Our moringa tree comes into its own; and notes on Jamaica’s tea-drinking habits

Over the years, I have posted photos of our beloved moringa tree, and sung its praises. In fact, it’s three trees, but they have intertwined over the years, so I think of it as one.

Several years later, how have our trees evolved? Looking back at the pictures I had shared, I realise that their character has changed. They are not as pretty and fluffy as it used to be, fluttering brilliant green leaves like lace and white flowers.

Their bark is rough and scarred. They are still skinny and straggly, and of course much taller. Moringa trees around town are often mercilessly hacked into shape by zealous gardeners along roadsides. Ours just do exactly what they feel like doing – which is mostly lean into other trees and plants – including a young neem tree and at the same time growing upwards – higher than the roof of our house, now.

Some branches of our beautiful tree, with seed pods and flowers. The flowers attract big black, shiny Carpenter Bees, and the tiny but vocal Vervain hummingbird, in particular.

And our moringa trees have their own little community. Vervain hummingbirds love the flowers (incidentally, the second smallest bird in the world), their tiny conversations piercing the air. So do the big, slow-moving carpenter bees, black and glossy. They are a good perch for Loggerhead Kingbirds, on the lookout for flying insects; and they are especially loved by our White-winged Doves. There is almost always at least one bird perched in their branches. For the doves, it is quite a rendezvous spot; I have seen them mating in our moringa trees – more than once. Yes, our wild, fluttering moringas do have a certain aura.

A White-winged Dove in our moringa. Waiting, perhaps on a romantic tryst.

What is more, the moringa trees have acquired more permanent visitors – deposited, so to speak, by the visiting birds. These are round, delicate clumps of what Jamaicans call “mistletoe,” or “God-bush.” And guess what? Mistletoe can be made into tea also, and may apparently be a cure for problems of the womb, insomnia, high blood pressure – even cancer. It is a parasitic plant (Oryctanthus Occidentalis). Our moringa trees are enhanced by two hanging clumps – to date; there may be more to follow.

Mistletoe adorning a moringa tree in our yard.

Nevertheless, the moringa trees are still healthy, still energy-giving (at least, to me). I still sip the tea, and that reminds me of a Twitter poll I did recently. The poll was spurred by a sudden craving for chocolate tea, as my mother-in-law used to make it – yes, we do have these food cravings in the COVID era, it appears – so I asked my “tweeps” what tea they loved the best. (Oh, that aroma, and the oil on the top! All natural).

Ginger tea just came up on top, edging out mint tea, which is really popular in Jamaica. My other choice was regular black tea (which I still prefer over everything), but that did not fare too well in my poll. I always recall Stephen King’s comment that when he wanted to sit down and write, he brewed a strong cup of tea first. I think it works, as good brain fuel. I only drink ginger tea if my stomach is unsettled, and I don’t like mint tea at all.

Ginger, garlic and lime is a traditional recipe to build immunity to colds and flu. Root ginger boiled as tea is a cure for all kinds of things. It certainly makes me feel better.

Of course, there are lots of other teas, which people suggested on Twitter – including moringa tea. Some are energizing, some are relaxing, some can be taken before bedtime (chamomile is a popular one for that), while others have rather more mysterious benefits, such as herbal teas like cerasee and bissy. Cerasee is bitter (its also called bitter melon); bissy (kola nuts) is rather tasteless. Fevergrass tea also got a mention.

Since we have a beautiful little neem tree, given to us by good friends, I bought some neem tea to try it out. It tasted like rusty nails. No amount of honey could take away the taste. Oh, and turmeric is equally metallic in flavor. I prefer to take turmeric in capsules! The neem tea is languishing on a shelf.

Other Jamaican tea preferences, expressed in my Twitter poll, included chai (the influence of Starbucks), and there were several takers for green tea (which is good for you but does contain a certain amount of caffeine).

Nowadays, we stay at home a lot. Every day, as I walk around the yard, I look up at the moringa trees. They always have something to offer, and I am grateful for their ragged, erratic beauty.

Moringa, mistletoe, and a half-moon.

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