin Books. Toxicity is discussed in "The Poisonous Plants of New Zealand" by H E Conner. (G P Publications).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Driverless and 'clean" car thoughts

Power is addictive, driverless cars will be more powerful. As the great social thinker Ivan Illich put it, people have tried to replace human slaves with technological ones and ended up being enslaved by their power, which is a little sad as people don't need slaves, just a little help.

In my view the most important recent scientific progress that relates to cars has been progress in the science of self-regulation or self-control. It's the addiction to the great power of cars that needs to be addressed in my view, if this can be addressed cars will not need to be "improved". The irrationality, even evil, of driving around in lengthy circles, along the same routes day after day for years using a finite destructive resource, at crippling cost, displays all the symptoms of chronic addiction. Especially when we'd be freer, happier and healthier if work, food supplies and home were all mostly in the same place. 

If work, food and home were mostly in the same place, which I'm trying to research in a small way with a self-reliant homestead, use of cars would be relatively rare and the impact of using fossil fuel cars would probably be insignificant making clean cars unnecessary. In my view trying to find a clean car that can do what what a petroleum one can do is like trying to find an alcoholic drink without any harmful or addictive qualities, there's no such thing, but you can drink, or drive, moderately and reasonably responsibly with a little self-control.

In addition I think it needs to be argued that it is highly narcissistic, not virtuous progress, to try to acquire ever more godlike power through technology, not only to have a car but a car that drives at your command. The narcissism of our age has been addressed by many of the same psychologists working on self-control. Narcissism and reduced self-control, such as addictions, often go together, possibly because we loose the ability to think critically about our impulses. 

Rather than a narcissistic addiction to power, perhaps we need a humble pursuit of genuine autonomy... or at least the happy medium and/or balance between these two extremes.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Suggestions for attracting Glow Worms to gardens

It looks like I accidentally attracted the New Zealand Glow Worm (Arachnocampa luminosa) to a (reasonably) shady, sheltered corner of my garden when I put tubs of water there to grow shade loving edible and medicinal aquatic plants.  It seems to be the combination of water, shade and shelter that they particularly like, they are not found in any other niche in my diverse garden.

Glow Worms live in the Ivy at the top of the picture overlooking the plastic tubs of water. 

I can't find any writing about encouraging this species in the garden so thought I'd write about it. I do live only a few hundred meters from a stream that has glow worms but it seems possible they could find their way to much more remote spots as the adult of this insect can fly. It only lives a few days before laying it's eggs but that might be enough time to cover some distance, they've colonized the whole country after all. 

I'm not sure how long it took before they found the spot, the tubs were sitting there for around three years before I noticed their alluring glow, so it may take a while. It's good having them next to a window from which they can be viewed, I might have never noticed them otherwise.The wire mesh in the picture happened to be left there for no reason, interestingly when I took it away they went dark for several days, so I put it back they seemed to get brighter again. Perhaps it reminds them of tree canopy or something else about their natural niche, or perhaps they just don't like change. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Manuka Tea, likely better mental booster than coffee

I think Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) leaf tea may have the most pleasing flavor the native New Zealand flora has to offer.  Scientists have long known the plant contains the chemical 1 8 cineole (Ref 1), found in the leaves and bark. Recently scientists have found 1 8 cineole from Rosemary and other herbs boosts speed and accuracy at mental tasks (2). They also seem to report as a good thing that it is "negatively correlated with changes in contentment levels" I'm not sure what that means, perhaps it is some kind of mood stabilizer.

Many of the experiments involved inhalation of the chemical through essential oil of herbs but oral administration of essential oil and "extracts" was also effective (3, 4). I'm assuming just drinking the tea is a way of getting the benefits of 1 8 cineole but have not been able to find any experts committing on this. Essential oils can be extracted simply by pressing, crushing plants, I don't see how this would make any chemicals available not available through boiling, though they would be more concentrated. I expect essential oils are usually used in experiments because they can be bottled to prevent evaporation then stored for years and used when convenient. I find Manuka leaves loose most of their flavor in a matter of days once picked, presumably because the essential oils have broken down or escaped (presumably this would pose a serious problem for anyone trying to transport and sell the leaves for tea, significant seasonal fluctuations in quantities of 1 8 cineole in the leaves another issue(5)).

It is interesting that the BBC TV series 'Trust me I'm a Doctor' found in an experiment coffee makes you think you are performing better mentally but actually doesn't help, by contrast essential oil of Sage containing 1 8 cineole does improve mental performance (4*). So the humble, largely overlooked cup of Manuka tea may actually be a better workplace drink than coffee (I don't see anything wrong with coffee as recreational drug on the basis of their findings. At least coffee doesn't actually make you perform far worse while making you think you're doing wonderfully as alcohol and cannabis do, though glancing into certain "cool" and "classy" cafes I think this may need further research).

The similar, related native plant Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) is also used as a tea (7) and also contains 1 8 cineole (1). I find the flavor facinatingly unique but overpowering, like essential oil straight. 

I also find it very interesting a popular tea in Ancient Egypt was made from the leaves of Artemisia arborescens which have been found to contain 0.4% 1 8 cineole (6) perhaps it was the secret of their astounding civilization. It is a very satisfying tea once you get used to it. I've often wondered why Mint (Mentha spicata) Tea is so popular in the Arab World since it doesn't appear to do anything like coffee, turns out it is rich in 1 8 Cineole (8) .

1 8 cineole is also found in the leaves of a number of other plants used to make very pleasant teas such as Broad Leaved Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia)(9)*Myrtle (Myrtus communis) (10), once popular with French women, and Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) (11), perhaps this is why the Delphic Oracle of Ancient Greece used Bay as an aid in making prophecies.

Often confused with one another, I mainly tell Manuka and Kanuka apart by their leaf shape. Manuka (above) has broader more curved oval leaves, Kanuka (right) straighter, narrower leaves.


1. Brooker S G, Cain B F, Cambie R C. A New Zealand Phytochemical Register-Part 1. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand Vol 1 No7 May 31 1963

*This BBC experiment tested Coffee against Sage in a one off single experiment, most people probably use coffee to sustain effort over a long period throughout the day, the effectiveness of this strategy was not tested in this experiment.   

5.      3049/16/2/1181/pdf+&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=nz
6. Singh R J Editor. Genetic Resources, Chromosome Engineering, and Crop Improvement: Medicinal Plants, Volume 6. 2011
7. Crowe A. A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand. 1981.
9. Cribb AB JW. Wild Food in Australia. 
 *  The authors experimented with this tea and liked it, I don't know if it has become widely used (proven safe) as a result of their recommendations,  it appears no incidents have resulted from their publication, I like it a lot & use it a few time a month.
11. Facciola S Cornucopia II. 1998.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A possible reason the internet doesn't really seem to have made the world a better place overall.

One would expect the vast information, consumer and supposed social choices opened up by the internet would have made the world better than ever by now, it certainly usually feels to me like progress while I'm using it. But I'm not aware of any evidence the world has become a better place overall in recent decades. If anything I think it can be argued it's getting crazier; more random and impulsive, on the news, in traffic, on footpaths, workplaces, supermarkets and public transport. Simple tasks like walking in a straight line down the street now seem to be utterly impossible, even repugnant, for most people, even when they're not looking at their phones.

I think this may be because many aspects of the internet, such as largely random and arbitrary interpersonal exchanges, are contributing to what psychologists call "ego depletion" or the depletion of self-control. Psychologists believe we all have limited self-control, we are only capable of a certain amount each day, as we use it on resisting annoyances or temptations (for instance) it gets used up.

Despite its extraordinary potential for good the internet is also full of unprecedented temptations, annoyances, distractions and provocations which all deplete self-control. I think creating a whole new arena of ego-depletion may be too much for people, causing them to have less self-control in in the "real world" causing the world to become less civilized overall.

People concerned about this may need to either cut out certain aspects of internet use, if this is possible, or cut out some other depleting aspect of their lives such as living in cities if they are going to continue using the net.


Willpower. Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength . Baumeister and Tierney. 2011.
Handbook of Personality and Self-Regulation. Ed. Hoyle. 2014.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mango seedling survives Wellington winter

I've found a Mango (Mangifera indica) only a few years old survived winter temperatures down to -2 Celsius overnight, in hardiness zone 9 in a relatively cold gully in temperate Wellington, New Zealand, Mango is usually classed as zone 10 or 11, subtropical to tropical. I'm confident they would take a few degrees colder given the same conditions.There were however some brown spots on the leaves (visible if you click on image) which may be signs of minor cold damage.

I expect it survived because it got no direct sun until late morning, then dappled sun until early afternoon. It is often the sudden change in temperature when early morning sun hits tender species that kills them. I did not attempt a scientific experiment by planting another one to get early sun, the literature about the risks of planting them outside of the subtropics was so overwhelming, but it now seems it might be worth a try (I did try one in full sun in a very different, somewhat warmer (minimum +2 C)  location once, it only lasted a few weeks, but dry soil and coastal gales were probably as much to blame).

I also think it is possible allowing (edible) weeds to grow around it, but not smothering it, protected it from cold somewhat. Planting it out in summer presumably helped as well.

This does not mean it will grow well or produce fruit someday, will have to see about that.

 I tried some other subtropicals such as Longan and Inga Bean with more or less the same conditions. They did not survive, although they were very young, most subtropicals get tougher with age, more mature specimens might be worth a try.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mealworms raised outside with Passive Solar Heating

I've found mealworms (Tenibrio molitor or Yellow Mealworm) can be raised in black plastic containers outdoors in a temperate climate provide the containers are in a sunny position causing them to heat up during the day. A simple, basically free, form of passive solar heating.

Mealworms of course require heat (and darkness) to survive and flourish but they are also surprisingly tolerant of temporary cold. They survived all winter outside in the containers here, where the night temperature typically drops to between 5 C and -3 C (zone 9, Wellington, New Zealand).

By contrast when I tried raising them inside the house, including above the water heater, this quickly failed, presumably because it was not nearly hot enough.

I had to secure the containers with wire mesh to stop them blowing away in the wind. I also taped screening around the lid to prevent the adult beetle from climbing out, I'm not sure this is necessary they don't seem to have thought of that so far. 

Another problem was figuring out if the containers were safe for raising insects in, unsurprisingly there is not much info on plastics suitable for insects. Some manufacturers market containers as "food grade", suitable for keeping food in, which I took to be ok, but finding one that says that and is black may be difficult. I resorted to buying a blue "fish bin" (for keeping fish in, presumably safe) and painting it black. It might even be possible to make a container out of wood and paint it black if you don't like plastic. 

I just feed them grass and weeds from the garden I know to be edible for humans, reportedly they will eat anything that is rotting.  

I have never raised mealworms with the usual artificial heat so can't compare productivity of outdoor containers with this. So far, I've only had them a year, they appear to go through one life-cycle a year.

My interest in mealworms is as part of my own diet and part of an effort to produce most of my own food on a small section. Mealworms appear to contain all the essential nutrients fruit and vegetables lack, so could possibly be a wise addition to a small self-sufficient homestead that can't fit larger animals. 

I tried eating a few the other day, after fasting them for 24 hours. I fried them in olive oil, they were crisp and melted in the mouth, not much to them. I suppose they were a little like the skin of Kentucky Fried Chicken, not bad, but bitter as well, something I fed them perhaps, or the oil? Will have to do more work in this area.