Quick Links

Find Authors

Books

Non-fiction
Diabetes type 2? Weight problems? Find your answers!
Fiction
Nonfiction
Water is the stuff of life - warm inside, cold outside. Did you know?
Nonfiction
Best and cheapest little book about how to live a healthy and long life!

Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Invasive Plants 5 - Crab Grass

November 1, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, Africa, America, Bermuda grass, bone health, bread, calcium, cataracts, colic, cow, crab grass, cultivation, deer, digestion, Digitaria, eye health, fall, feebleness, finger grass, folate, fonio, gardener, garden tea, germination, grass, grass - warm-weather, grazing, harvest, hay, horse, infusion, Invasive Plants 5 – Crab Grass, lawn, lime, magnesium, milling, nutritional value, perennial grass, phosphorus, poisonous, porridge, protein, retinol, ripening, season, settlers, starch, Sub-Saharan Africa, sugar, summer, tea – herbal, ungulate, vitamin A, weed, winter

Writing about the possible benefits of invasive plants, I had the fear that for most broad-leafed weeds it would be easy to find medicinal and other value, but that for grasses, I might have to pass. Interestingly, grasses have some good sides, too – even a such-maligned, horrible weed as crab grass.

Crab grass (also called “finger grass” because of its spiky inflorescences, or “fonio”, for African plants) are actually several Digitaria species – “Digitaria” again meaning “finger-like”.

Why is crab grass the proverbial weed? It turns out that “crabs” can’t take hold in a well-watered, well-fertilized lawn. But let that lawn be neglected, and develop some bald spots – that’s where the annual crab grass will move in, taking advantage.

A lawn usually consists of perennial grasses that stay green long into fall and often into winter. Crab grass would be fine to be intermingled, if it would not die by the end of summer and will leave a bald spot – especially if you pull it and do not immediately reseed with normal lawn seed. In that bald spot, its many, many seeds can take hold again. Crab grass’ trick is its long germination period: It might die early, but it can germinate basically all year, as long as there is no snow on the ground. Usually, a bald crab grass spot extends thus from season to season, always looking awful in the fall, showing your neighbors that you are a less-than-perfect gardener.

Remedy? Keep your grass healthy, well-fed, well-watered, well-limed, and reseed in fall and spring, so that crab grass seedlings have no chance.

So, what for is this invasive grass good? For cows and other ungulates like deer crab grass is as nutritious as any other grass; even more so, because of its high protein contents. Sub-Saharan Africa people eat the milled crab grass seeds in porridge and bread. The problem with crab grass is that it germinates and ripens its seed willfully throughout the year. Therefore it must be hand-harvested, defying large-scale cultivation. However, early settlers in America purposefully would till a spot in the spring so that crab grass could grow there, for the grazing of the animals later in the year.

Crab grass (like Bermuda grass) is a warm-weather grass. As such, it accumulates less sugar than a perennial grass - it does not intend to stay around for the winter, needing staying power through the winter. That makes crab grass better digestible especially to horses who might be quite sensitive to a high sugar and starch content – which bloats them, causing colic. So, as hay, crab grass is quite desirable.

Crab grass contains non-trivial amounts of magnesium, phosphorus and calcium – important for bone health, and some vitamin A, folate, and retinol; they might account for its use in eye health: Medicinally, crabgrass infusion is said to be helping against cataracts and feebleness. I probably won’t use it exactly for that purpose. But just knowing that crab grass is not poisonous will land it in my garden teas from now on.

How Many Chinese Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb?

July 21, 2011

Tags: water, order, Africa, arid region, Buddhism, camel ride, cave entrance, China, Chinese, cities, competitiveness, cultures, deforestation, desert, desert crossing, desert fort, desert - man-made, Dunhuang, earth, fertilization, France, Germany, Gobi Desert, Great Britain, How Many Chinese Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb?, Japan, Jewish property, joblessness, Lanzhou, leaves, light bulb - energy-saving, looting, Mogaoku, museum, Namib Desert, Nazis, Netherlands, nomad hordes, oasis, prayer, Qin dynasty, reforestation, roots, sand, sand dune buggy rides, sandstorm, soil, stress, tourism, traveler, tree planting, trees, USA, wages

This is not a joke, of course. This morning, they came to the hotel room – three of them: A woman, politely knocking and explaining the procedure (by gestures – my Chinese is bad); a man who carried the equipment; another man who screwed in the bulb nimbly and knowledgeable. The bulb was the energy-saving kind.

And all along they had fun, not bothered by efficiency or other Western values. This way, the Chinese government gives everybody a job – at extremely low wages. The Netherlands are another country that thrives on job sharing: People work less hours per week, take a cut in their salaries – and enjoy their increased free time. We, on the other hand, rather have excellent salaries (or the dream that we some day will have them) - and pay with stress, competitiveness and joblessness.

This light bulb changing took place in Dunhuang, in the Gobi Desert. Dunhuang is an ancient oasis and now a modern tourist attraction, with sand dune buggy rides (which I really can’t stand – but the males in our group think differently), camel rides (which I am not sure about) and a wonderful hotel that looks like an ancient desert fort.

In case you think Dunhuang is a little oasis like in the cartoons, it is a city of nearly 200,000 inhabitants that accommodates about a million visitors per year.

In the bathroom is a sign that reminds us that water is the “spring of life” and asks us to preserve every drop of it. Dunhuang is an oasis that is fed by a river that comes from the nearby mountains. Last months, they told us, the river was swelling above the bridge and areas were under water. Now the riverbed is stone-dry.

The Gobi Desert is – unlike the Namib Desert in Africa, about which I wrote before – a man-made desert: People cut down all the trees without reforestation. Without the deep roots and the leaves that fertilized the earth, the soil could hold no longer water. The result was sand, sand, sand – desert. And as always with deforestation, the cities and cultures that were once blossoming faltered and vanished.

Around Lanzhou, in a totally arid region, there is a huge reforestation program underway. I heard it is done this way: Every worker is getting one day per week off to plant trees and to maintain the trees. The outcome can easily be monitored: The trees live or die.

Near the Dunhuang oasis are the Mogaoku – a row of hundreds of caves cut into the rock and furnished with Buddhist shrines. This oasis that has revived travelers for thousands of years was the perfect place to pray for a safe return from the perilous desert crossings – or give thanks, on return. The caves had been built from the earliest Qin times until the thirteenth century, when nomad hordes threatened the area. So, the cave entrances were covered up by bricks and plaster and rocks – and sandstorms further made the sites unknowable.

In 1900, a monk discovered one of the caves by chance. By selling a script or a statue here and there, Western museums got wind of the treasures here, and came in several expeditions and bought up everything they could lay hands on. Thus, the old manuscripts and statues ended in the museums of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the USA. There they have been preserved probably better than in China – nevertheless, it is a loss China deeply regrets. Other than the lootings of Jewish property by the Nazis and allied forces, these were regular transactions, and it is unlikely that the Chinese will recover the treasures.

What I Brought Back From Africa

April 6, 2011

Tags: order, food, movement, Africa, art, bed time, Berner - Dörte, Berner - Volker, beauty, carpet designer, colors, daily rhythm, desert, elephants, energy, Eningu Clay Lodge, exercise, friendship, gem stone, Kristall Gallerie, lions, mental clearness, Namibia, nap, Ovambo tribe, parent, pietersite, purpose, restraint, savannah, sculptor, sculptures, stone, Swakopmund, Tiger’s eye, t-shirts, weight loss, Welwitschia mirabilis, What I Brought Back From Africa, work, writer

No not what you think!

Recently at a trip to Namibia, my husband attended a conference in Swakopmund, a seaside resort. At a place called Kristall Gallerie – a heaven for gem stone fans like me – I bought a simple necklace from pietersite, a stone that they claim is (nearly) only found in Namibia (there is actually another site in China). Pietersite is a stone marbled in blue, red and gold, and is related to Tiger’s eye. Mine is less dramatic (and less expensive, although pietersite is rather inexpensive overall) - just different blues.

But that is not what I wanted to tell.

After a few days of Swakopmund and wonderful forays into the desert, where we saw ancient Welwitschia plants (I wrote about it earlier), my husband went on a safari with a colleague, and I visited friends in the country.

Dörte and Volker Berner emigrated to Namibia in the sixties. She is a sculptor, he a carpet designer. They spent their lives doing what they like best. They never had much money, but managed to raise three children in the middle of an African savannah. Two years ago, Volker gave over his carpet factory to the people of the Ovambo tribe, and retired to reading and listening to music. Dörte still chisels away at her stones.

Both Dörte and Volker have created beautiful art in a beautiful (if barren) place. Look at their websites (find them at Quick Links, on the left), and see for yourself!

When we were young, Dörte was this quiet and serious girl – I admired her for it. At that time, you wouldn’t have given a penny for me; I was totally into boys, and had no idea who I was, and who I could become. But Dörte already knew about herself. And quietly, seriously, she has created a huge body of work. Her powerful stone sculptures are earthy, solid, beautiful. Volker’s carpets have up to one hundred and fifty different colors – unmatched in their subtlety and color intensity.

We all could be proud if we had built a life full of beauty, restraint and purpose like Dörte and Volker have. If you want to visit them, the Eningu Clay Lodge is close to them – and it probably doesn’t surprise you that the Berner’s have built that lodge too.

So, I brought back the story of their lives and a renewed friendship. But, again, that was not what I wanted to write about today. I brought back the nap.

The what??? The nap! During the five days with the Berner’s, I followed their daily rhythm, and had a nap every day. Lunch at one, a nap afterward. Mostly, I was lying under my mosquito net (which in that area is more decorative than useful), and wondered about this waste of time. But when I came home, I immediately restructured my day around the nap.

As a writer, I of course have the privilege to nap. If you have a nine-to-five job, you still have to wait. But if you are working from home, if you are a home-bound parent, you can implement a nap – it is YOUR day, after all!

This is what a week of regular napping has done to me:

• More energy from early morning to night I am getting up at six, going to bed at ten
• Incredible mental clearness
• Weight loss – which was not even intended; it just seems that I am thinking less of food but more of interesting things
• More work done (of course!)
• More exercise because I am dragging my feet less.

P.S. I also brought back t-shirts with lions and elephants for the neighbors’ kids.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

Tags - see also the non-captalized entries below!