Monday, January 7, 2013

Guava, the Wonder Tree

By Dr. Abe V. Rotor

If there is another wonder of the world, it is the guava.

Have you seen a tree bearing “fruits” bigger – and heavier - than its whole structure?

Here is for the Book of Guinness Record. Have you heard the guava tree talk, laugh and shout, sing beautifully or grunt, make echolocation signals? Its branches bend without wind, the trunk sways at 9.0 intensity, leaves fall as confetti.

Recess Time: Guava tree and swing take a break. Batasan Hills, QC


Parents know where to find their children, and fetch them from their perch in the tree for their siesta or class. At once the tree falls silent, but the doldrums reigns briefly. Soon the children are back to their bailiwick tree.

Take the backseat London Bridge, Golden Gate or Eiffel Tower. The guava tree can bend and touch the ground, and become upright again – not once, not twice but many times in its lifetime. And every branch equally obliges to the 180-degree weight and pull of children. No wonder the best spinning top and the best frame for slingshot are made from guava wood, and is perfect "Y", too.

It is a living Christmas tree, sort of. Birds come frequently. The perperoka and panal - migratory birds from the North, come with the Amihan and eat on the berries, while combing the place of worms, and gleaning on anything left by harvesters. The pandangera  bird (fan-tailed) dances on the branches, while the house sparrow perches, picking ripe fruits and some crawlers. And if you wake up very early, meet the butterflies and bees gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers. Take a deep breathe of the morning air spiced with the fragrance of both flowers and ripe fruits.

And the tree has eyes. True. Round and luminescent in the dark, mingle with the fireflies and the stars – and a waning moon. It is romantic, scary, sacred. Fruit bats come at night and pick the ripe fruits. Rodents and wild pigs scavenge at night. Moths and skippers, relatives of the butterfly, are nocturnal in their search for food and mate. Old folks would warn us kids never to go near the tree at night. In my career as biologist I had the experience to see in the middle of a field guava trees lighted with fireflies. This scene was in Sablayan in Mindoro island. What a sight - Christmas in another time and in another place. What a magnificent sight!

Would a child go hungry where guava trees abound? I don’t think so. Because the fruits are packed with sugar, vitamins and minerals. The fruits are made into jelly, pickled and cooked as vegetable. It is perfect for sinigang. Have you heard of guava wine? It is the most aromatic of all table wines made from tropical fruits, and it displays a rare pinkish glow. Nutritionists say guava is rich in Vitamin C, richer than most fruits, local and imported. I came to learn later of the cancer-preventing substance derived from Psidium guajava,its scientific name, and its miraculous healing attributes.

Name the ailments commonly encountered, and the guava offers a dozen home remedies. Chew the tops and make a poultice to relieve toothache. The village dentist tells you to first make a poultice the size of a marble, then after he has extracted your tooth, he tells you to seal the wound with it to prevent bleeding and infection. Pronto you can go back to your usual chore.

Guava stem is the first toothbrush, try it. Soften the smaller end and you can also use it as toothpick. This is practical when traveling in a remote rural area. Chew a leaf or two for astringent and tooth paste. Crushed leaves serve as aromatherapy, a new term for an old remedy. And for an unconscious person, burn some dried leaves, fan the smoke toward the patient while pressing his large toe with your thumb nail. The patient senses both pain and smoke and soon takes a deep breathe - another, and another, until he gets enough oxygen and he wakes up.

Decoction of guava leaves for bath is practical in eliminating body odor. Guava soap is effective against skin disorders like pimples and eczema. With this knowledge my daughter Anna Christina formulated an oitment from guava as her college thesis. It is an all-natural antibacterial formula of the plant’s anti-inflammatory and therapeutically active properties against wounds or burns. Extract from the leaves contains 5 to 10 percent tannin, and fixed oils that have antibacterial and inhibitory effect against harmful microorganisms.

When I was a kid my auntie-yaya would gather succulent green guava fruits as remedy for LBM. Tannin regulates the digestive enzymes and stabilizes the digestive flora. She would also make guava leaf tea as a follow-up treatment.

As an offshoot of all these experiences, I asked my students to look into the potential value of guava seeds. The seeds contain 14 percent oil, 15 percent proteins, and 13 percent starch. And study also the bark and leaves in the development of drugs against diarrhea, and as astringent.

At one time I was isolating yeasts that occur in nature which I needed in preparing bubod – yeasts complex for basi wine fermentation, I stumbled upon two kinds of yeasts -Saccharomyces elipsoides and Brettanomyces. The second, I discovered is the secret of French wine quality. This French yeast resides in our home yard, in the flower of the native guava! Later I found out with the help of Food Development Center of the National Food Authority the same yeast naturally occurs in the flowers of macopa (Eugenia jambalana) and duhat (Syzygium cumini), both members of the guava family - Myrtaceae.
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Guava is the tree of happy childhood. The tree bears fruits and children. Look at all the children climbing, swinging on its branches, some armed with bamboo poles, others with small stones, still others with slingshots aiming at one thing: the ripe fruits on the tree. The tree builds sweet childhood memories.
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The guava seed is an example of Nature’s way of breaking dormancy of seeds and enhancing their dissemination. Dormancy is a temporary delay for seeds to germinate, which may last for a few days to several years. This is important as a survival mechanism of plants. Guava seeds are not destroyed by gastric juice and peristalsis of the digestive system of animals – cold or warm blooded - because of their very thick and hard pericarp. This biological property ensures the species to colonize a new land.

You can’t crack guava seeds. If you do, especially with a decayed tooth you’ll end up going to your dentist. Oh, how I would wince and hold on anything. Either the old tooth is forced out of its place or the seed has lodged in the cavity.

Old folks also believe that guava seeds can cause appendicitis. Well, its seed is too large to enter this rudimentary organ. I believe though that it is its abrasive nature that makes way for the bacteria to enter and cause infection. And subsequently inflammation. Well, if this is true, then it’s a risk one takes in eating guava. You really can’t remove all the seeds, and if you succeed you take away the fun and quaintness of eating this berry.

We have introduced foreign varieties of guava which really don’t grow into a tree. The fruits are very much bigger, but far from being as sweet as those of our native variety. In a few years the guapple, as it is called, becomes senile and die, while the native guava lasts for a lifetime, and longer.

Today when I see children climbing guava trees it reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of its many friends – birds, ground fowls like ducks, chicken, bato-bato, goats and self-supporting native pigs. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and Drosphila flies attracted by the ripening fruit. And frogs and toads patiently waiting for these flies to become their prey. Finches and sparrows, the quick and dainty La Golondrina (swift), the pandangera, panal and perperroka – I miss them.

Yes, the fruit bats, they are the source of children’s stories, among them is about clumsy bats dropping their load of ripe fruits accidentally falling of rooftops. In the dead of the night what would you imagine? “It’s the manananggal! (female half-bodied vampire).” Our folks at home would even make their voice tremble. And we would cling to each other in bed we kids of our time. Our elders take advantage of the situation and whisper, “If you don’t sleep, it will come back.”

In the morning who would care about the mannanaggal? Or seeds causing appendicitis? Or the danger of falling from the tree. Or chased by a wild boar? Or challenged by a billy goat or a brooding hen? As usual we would search for ripe berries and have our fill. Then we would hurry down and run to relieve ourselves, too loaded we simply take comfort in some nearby thickets. In time guava trees would be growing this these spots.

Children would be climbing these trees, having their fill of the fruits, and joyous in the adventure of childhood, making the guava tree the greatest wonder of the world. ~

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