I believe that the land is the body of a community, and sustenance the veins. In order for humans to thrive, one must consider the health of the land as a whole. In order to truly nourish and heal our body and soul, we must realize the effect we have on the ecosystem we are all part of. I infinitely believe that the cultural food heritage we are all offered serves as a vein into the heart of the past, the persevering lives of our ancestors. The plants they cultivated, consumed and used for medicine are the reason they survived, thus the reason their family lineage has expanded. It is a cultural heirloom, so to speak, and in my opinion, the most important of all. Thanks to strong plant-human relationships is why we have continued to thrive as people, and we must give respect to their ceaseless contributions. The Agriculture Program is brand new to Kalu Yala, and I am one of the first interns who will help shape this local food system. My goal here is to help break ground for the farm and design a system that will utilize the verdant, raw topography in Tres Brazos. I will be incorporating multi-functional crops that will feed people a diverse diet and which could provide value-added products in the future. I will be avidly learning about local subsistence plants and cultivation techniques with the campesinos, then blending the local wisdom with my knowledge of companion planting and permaculture. I have already learned about a few staple Panamanian crops, one of which is guandu.
One cannot truly understand a particular environment or community without coalescing with their established food and health systems. Each person who walks this earth has an emotional response to particular foods, both positive and negative. Guandu is one such plant that heals bodies as well as the land. One of the last things my grandfather Bilo, a campesino from the Las Tablas, Panama region, showed me were the seeds of this beautiful plant. He was nearly 90 years old and walked with twisted old toes and a sore back from years of land stewardship, but he insisted on showing me this miraculous bush. I didn’t know why at the time, but now that I have returned to his patria querida, his cherished homeland, I feel accountable to perpetuate our family’s mestizo legacy.
To begin with, guandu is a short-lived, perennial woody shrub which belongs to the Fabaceae family, which is commonly known as the legume, pea, and bean family. The bean/seed of guandu is absolutely delicious and abundant in protein. It can be prepared numerous ways, similar to other beans. The most typical mode of preparation is Arroz Con Guandu, which is usually coconut rice and guandu cooked together, with various herbs and spices. In addition, the beans may be soaked in water and germinated into sprouts for a raw treat, as well as cooked and mashed to create a dip, or even dried and ground into nutrient-rich flour. Remarkably, the leaves and flowers are also make a very benficial contribution to wellness. Such medicinal uses include aiding in anemia, urinary infections, and yelow fever. Some research has discovered that the seed extract may even inhibit red blood sickling, which could aid in sickle cell anemia.
Furthermore, from a Permaculture point of view, guandu is an extraordinarily valuable plant! Firstly, it possesses a deeply penetrating central taproot which breaks up and aerates hard soils, draws up water and nutrients from the subsoil, and fixes nitrogen! Furthermore, because it can yield in poor soil with little rainfall, it makes for a great hedge to avoid erosion meanwhile restoring fertility to the soil. It’s branches can be pruned and used for firewood and leaves/husks fed to livestock and chickens. In the wet season it can be used as a cover crop to maintain soil integrity during heavy rains, and then can be cut back for use as a mulch and roots will release nitrogen into the soil for other crops such as fruit trees in the dry season. Lastly, one could maximize their land use by intercropping with guandu. One could plant grain, corn, or in Panama, utilize yuca (also known as cassava) which is a very important staple food in the local diet.
Ultimately, I am bringing a profound passion and borderline *obsession* with all levels of local plant-human relationships. Stay tuned for more updates on my discoveries and encounters in the sultry jungle of Panama.