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).

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.

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.

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
2. http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20120127011944data_trunc_sys.shtml
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736918/
4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3KpL3khByCkMwS3jmcCQFMb/the-big-brain-boost-experiment
5. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:toKutzBZxIwJ:www.mdpi.com/1420-      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.

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. 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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Apparent Zealandia Kaka damage to Avocado Crop

Apparent Zealandia Kaka Bite Marks in Avocado 

Images of damage to Avocado Crop near Zealandia Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand. The crescent shape is consistent with bite marks from parrots on humans (1). I could not find any photos of Kaka bite marks but I can't see how it can be anything other than the NZ parrot known as Kaka from the recently instituted Zealandia Native Reserve. 

It looks like the Kaka attacked the fruit on at least three occasions separated by several weeks, but they did not destroy all of the crop, about half were damaged and in earlier years none were (the trees are young, so far bearing small crops of fruit for about four years). I get the impression the Kaka are investigating the fruit, being intelligent curious animals, having checked them out them it appears they had no further interest in them. So far it does not appear they are obsessed with eating the fruit or fruit in general but it is too soon to be certain. Avocados do not ripen on the tree and are "said to be toxic"(4) when unripe, at least to humans, it is hard to imagine any human getting any pleasure from eating the hard unripe fruit, I don't know about parrots.

Still, if this is damage from Kaka I find this rather annoying, I'm not against reserves or natives, I plant quite a few natives myself, but always edible ones where I live, alongside edible exotics. I think realistic environmentalism will promote edible and useful plant and animal species near where people live to reduce unnecessary resource depletion, waste and pollution associated with transportation. Unproductive untouched reserves like Zealandia are, in my opinion, better located in remote locations away from people for the good of both people and pristine native ecosystems. 

Having reserves in central city areas may even be ecologicallly conterproductive if it reinforces the myth that modern cities are part of a global industrial system that is ecologically viable, just needing a little cosmetic tweaking (a common phenomenon known to psychologists as the 'licencing syndrome' (2) which basically means "I've done something good" (e.g., I have protected a few acres of pure, pristine bush (or better still my government has done it for me)) "now I can do something bad" (e.g., get back to my (addiction to) industrial technology destroying the planet/people/myself).  

To say Kaka should be able to run rampant because they are "natural" is a little like saying we should we should drink untreated water because it is "natural" (although admittedly probably not quite as extreme). Pristine wilderness is dangerous to humans despite the fact that it is often romanticized by people thoroughly insulated from it, as the great environmentalist Rene Dubos pointed out (3).

At the very least it's worth noting it is not automatic moral perfection establishing nature reserves in the city, there are costs, some potentially very serious for certain types of genuine, hands on, nature lovers such as gardeners. 

I emailed these photos to the Zealandia, Forest & Bird and the Department of Consevation, they suggested nets and planting something more desirable to distract them, perhaps that's the best we can hope for, unfortunately I find nets ugly & oppressive. They also pointed out it is illegal to "disturb" such species, so it sounds like Zealandia Kaka can destroy your property (such as home fruit trees which are much "greener" property than Zealandia I've argued) and you'll go to prison if you try to scare them off (!%#@!!???). Actually they mentioned (unsuccessful) attempts to scare them with balloons without any suggestion this was wrong so I assume reasonable attempts to scare them are legal. As far as I can see in the legislation "disturb" is only mentioned in the context of hunting protected species (as it should be), reasonable, humane, shooing of wildlife does not appear to be a concern, which seems like common sense surely.

I did recently realize the Kaka essentially ignored the bitter unripe green fruit of  a Pawpaw/babaco cross "Rainbow Valley" a few feet away from the Avocado. It appears they may have sampled them just a little (picture) and decided they didn't like them.

These unripe fruit are supposed to be edible, I eat them cooked sometimes, but they are quite bitter. Apparently birds can detect at least some types of bitterness in order to avoid poisonous plants. Seems like a (non-toxic) bitter spray might be a possibility for some crops, especially if it can be washed off the fruit when harveted & somehow made so it doesn't seep into the flesh. There does seem to be a least one commercial bird repellant spray for protecting fruit. It seems like a major long shot but perhaps sprays could even be used to prevent Kaka from stripping bark off of privately owned trees looking for edible moth larvae.

A hard unripe Avocado I tasted was not bitter, which may support this theory of bitterness being repellant, though was it almost mature, don't know about the younger fruit. 

Update 8/1/17

I caught a Kaka in the act of eating some of my first crop of Loquat fruit (Eriobotrya  japonica). I told it to bugger off, it obliged but was lurking around again shortly after. Interestingly the fruit had just reached full ripeness that day, I wonder if and how it knew that. Perhaps there's some way of fooling them fruit is unripe, a food colouring spray perhaps, you'd think green but that didn't put them off the Avocado. I've found Loquat fruit can be picked when partly green, not fully ripe, and ripened indoors, which may also be an option but reportedly the taste is not as good (4), I think this is true but have not had enough to be sure. An exquisite tasting fruit at its best, rather like pineapple and apricot jam.  


1.  http://forums.avianavenue.com/index.php?threads/bird-bite-photos-warning-graphic.2394/ 
2. The Willpower Instinct. K McGonigal. 2012.
3. The Wooing of the Earth. R Dubos. 1980.  Dubos argues convincingly the "natural" places we really like being in have been significantly modified by humans. Few would want to spend time in the New Zealand bush if the world's largest ever predatory eagle, the Haast's Eagle, had not been made extinct by early Maori settlers (apparently by causing the extinction of its main food source, the Moa). It is considered likely this eagle preyed on the first human settlers. Perhaps if genetic engineering advances sufficiently we should bring this species back to life to prey on humans, because it is "natural" and "pure". Better still trying to defend yourself when they attack would of course have to be illegal because they're "native". ( http://www.wingspan.co.nz/extinct_birds_of_prey_new_zealand_haasts_eagle.html)
4. Discovering Fruit and Nuts. S Lyle. 2007.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Tasty berries of some hardy epiphytic bromeliads

Small fruit of Aechmea gamosepala (left) & Quesenelia marmorata (right) which I sampled as food recently. The dark purple ripe fruit of the Aechmea was sweet, not outstanding in flavor but good. The Quesenelia was much milder and less sweet in flavor, but nice if you eat a lot of them, rather like custard. I was surprised to find the skin of both fruit is too tough to eat, you have to squeeze the flesh out with your teeth holding the skin with your hand, probably not a plus though possibly could become habit forming like sucking on a lolly. On the basis of this one sample it is hard to imagine these fruits having very much use except perhaps as novel but pretty average flavoring and colouring for things like ice cream. 

I decided to try the fruit largely on the basis of the article Bromeliads: Edible and Theraputic by Michael Spencer 1981 . Journal of the Bromeliad Society Vol XXXI (4). There is a specific reference to Quesenelia marmorata being edible, I don't believe I ever found a specific reference to Aechmea gamosepala fruit being edible, only general statements about the genus having edible fruit as well as virtually no reports of toxicity in bromeliads except in unripe pineapples.

Although these fruit do not seem to be very noteworthy food I think they are a small but positive addition to the edible garden because the plants can grow without soil as air plants or epiphytes, producing in niches where most, if not all, more useful crops could not, so don't compete with them for space. I grew these on the south facing side of a house in Wellington, New Zealand (hardiness zone 9)  where they only get late afternoon sun. They have tolerated winter night temperatures averaging around  + 5 C  with occasional frosts down to around  -3 C, possibly they survive because they do not get morning sun ( the sudden temperature change is often what kills tender plants).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Expectation Adjustment as willpower tool (for self-sufficiency)

I've tried quite a few willpower (self-regulation/self-control) techniques from books by Roy Baumeister and Kelly McGonigal and others, all quite helpful. But have found for me personally, wanting to boost my performance in efforts to be self-sufficient in food production, the best technique has been to adjust my expectations of how pleasurable and easy gardening is and should be.

I suspect most people interested in getting back to nature and growing their own food because they don't like the industrial "system"  have a rather "idealistic" "romantic" "hippy" "greenie" "Garden of Eden" idea of what gardening will be like, everything will be harmonious, cooperative and nice. This view is not limited to "greenies" this has been called the Pastoral Fallacy (7) and the Arcadian Fallacy(8). So this particular adjustment may be of use to this relatively large group of people in particular. It simply means changing your expectations to accept gardening will be beautiful and pleasant but at times may also be ugly, disappointing, unpleasant, boring and difficult.

I don't think doing this is especially unusual, since thinking about this I've noticed people quite often talk about "being prepared" psychologically, for instance I recently read (something like) "rats make wonderful pets but they only live a few years so be prepared".  I just haven't seen it discussed in science based writing on willpower/self-regulation, so it seemed worth writing about.

"Expectation adjustment" is my term, I got the idea after noticing many of the willpower techniques Baumeister reports on already seem to exist in the military, such as tidiness and eating well (glucose believed to be the chemical basis of willpower) which reminds one of the saying "an army marches on it's stomach". So I started wondering about other thing the military do, since sacrificing your own life and killing others in battle are probably the most difficult things a rational person can attempt to do (5) and an effective army really needs to be more rational than emotional (6). It seems to me the expectation and acceptance they are going to do something extremely unpleasant and undesirable is a major factor in how soldiers are able to conduct war, or even disaster relief, imagine if they expected it to be nice*.

There is a cruel but hilarious experiment in Baumeister's book that seems to touch on this, by Mark Muraven. Runners were given equal distances to run, but some were told the run was shorter, then were told there was more to do once they'd completed this, these runners performed poorly for the remainder of the run compared with the other group (pg 34 Ref 1). This was discussed in terms of conservation of energy, but to me it is an example of being psychologically prepared or not prepared; "expectation adjustment".

I think this phenomenon may also have something to do with overcoming addiction through acceptance of the unpleasantness of addictive cravings "riding the wave" McGonigal talks about. (pg 225 Ref 2). Also ascetic people are better at difficult tasks I recently heard (3) by taking the emphasis off seeking pleasure I suppose this makes you more ascetic, temporarily.

The reality is sometimes gardening is negative, weeds and pests are competing with you and would gladly take over your niche if they could, you can't always be nice to all plants or animals. The elements don't care about you, nor does the land itself, but if you use your head and your body eventually you'll get back what you give. The aim of being self-sufficient should presumably be a degree of autonomy or independence, if seeking pleasure gets in the way of this it will have to be dispensed with for the moment. In the end you'll have far more beauty and pleasure that way.

There's nothing to be ashamed of about having a romantic view of nature. Darwin, usually associated with a "realistic" brutal view of nature saw it as half true, finding cooperation and competition to be equal in Nature (4).

* I'm not entirely certain adjusting expectation always fits the psychologists definition of willpower/self-control/self-regulation.  I've even wondered if this approach, at least the way I have been using it, actually makes me have less self-control as I seem to take more risks and become more daring as a result of not worrying about unpleasantness, trait normally associated with poor self-control or impulsivity. There are times when we need less self control (when conceiving a child or getting a flash of artistic inspiration) and times when we need more (when dealing with a misbehaving child or developing an artistic idea into a work of art).

Finding ways of deliberately reducing willpower/ self-control, for specific tasks for limited periods, may turn out to be just as important for a full balanced life as ways of increasing self-control, which appears to be the main, or even sole, focus of science at the moment.

At times I find the terms will power/self-control/self-regulation rather confusing anyway, for instance in a famous experiment children who resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow are considered to have more willpower than those who stared at it & usually gave in and ate it, that seems more like a technique that serves the will than actual will to me. I find adjusting expectation to be a  a way of doing something I believe I should be doing but don't feel like doing, which is all the matters to me, not terminology.

After thoughts.

Since writing the above I emailed the authors of "Self-Regulation and the Five-Factor Model of Personality Traits" in "Handbook of Personality and Self-Regulation" about my experiences. Corina Lockenhoff responded explaining that what I decided to call "expectation adjustment" sounds like what psychologists call "task framing", a term I was unaware of & will most likely use in future.

Another possible insight since writing the above is I noticed I've been working much more in the garden since moving my studio to my home, before I was catching buses across town to get to my studio. It appears the commute was draining my willpower, an example of what Baumeister & Tierney refer to when they say "pick your battles"; we all have limited willpower, we have to save it for the most important things, don't try to do too many challenging things.

The thing is I would have never thought catching buses through town was depleting my willpower as I find negotiating the chaos of public transport and city crowds entertaining and educational. But perhaps maintaining civility in such anarchy does exactly that, drains willpower, probably a good example of what Ivan Illich called Shadow Work (9); unpaid toil and time required to support industrialism. Even more so if it is actually eclipsing our ability to do sustainable autonomous work by depleting our self-control, leaving us in a state fit only for impulsive activities, probably impulsive consumption of addictive industrial commodities in particular. Sometimes it may be a good idea to be on the lookout for seemingly inconsequential, even enjoyable, things that are depleting vital mental energy, stopping one from being able to do the important things.

Assuming that what was happening. It also seems possible I became "home-centred" moving my studio home, before I was probably mainly "town-centred". "A man cannot have two masters" as a Christian friend of mine used to say, perhaps that means he also cannot have two "centres".  


1)Willpower. Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Roy Baumeister & John Tierney 2011
2) The Willpower Instinct. How Self-control works, why it matters
 and what you can do to get more of it. Kelly McGonigal 2012
 3)  Jim Mora interviewing Marc Wilson on 'refutation' of Baumeister's ego depletion theory. Radio New Zealand 11:06 am 30/4/16
4) Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare. An Ecologists View. Paul Colinvaux 1979.
5) Overwhelming Terror. Love, Fear, Peace and Violence among Semai of Malaysia. Robert Knox Dentan, 2008.
6) Our Inner Ape. A Leading Primatologist Explains why we are who we are. Franz de Waal 2006.
7) Civilisation. K Clark. 1969
8) The Ideal Society and its Enemies: The Foundations of Modern New Zealand Society 1850-1900. Miles Fairburn. 1989.
9) Shadow Work. Ivan Illich 1981