Tuesday, July 28, 2009


We are big coffee drinkers and love trying all the varieties from coffee plantations around the Island of Hawaii. Coffee beans are the seeds of the bright red coffee fruit, called coffee cherries. Each fruit normally contains two seeds (beans) and some fruit pulp. An exception is the peaberry, which only has one bean to a cherry. We were surprised to learn that many locals eat the cherries, which are thrown away by coffee harvesters because they are too perishable to process. People in coffee growing regions of the world having been eating coffee cherries for thousands of years.

It turns out that coffee fruit is loaded with high concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and essential sugars. Roasting the coffee bean destroys these nutrients, so we aren’t getting them in our morning cup of Joe. Studies on the health benefits of coffee compounds claim the fruit contains polyphenols, in particular flavonoids, which have antioxidant characteristics that may reduce the risk of disease and cognitive decline .

The coffee fruit has many of the glyconutrients, also known as the 8 essential sugars, which are needed for optimal health and functioning in humans. We have never heard of these essential sugars, known as saccharides, but apparently they have special properties needed for cell to cell communication and proper cell functioning. Coffee cherries contain five of the eight saccharides (mannose, galactose, fucose, xylose, and glucose) which are believed to be essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.

Not having easy access to wild coffee, we bought a tree at a Hilo school plant sale. We read that it could take up to four years for it to produce coffee fruit, but after less than a year our coffee bush is covered with bright red coffee fruit. The coffee cherries have a thin red skin and fruit pulp with a texture similar to a grape. Our cherries are small, perhaps because the tree is young, but we were eager to taste our ripened coffee cherries. The red skin was tough and bitter, but the tiny bit of fruit pulp that covered the beans was sweet and tasty.

It is wonderful to live in Hilo where so many tropical plants thrive. We are delighted to find yet another fruit in Hawaii that is delicious and good for our health.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The high cost of electricity in Hawaii makes central air conditioning and heating a rarity in Hilo. Fortunately, the temperate climate and frequent trade winds minimize our need to change the temperature. But during weeks, like this past week, with high temperatures combined with high humidity, an AC starts sounding good.

While sweating under the ceiling fan, we are comforting ourselves with a recent study correlating the increase of air conditioning in US homes since the 1970’s with the increase in obesity. Researchers from the National Center for Healthy Housing in Columbia, MD and University of Illinois at Chicago, Ill studied the relationship between housing and the US population’s health over 30 years. The study combined data from serveral surveys of the population and housing of Americans.

Between 1972 and 2002, US households with central air conditioning jumped from 15% to nearly 60%. During that same time period, average BMI’s (Body Mass Index) in the US went from 24.9 to 27.7 (a BMI of 25 and above is considered overweight). The graph below was published in their study.

The researchers believe that the increase in obesity may be linked to the internal housing climate created by central air conditioning and forced heating because the body expends less energy in temperature ranges associated with climate-controlled settings. Improved thermal comfort provides an incentive for people to remain indoors, exercise less, and exert less energy through lower metabolic rates.

We tried out a portable room AC (Commercial Cool) from Walmart which vents out of the window. But using our Kill A Watt Electric Usage Monitor, we determined it cost over $2 an hour to run. The cost usually exceeds the benefit of having a small cooled area in the house.

We keep cool by opening all the windows and doors and using fans to blow directly on us. We notice on days when we swim in the mornings, we are cooler all day long, a strong motivator for us to get to our water aerobics class. Although these hot summer days keep us inside under the ceiling fan and out of the sun, the heat kills our appetite and forces us to drink lots of water, both very beneficial to our weight loss effort.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Last month, while talking to a friend about Hawaii’s energy independence, I heard about the Jatropha tree. The Jatropha curcas tree is famous for its seeds - also called Barbados nut, Jungle Erandi, and Physic nut - which are considered an excellent source of bio-fuel due to their high percentage of oil content. The Jatropha tree is easy to grow, lives a long time, and the oil from its seeds can power diesel engines and aircraft without having to be refined.

The prospect of growing aircraft fuel was very exciting, so I gleefully took the seeds I was given and ran out to buy the supplies needed to plant them. Much to my delight, the seeds grew quickly into plants.

But further investigation about the plant, toned down my excitement. I discovered that the seeds are very toxic as are the leaves, the stems, and the mash left over after crushing the seeds to get the oil. Jatropha contains highly toxic cyanic acid in the seeds and carcinogenic substances in all parts of the plant. The yellow oil is aptly called Hell oil. Three year old plantations in India have shown that the claims about Jatropha being able to grow in poor, arid soil without the need for fertilizer or pesticides are not true. Their yields have been paltry in dry regions as opposed to over 3 times better when irrigated and fertilized like food crops. These poor yields in India mean the cost per gallon of Jatropha bio-fuel is higher than the cost of conventional gasoline and diesel. Worse, Jatropha plantations have caused health problems for the farmers working with the plants and children eating the tasty seeds. Jatropha fields near lakes have killed off fish populations and caused ecological problems in other areas. Eating the seeds causes vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a burning sensation in the throat. It turns out my little aircraft fuel plants were toxic to my garden and me.

The realization that bio-fuel could create a toxic environment changed my view of plants. What is the point of bio-fuel if growing it damages the ecosphere? Isn’t supporting the environment one of the most important aspects of replacing petroleum production with bio-fuels?

This revelation led me to search for a Healthy bio-fuel and my discovery of the Moringa tree, which is known as “The Miracle Tree”. Moringa oleifera leaves are highly nutritious, said to prevent over 300 diseases, and have high concentrations of protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and calcium as well as a host of other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Moringa seeds from mature pods can be browned, mashed and placed in boiling water to extract an excellent cooking or lubricating oil that floats to the surface. The oil does not become rancid and was once sold as Ben Oil. The tree is being planted all over the world as a primary food source for people because it is drought hardy and grows quickly.

In the Philipines – where Morianga is called Malungai – they have set up a manufacturing plant to use the oil harvested from the Moringa seeds to produce bio-diesel. Visiting MIT graduate students found the resulting bio-fuel had superior properties including fuel stability, good ignition behavior, and suitability even during winter. In addition to the income potential to farmers growing the plant for bio-fuel every part of the plant has commercial value including the mash leftover from the crushed seeds which makes an excellent feed for livestock.

My brief experience with bio-fuels has taught me that all green things are not necessarily non-toxic and non-destructive to people and the environment. And at the same time, there is the potential for the right bio-fuel plants to be a far greater benefit to the people and environment than just the fuel produced from plants. The right bio-fuel source can provide food, medicine, livestock feed, and great value to a local environment and economy. I am now in search of the Miracle Moringa seeds or starters to start my own garden of curative, healthy, beneficial bio-fuel plants.