Reflections on the April 2016 Blogging Challenge

The month of April takes a toll of sorts on bloggers due to the furious pace of posting, reading and commenting on blogs in the April AtoZ Blogging Challenge. This was my fourth attempt and I had planned the theme a while ago.. 

Of course this early planning did not really make my task easy but only lightened my work. You see, I had chosen to write about herbs. Herbs are things that we add to food right? So what is the issue? Well, instead of getting into the nitty-gritty, suffice to say that all spices are not herbs though some herbs can be spices… 

That’s exactly what I did not want my readers to be. This meant I had to keep botanical terminology to the minimum yet try to keep my blog visitors interested. That was tough. Really tough. I do feel that fiction writers, food bloggers have it quite easy.. Talk about trees, plants, and people tend to be disinterested! 

Yet, I got lucky and I had few dedicated and interested visitors to my blog, who made it a point to comment. Thank you My Era, Seena, Kala, Dixita, Reema, Denise, Trisha for your unstinting support! (Before I forget, they have awesome posts for the challenge so make it a point to visit their blogs) 

My blog stats show many more visitors from around the globe and a huge Thank You to all of them as well! I do understand that its not always possible to comment – something that I have faced as well.. I tried to visit as many blogs as I could everyday, but I admit, I could have done much better. Commitments in the real world meant long periods away from the internet and I plan to catch up over the upcoming days.

Getting back to my series… I had to shortlist the herbs from my observations and go hunting for those I did not have. I am happy to report that except the alphabet Q and Y, I have collected all the images. While they are not of professional  quality, I was able to identify all the listed herbs – something that I am proud of. Identification was not always easy as many flowers were the size of a finger nail and a precise id was not always possible. If only plant could talk! Sigh… 

Of the 26 herbs (includes only the first herb mentioned in the post), 3 are Exotic and naturalised, 3 are Exotic and rest (20) are Native species. Besides the plant names, I managed to learn more botanical info about herbs, something that I intend to continue. 

I also came across some bloggers who wrote about plants which meant my theme was not an odd one out! 

In addition to web resources like Flowers of India, here are some of the books that  I referred to…

The AtoZ team had several posts with important tips and I found the one about creating signatures very useful! When on the PC, it was easy to comment on most blogs was easy except some that only permitted commenting via Google Plus- a platform that I do not use. However, commenting on some blogs (especially Word Press) was difficult when I was travelling as I had to use my phone for this purpose. 

A huge thanks to my family for their unquestioned support in ferrying me to strange places in search of herbs, patiently listening to botanical terms which may sound gibberish to them, sending me images and most importantly tech help! 

I leave you with some of the herbs that did not make the cut! 

Is it Alysicarpus sp or Indigofera sp?
Urena lobata
Seen on banks of the River Chushul in Ladakh. Possibly Cardus edelberghii 

I plan to post more regularly in the days to come, so do come over as often as you can. Better still, follow me on Twitter or follow the blog (check out the bar to the right of this post) to stay updated. 
Stay happy! Stay safe!
Happy blogging everyone!

Z is for Zingiber

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Its been a roller coaster ride all through the month, reading some wonderful blogs, making new friends and ofcourse learning many new things. 

Hey this is not the reflections post, so I better get on with the topic of the day! The last letter, my final post for this year’s challenge is Zingiber officinale of the Zingiberaceae family. We know it better as Adrak (in Hindi), Ginger, Ale (in marathi)! Is that a big Aha I hear!!!

Truly, just recognising a particular plant gives a feeling of meeting a friend does it not? So if botanical names put you off, not to worry, go with the local names. The former have the advantage of being universally accepted so you can discuss the plant with anyone anywhere in the world being sure of what you refer to.

Getting back to Z. The edible part that is commonly used is the root. However its inflorescence is quite pretty as well but its quite rarely seen I am told. I have it planted in a pot but here are an image of ginger leaves from a friend. Mine is still an infant!!

Image courtesy Supriya Shelar
Ginger root

The root is used to flavour curries in Indian, Eastern and even Western cuisine. Adding crushed ginger to tea takes the beverage to a totally new level! Try it especially on a rainy day…Yet another winter specialty in Maharashtra is Ginger Squares also known as Alyachee wadi.. It is basically grated ginger cooked in sugar syrup and set into squares. It is a unique combination of hot and sweet. Via the 2016 April AtoZ I have discovered Ginger oil which seems to have immense medicinal effects.  

Getting back to the ginger blossoms, I have seen a variety called Champagne Ginger being used as part of flower decorations.

Champagne Ginger in a flower arrangement

 Here is an image of the blossoms of Torch Ginger. Isn’t amazing?

Obviously there is more to ginger than meets the eye!

That’s it from me! I hope you enjoyed this herbal journey as much I enjoyed putting it together. This is not the end of the road, as we will keep meeting in the blogsphere! 
Keep revisiting dear readers, I will be honoured. 

Thank you for your comments all through the month, they made were most encouraging.

Till we meet again, take care and happy blogging!

Y is for Youngia

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used.  We are at the penultimate day of the challenge and surprisingly I had a big struggle for this post. The usual culprit alphabets like Q, U, Z did not present any trouble but unexpectedly Y did… No herb from my “collection” fit the bill and I had to scour the world wide web for something suitable. 

I got lucky and did not have to make do with some ”managed” post. Without much ado, here is my Y herb.. Youngia japonica of the Asteraceae family. It is commonly called Oriental Hawkweed or Oriental False Hawksbeard. 

Image from Flowers of India 

As the name suggests, this herb is an invasive. The usual Google search threw up this interesting very well researched post by Green Deane and it’s a must-visit site for those interested in botany. Apparently the plant has antiviral and anticancer properties! Amazing isn’t it?

I have not managed to keep with with commenting on the many interesting blogs in the challenge though I did read many of them.. I’ll try to comment as soon as I can sort out my commitments away from the world of the internet! 
How about you? Have you managed to keep with the posts? 
Happy commenting!


X is for Xanthium

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb elicited happy childhood memories from my botany friends when I shared the images with them. Being brought up in the great city of Bombay (as it was then called) I was unfamiliar with this… Namely, kids often throw spiny fruit of this plant at people and watch it stick to their clothing. Obviously people in that age group find it funny!!

AtoZ blogging, pune,

So here we have it, X is for Xanthium strumarium which belongs to the Asteraceae family. Locally its called Shankeshwar or Ghagra in Marathi and another common name is Common Cocklebur. Naturally it was the bright shiny spiny fruit that caught my eye and some closer inspection of its leaves, stem and fruit helped identify the herb after I reached home. 

Ghagra is said to belong to Central America but it has now naturalised all around the world. The spiny fruit probably helps in seed dispersal by clinging on to animal fur. The herb has large lobed hairy leaves and the fruits are formed on the stem itself. The plant parts are said to have medicinal uses as well.

Have you any such childhood memories to share?

We are nearing the end of our blogging journey with another two days to go.
Hang in there friends!

W is for Withania

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb is of immense medicinal importance in Ayurveda, so much so that India Posts has issued a stamp in its honour! 

Image courtesy Department of Posts 

W is for Withania somnifera commonly called Aswagandha or Winter Cherry. It belongs to the Solanaceae family (Brinjal or Egg Plant also belongs to this family). Unlike most herbs that I have described so far, this plant can grow up to six feet tall and has hairy plant parts. The fruits are striking with as they are covered with the papery calyx. It is said that the berries can be used in making cheese to substitute rennet. Here is an image of the plant with fruit that I have seen at the Udan Biodiversity Park but my friends have seen it growing wild around the city as well. 

Ashwagandha, AtoZ blogging, Withania

Here is a study about the medicinal effects of Ashwagandha. Worth reading this but at your leisure…
We are almost at the end of our journey and I am sure its been a wonderful month!
Take care folks!

V is for Vishnukranta

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb is native to South America but is naturalised in many parts of the world, including India.

V is for Vishnukranta which is the local Marathi name for Evolvulus alsinoides belonging to the Convolvulaceae family. The herb is also called Dwarf Morning Glory. I have seen Vishnukranta growing on our tekdi (hills) and its blue flowers demand attention. I have found it to be prostrate and the branches spread out almost radially from a centre. The flowers, leaves and stem appear ‘hairy’! Vishnukranta is said to have immense medicinal value as well.

Vishnukranta, Evolvulus alsinoides

Evolvulus alsinoides, Vishnukranta

I have yet another medicinal herb for you tomorrow, I am sure many of you would have heard of it.
Till then, happy blogging!

U is for Utricularia

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. We are into the final week of the challenge, and here we are refreshed after a holiday on Sunday. 

Flowers are always seem to convey beauty and innocence right? But I was quite surprised to find that some flowers are beautiful but the plant is not quite innocent, in fact they are just the opposite. Carnivorous to be precise!

We came across this pretty green and purple patch on a rocky plateau at Kaas and before I could go into raptures, our guide told us that the plant actually  has ‘traps’ that could catch and digest tiny insects… Sounds gory right, but then that is how Nature works and the Circle of Life is completed. In this case, insects are attracted both for pollination and food. Usually, the flowers are tasked with attracting pollinators and the traps to catch and digest insects are another found elsewhere on the plant.

Surely plants make their own food? Of course, but carnivorous plants often grow in habitats that are not rich in nutrients hence have to become.. well.. non-vegetarian!

AtoZ, blogging challenge, travel , herbs

So here we have it, U is for Utricularia which belongs to the Lentibulariaceae family. There are several species in this genus and many are endemic to the plateaus in the Western Ghats. Here is a close up, but dear reader, please forgive my amateur photography skills. These plants were barely 10″tall when I saw them.

The Burmann’s Sundew (Drosera burmanii) is yet another stunning herb found at Kaas which is also carnivorous. 

Have you seen any carnivorous plants? Have you seen them in ‘action’?
I have yet another interesting herb for you tomorrow.

Till then, Take Care!

T is for Toothbrush Orchid

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb has a strange common name and I have not really understood why it is so-called as it bears no resemblance to the real object.

My T herb is the Toothbrush Orchid which doesnt look like a toothbrush at all.. The only resemblance by a long long stretch is that the flowers are all borne on one side, just like toothbrush bristles. I first saw this at the Kaas plateau and recently saw it much closer to Pune, near the Varsagaon dam. Those plants were only about 6″ tall, the creamy white flowers created a beautiful pattern on the grassy plateau. Young flowers are greenish white and change to yellow as they grow older.. 

It goes by the botanical name Habenaria heyneana and belongs to the Orchidaceae family. The Flowers of India website showed me 37 plants of the Habenaria genus- that’s huge variety is it not?

Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of April 2016 and then we enter the final stretch of our blogging challenge. Its been a wonderful journey so far, I am sure you agree. 
Have a great weekend folks!

S is for Spermacoce pusilla

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today I am writing about a herb that I have identified using the Flowers of Sahyadri app- I think the id is correct but am open to correction from any botany experts..

This tiny white inflorescence caught my eye as we waited for the coffee to boil on our make shift stove outside a sacred grove near Pune. The perfect blooms seemed to reiterate the survival spirit of every living being however small! 

This Spermacoce pusilla commonly called Tiny False Buttonweed or Tarkadal in Marathi of the Rubiaceae family. It has a quandragular stem with tiny prickles. S pusilla belongs to the Rubiaceae family (Coffee family) and is native to India.

Sopubia delphinifolia is yet another pretty herb that is seen on Pune tekdis. Sesamum orientale has pretty pink trumpet shaped flowers and I have seen it blooming in the monsoon. 

Sesamum orientale

Do come round tomorrow for yet another beautiful monsoon herb. 
Happy blogging!

R is for Rosemary

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb is used widely in India and overseas mainly to flavour food. 

Any guesses?  That’s right, it is Rosemary. The botanical name is Rosmarinus officinalis and belongs to the Laminaceae family. It is generally errect with needle like aromatic leaves. I was a late user of this particular herb and am a big fan now. So much that I am trying to grow it at home. It seems to be happy here but has not flowered yet. Hence I am reluctant to use its still young stems and prefer to source my rosemary from the super market!  

Rosemary twigs ready for cooking

Tiny Rosemary shoots in my kitchen garden

As you can see from my bio, I am a reluctant cook, yet here is an absolutely divine dish that you can make using rosemary. Do not count calories because as someone said, whatever tastes good would be calorie rich too…

Do follow this link for the detailed recipie of Baked Potato and Rosemary Gratin, but here is what it looks like:

I am sure there will be no leftovers!