Tag Archives: caribbean

Germinating Seeds!

20 Nov

If you’ve been wondering where the “roots” are in our dominicanroots blog, they are finally here…in their infancy at least.  Just tiny little sprouts with a whole lot of promise!  While I’ve been working on editing videos for the blog and brushing up on my Spanish, Renzo has begun germinating seeds for the medicinal plants we intend to cultivate.  The advantage of growing herbs from seed is that:  a) you know exactly how (and with what) the soil & plant has been treated,  b) it’s cheaper, and c) you gain a whole lot of skills in the process.


First, your dog eats your homework.

samba, now heavily supervised around our seeds, lol!

We weren’t able to get quality soil right away. It’s not something you can readily buy in a store here (we tried several), and it’s not advisable to dig up soil from just any place without knowing it’s health and composition.  We had been waiting for some soil friends of ours had offered to purchase for us from a local farmer they usually buy from.  After two weeks of waiting, we got a bit impatient to get started and decided on a Plan B. We happened to bring some bags of perlite, peat moss, and vermiculite from the States with us so we decided to experiment by creating an equal parts potting mix medium of these in the interim.  We began by setting up germination for the seeds which had soon approaching expiration dates: neem, goldenseal, gentian, and passionflower.  Using a variety of containers (plastic pots, cups, and aluminum trays) we filled them with the potting mix medium, added the seeds, watered them and then left them outside.  Unbeknownst to us,  Samba found his way outside and must have thought our pots of germinating seeds were the greatest doggie playground ever because the next morning we found him happy as a clam, wiggling his bottom & wagging his tail with a trail of torn up styrofoam, plastic, and soil strewn everywhere behind him.  Wish I snapped a pic, but Renzo and I were busy sifting through all the soil trying to recover some of the larger seeds.  We salvaged what we could and of the lot ended up keeping the gentian and the passionflower.  We decided to opt out of the neem and goldenseal for the moment; it turns out that although neem is tropical it requires dry conditions not conducive to our current rainy season or the soil we have to work with, and we realized the goldenseal requires winter dormancy (so they wouldn’t germinate for months- until the spring).

A few days after “samba”dy got into our soil and seeds, our friend Robert finally came by with the soil we’d been waiting for.

    nutrient dense soil

The soil Robert brought us is a black, clay-like soil, very nutrient dense and absorbs and retains much water.  It’s not easily drained so you must be gentle when working with it so it doesn’t become compacted.  We started again from scratch, this time with a more appropriate growing medium, and set about deciding which seeds to start with.Although we have many, many seeds to work with, we decided to start with some of the medicinal herbs that have multiple uses for healing and are most widely researched.

germinating seeds

Below is a list of the herbs we decided to start with, along with some of their medicinal uses.  If the seeds have started to germinate I’ve added a picture as well.

ASHWAGANDA– helps with focus, strengthens the adrenals, enhances immunity, provides energy during the day/relaxation at night, useful for nerve pain, useful for infertility,  strengthens the kidneys, improves weakness in back/knees, useful for joints/arthritis

ASTRAGALUS– wards off fatigue, useful for degenerative diseases, anti-inflammatory (esp. kidneys), strengthens the heart, improves blood circulation, increases metabolism, helps with loose stools, increases appetite, neutralizes liver toxins/helps with hepatitis, strengthens digestion, stimulates the immune system, useful for autoimmune disorders, improves function of spleen, restores immunity after using antibiotics, reduces physical & emotional stress, excessive sweating

BURDOCK ROOT– excellent blood/lymph cleanser, stimulates stomach and & liver function, stimulates lymphatic flow/drainage, vaginal douche (has antiseptic properties), used for herpes simplex II, acne/skin diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, & boils, used as a cancer treatment (specifically hodgkins diseases), removes toxins from fat tissue

CALENDULA– emollient, anti-inflammatory, relieves uterine & cervical inflammation, aids in eliminating cough, soothes a wide range of skin irritations, heals ulcers anywhere in the body, useful for hemorrhaging conditions

COMFREY stimulates rapid growth of healthy cells, helps repair internal tissues, astringent, heals internal ulcers,  accelerates healing of broken bones/torn ligaments/cartilage, useful for endometriosis, heals torn tissue after childbirth, strengthens and soothes the lungs, styptic/stops the bleeding of cuts and wounds, heals external ulcers, heals & prevents urinary tract infections

DANDELION- cooling/brings down body heat, helps with fat digestion, mild diuretic, reduces,fever, decreases blood pressure, strengthens liver function, increases iron levels and iron absorption, blood cleanser, laxative, helps the nervous system, alleviates morning sickness, stimulates breast milk flow, reduces fever, treats eczema/psoraisis

ECHINACEA- anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, blood/lymphatic cleanser, anti-viral/anti-bacterial, stimulates & strengthens immune system, stimulates t-cells, good for yeast infections/PID/herpes II, shortens duration of colds/flu, helps heal bronchitis, coughs, & tonsil/throat infections, useful for a variety of skin conditions (boils, burns, abscesses, impetigo, wounds/bites/stings, UTIs, cold/canker sores, food poisoning, snake bites, internal burns, tumor inhibitor

GINGKO BILOBA- anti-oxident, circulatory disorders, varicose veins, improves blood viscosity/circulatin, improves uptake of oxygen by brain cells, good for tinnitus/inner ear disturbances, loss of hearing, macular degeneration, slows down formation of cataracts, improves vision, improves memory, concentration & alertness, treats anxiety & depression, senility, alzheimer’s, protects blood/brain barrier from free radicals, edema, improves circulation to the reproductive system.

GOTU KOLA- improves circulation, useful in vein related disorders, adrenal strengthener, improves mental alertness & clarity, stops age related deterioration of memory

LAVENDER-anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, aids in relieving headaches, calming/soothing/uplifting, helps with mild depression, helps to fall asleep

LICORICE– detoxifier, mild astringent, tonifies stomach, helps strengthen digestion, relieves spastic colon & abdominal pain, treats ulcers & liver damage, strengthens adrenals, hypoglycemia, strengthens immune system, tonifies spleen, rheumatoid arthritis, mild relaxant, helps with stress, menopause/hot flashes, uterine & urinary inflammation, soothing for throat irritations, strengthens & tonifies the kidneys, detoxifies chemical pollutants, caffeine, nictotine, etc.

MILK THISTLE- powerful antioxidant for the liver, intestine, brain and central nervous system,good for athletes (prevents free radicals), helps prevent aging, supports  & protects the liver

PLANTAIN- astringent, anti-fungal, repairs organs and tissues, soothes internally & externally, anti-inflammatory, repairs internal organs & tissues, all-purpose for dermatalogical uses, useful for salves , aides itching, irritation, psoraisis, eczema, impetigo

ROSEMARY- systemic anti-oxidant, improves digestion & absorption of food (specifically carbohydrates), astringent, antiseptic, possible use with alzheimer’s and parkinson’s, blocks conversion of normal cells into cancer cells, slows hair loss, prevents infection in minor cuts, slows down fermentation/preserves food, insect repellent

SKULLCAP– nervous system sedative, treats almost any mild nervous system malfunction,  excellent for insomnia, helps break addictions, promotes stress relief & meditation

(skullcap seeds are tiny tiny!!!!)

In germinating this batch of herbs we used slightly different containers than with our first attempt.  At the store we found perfectly sized styrofoam sancocho bowls, (click here to see our video on how to make sancocho) which proved to be much better than the original cups we were using.  Renzo also decided to experiment with using ziplock bags for the milk thistle,  gingko biloba, and skullcap, two of which required somewhat more challenging environments.  Gingko Biloba and skullcap are known to be more difficult seeds to germinate.  Skullcap requires cold stratification for up to two months.  Since we don’t have cold weather here, Renzo put the ziplock bag of seeds and soil in the refrigerator.  By the 4th day, most of the seeds had germinated.  Gingko Biloba has a 40% germination rate.  Germination begins slowly, only beginning 33 days after planting.  It needs plenty of time for the shells to crack and germinate.  Renzo did some research to see if there was a quicker method and found out that putting the seeds in a ziplock with just peat moss in a room temperature setting with sunlight can speed up the process.  One of the seeds has already germinated, but it may take up to 3 weeks for all of them to follow suit.  You can see a picture of the first little guy sprouting under the heading “gingko biloba” above.

So we’re off to a pretty good start.  We’re flying back home for Thanksgiving so we’re hoping our delicate little seedlings will be okay on their own for a few days.  When we return, we’ll be doing some soil testing at Renzo’s grandfather’s land.  We’ve been told the soil there may have drainage issues and that there’s evidence of a rotting tree due to the moisture.  We made need a Plan B again, but we’ll see.  Almost nothing here unfolds as expected, and it sure is a great lesson in flexibility.  All we can do is plant the seeds of our ideas, tend and nurture them as best we can, and hope they bear fruit.

Giving thanks for my many blessings this week…to all my friends & family, wishing you a wonderful holiday.  More posts when we get back.

xoxo A

Tostones y Batidas

19 Nov

Two things I’ve been consuming quite a bit of lately…tostones y batidas.  Both common items on any Dominican menu.

Tostones are twice- fried green (unripe) plantains and they are small round discs of deliciousness.  According to wikipidia, the word tostones comes from the Spanish verb tostar, meaning “to toast”.  Dominicans love to eat them salted with ketchup and they are a side dish that often accompanies (of course) chicken. They’re a bit like french fries in that greasy, snack food type of way.  The kids back at Corlears School in NYC were thinking of making tostones in their classroom, so Renzo, Samba, and I made a video to show them how to prepare them.

You can watch it here:

Batidas are, put simply, fruit-blended milkshakes.  Dominicans especially love lechuga (papaya) and guanabana (soursop) batidas.   Lechuga is supposed to be good for *ahem* regularity, so Renzo’s mom began making them for me in the morning, always saving an extra glass to be consumed later in the afternoon.  She’s not around at the moment, but I’ve continued the morning ritual.  While Dominicans tend to use just one fruit mixed with milk and/or water and a bit of sugar, I mix various fruits like lechuga, zapote, banana, pina, y banana and try to find a combination that doesn’t require extra sweetening, but if it does I’ll just use a bit of honey.  I cut up and freeze the fruit so the batidas usually don’t require any additional ice.  Cutting up and freezing fruit before they get overripe is a great way to avoid having them end up in the trash because they weren’t consumed soon enough.   I have no idea why that’s never been a habit of mine before.  It’s so easy to make a shake when you’ve got the frozen fruit all ready to go!

Renzo’s dad sent us home from our trip to the capitol (Santo Domingo) with a guanabana.  I’m really not a fan of eating the fruit straight up…it has a nice flavor but an incredibly strange, spongy kind of texture that both Renzo and I just find unappealing.  However, blended into a batida it’s quite delicious.  It’s just  takes a bit of a time commitment to cut up the fruit and remove the very many little black seeds which sit in tiny pockets inside the creamy, white, flesh.  Recently research has emerged suggesting the guanabana has potent cancer-fighting properties and this has led to a sharp increase in the price of the fruit over here in DR.  Renzo’s uncle was telling us you used to see heaps of guanabana on the ground but nowadays they are scooped up quick and sold for a pretty penny.  There’s an article here from the Jamaica gleaner talking more about it.  It seems the leaves and stems have cancer killing properties, but it’s unclear to me if the flesh contains those compounds as well:


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Well that’s all for now…preparing a post for tomorrow about all of the seeds we’ve been germinating!!!  If I forget to mention it tomorrow…Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home…really looking forward to seeing my family!!!

hasta mañana

xoxo A

Pics from our trip & housing update

26 Aug

Now that I have our first few posts up, I wanted to do one post showcasing some of our pics from our week-long trip to DR in July.  For those following our project (you can read more about that here) I wanted to give you all an update on our housing situation.  We’ve spent the last few weeks since we’ve been back discussing our options, and Taty (Renzo’s mom)  has been looking at rental properties and has been sending us photos.  Finally, after much debate, discussion, and all sorts of hoohah, we have come to a decision that feels right.  We are going to live with Taty in her apartment, and fix up Papa’s house enough to use as a workshop/studio.  Papa’s house is only a 5 minute drive from Taty’s apartment so it’s like having the best of both worlds.  Most of all I am excited to live with Taty, not just because she is always up for an adventure, is a great cook, and is a super-sweet mother-in-law, but because it is going to be exponentially easier for me to learn Spanish with she and Renzo talking each other’s ears off all the time.  If it were just Renzo and me it would be a lot more challenging, and much easier to slip into the ease of speaking Ingles.  So there’s our update.  We can’t wait to get to DR next month so we can get started on our project.

In the meantime here are some pics as promised: