Tropical gardening: mood-enhancing drugs, nothing new

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Coca, opium, marijuana, and hundreds of other plants used to alter our perception of reality are not new to previous cultures and civilizations. We often think of mood-altering drugs with concern, but they have been part of the human condition for thousands of years. Marijuana, opium poppy and coca leaf have been used as well as some mushrooms and even sap from the trumpet tree. As with the angel’s trumpet, it can also be very poisonous, so only South and Central American shamans can be allowed to use it. Many substances derived from these plants are now illegal in some countries due to the possibility of dangerous abuse. In the case of the sap of the angel’s trumpet, it can easily kill you if ingested. Others are so much a part of our culture that we don’t pay much attention to them. These include coffee, tea and chocolate.

For example, chocolate is associated with improving romance and elevating our mood. The history of chocolate began with the Aztecs around 400 BC. They believed that cocoa beans were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give strength. Originally, it was prepared as a drink mixed with spices or mashed corn. After arriving in Europe in the 1500s, sugar was added to it and it became popular with both rich and poor.

Many years ago cocoa and tea were considered cash crops in Hawaii, along with coffee. They grew well and produced very good quality, but could not compete in the world market. High labor costs and inadequate marketing were probably the limiting factors. Even marijuana has been cultivated legally in the past and is now legalized with some restrictions. When we look at potentially profitable crops, there are some to consider that most people would approve of. Hawaiian kava and mamake come to mind because they are uniquely associated with Hawaiian culture.

However, as we look at exciting new ways to garden and grow, sometimes we find that a fresh take on old cultures gives us a new perspective. Cocoa is a product that looks very promising now due to the interest of local farmers, retailers and foodies. They have organized themselves to form several chocolate groups across the state to promote the cultivation, production and marketing of Hawaiian chocolate. Some delicious sweets are now available in the local market and are ideal gourmet gifts to share with friends, family and visitors to Hawaii.

Cocoa, or Theobroma cocoa as is known scientifically, is ornamental as well as useful. Which Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day is complete without chocolate?

Cocoa and tea grow well on the Big Island. Although cocoa is believed to have originated in the Amazon region just north of the equator, it may have been cultivated in Mexico for thousands of years. In Indonesia, Malaysia and tropical Africa there are thousands of hectares in production where the climate is hot, humid and humid like eastern Hawaii. It’s also found in many gardens that grow well in Kona and eastern Hawaii, but cocoa plants don’t like dry winds or beaches.

Tea plants can also be found in the gardens of the Big Island. Most people think of tea as a cultivated crop limited to equatorial countries. This is however a misconception. The tea grows in a wide range of climates and can be cultivated in areas ranging from equatorial to temperate zones. Tea belongs to the camellia family. Its correct botanical name is Camellia sinensis, and is closely related to the horticultural varieties of camellia which bloom beautifully in many home gardens and public parks.

The tea plant is an attractive evergreen shrub native to Assam. There are about a thousand known varieties that differ in flower and shade of green leaves as well as in flavor when brewed.

Locating plants is not easy, but once planted and established, maintenance is no problem. Some nurseries occasionally sell tea and cocoa plants. These crops are usually grown where labor costs are low. In Hawaii, tea and cocoa are worth considering for a more interesting garden as well as craft crops like Kona coffee.

For more information, contact the UHCTAHR Master Gardeners Helpline at 322-4893 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.


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