Coffea-Colocasia (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Coffea-Colocasia (Sturtevant, 1919)

Coffea arabica Linn.

Rubiaceae. COFFEE.

Arabia and African tropics. This shrub is found wild in Abyssinia and in the Sudan where it forms forests. It is mentioned as seen from the mid-Niger to Sierra Leone and from the west coast to Monrovia. In the territory west of Braganza, says Livingstone, wild coffee is abundant, and the people even make their huts of coffee trees. On or about the equator, says Grant, the m'wanee, or coffee, is cultivated in considerable quantities but the berry is eaten raw as a stimulant, never drunk in an infusion by the Wanyambo. The Ugundi, says Long, never make a decoction of coffee but chew the grain raw; this is a general custom. The Unyoro, says Burton, have a plantation of coffee about almost every hut door. According to the Arabian tradition, says Krapf, the civet-cat brought the coffee-bean to the mountains of the Arusi and Ilta-Gallas, where it grew and was long cultivated, until an enterprising merchant carried the coffee plant, five hundred years ago, to Arabia where it soon became acclimated.

About the fifteenth century, writes Phillips, the use of coffee appears to have been introduced from Persia to Aden on the Red Sea. It was progressively used at Mecca, Medina, and Cairo; hence it continued its progress to Damascus and Aleppo. From these two places, it was introduced into Constantinople in the year 1554. Rauwolf, who was in the Levant in 1573, was the first European author who made any mention of coffee, but the first who has particularly described it, is Prosper Alpinus, 1591, and 1592. The Venetians seem to be the next who used coffee. This beverage was noticed by two English travellers at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Biddulph about 1603 and William Finch in 1607. Lord Bacon mentions it in 1624. M. Thevenot taught the French to drink coffee on his return from the East in 1657. It was fashionable and more widely known in Paris in 1669. Coffee is said to have been first brought to England in 1641, but Evelyn says in his diary, 1637. It was first publicly known in London in 1652. According to other accounts, the custom of drinking coffee originated with the Abyssinians, by whom the plant had been cultivated from time immemorial, and was introduced to Aden in the early part of the fifteenth century, whence its use gradually extended over Arabia. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Dutch transported the plant to Batavia, and thence a plant was sent to the botanic gardens at Amsterdam, where it was propagated, and in 1714 a tree was presented to Louis XIV. A tree was imported into the Isle of Bourbon in 1720. One account asserts that the French introduced it to Martinique in 1717 and another states that the Dutch had previously taken it to Surinam. It reached Jamaica in 1728. It seems certain that we are indebted to the progeny of a single plant for all the coffee now imported from Brazil and the West Indies. It was introduced to Celebes in 1822. In Java and Sumatra, the leaves of the coffee plant are used as a substitute for coffee. In 1879, four trees were known to have been grown and successfully fruited in Florida.

Coffea liberica Hiern.


Tropical Africa. This seems to be a distinct species, which furnishes the Liberian coffee. It was received in Trinidad from Kew Gardens, England, in 1875.

Coix lacryma-jobi Linn.

Gramineae. JOB'S TEARS.

Tropical Asia. The seeds may be ground to flour and made into a coarse but nourishing bread which is utilized in times of scarcity.

Cola acuminata Schott & Endl.


Tropical Africa. This tree, a native of tropical Africa, is cultivated in Brazil and the West Indies. Under the name of cola or kolla or gooranuts, the seeds are extensively used as a sort of condiment by the natives of western and central tropical Africa and likewise by the negroes in the West Indies and Brazil. There are several varieties. Father Carli noticed them in Congo in 1667 under the name of colla. Earth says the chief article of African produce in the Kano markets is the guro or kolanut, which forms an important article of trade and which has become to the natives as necessary as coffee or tea is to us. The nuts contain the alkaloid thein. A small piece of one of their seeds is chewed before each meal as a promoter of digestion; it is also supposed to improve the flavor of anything eaten after it or, as Father Carli says, "they have a little bitterness but the water drank after makes them very sweet." This plant was introduced into Martinique about 1836. Its amylaceous seeds, of a not very agreeable taste, are much sought after by the negroes.

Colea telfairii Boj.


Madagascar. The fruit is eaten.

Coleus aromaticus Benth.


East Indies. This is the country borage of India. Every part of the plant is delightfully fragrant, and the leaves are frequently eaten and mixed with various articles of food in India. In Burma, it is in common use as a potherb. A purple coleus was observed in cultivation in northern Japan by Miss Bird, the leaves of which are eaten as spinach.

Coleus barbatus Benth.

East Indies and tropical Africa. About Bombay, this species is commonly cultivated in the gardens of the natives for the roots, which are pickled.

Coleus spicatus Benth.

East Indies. Wilkinson 8 quotes Pliny as saying that the Egyptians grew this plant for making chaplets and for food.

Colocasia antiquorum Schott.

Aroideae (Araceae). DASHEEN. TARO.

Tropical Asia. This is very probably an Indian plant, as it is cultivated in the whole of central Asia in very numerous varieties and has a Sanscrit name. It was carried westward in the earliest times and is cultivated in the delta of Egypt under the name of Quolkas. Clusius, writing in 1601, had seen it in Portugal. The Spaniards are said to call it alcoleaz and to have received it from Africa. Boissier cites it as common in middle Spain. Lunan says there are several varieties cultivated in Jamaica which are preferred by the negroes to yams. In 1844, this species was cultivated by Needham Davis of South Carolina, who says one acre of rich, damp soil will produce one thousand bushels by the second year. In India, colocasias are universally cultivated and the roots are without acrimony. The tubers, says Firminger, resemble in outward appearance those of the Jerusalem artichoke. They are not in great request with Europeans in Bengal where potatoes may be had all the year through but in the Northwest Provinces, where potatoes are unobtainable during the summer months, they are much consumed in the way of a substitute. Their flavor is not unlike salsify. The plant is cultivated extensively by the Polynesians, who call it taro; the tubers are largely consumed and the young leaves are eaten as a spinach.

Colocasia antiquorum esculenta Schott.


This plant is largely grown in Tahiti, and Ellis says the natives have distinct names for 33 of the varieties. Nordoff says more than 30 varieties of kalo are cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands and adds that all the kinds are acrid except one which is so mild that it may be eaten raw. Simpson says, "Kalo forms the principal food of the lower class of the Sandwich Islanders and is cultivated with great care in small enclosures kept wet." From the root a sort of paste called poi is made. Masters says it is called taro, and the rootstocks furnish a staple diet. It is also grown in the Philippines and is enumerated by Thunberg among the edible plants of Japan. In Jamaica, Sloane says the roots are eaten as potatoes, but the chief use of the vegetable, says Lunan, is as a green, and it is as delicate, wholesome, and agreeable a one as any in the world. In soup it is excellent, for such is the tenderness of the leaves that they, in a manner, dissolve and afford a rich, pleasing and mucilaginous ingredient. It is very generally cultivated in Jamaica. Adams found the boiled leaves very palatable in the Philippines but the uncooked leaves were so acrid as to be poisonous. At Hongkong, the tubers are eaten under the name of cocoas. In Europe and America it is grown as an ornamental plant.

Colocasia indica Hassk.

Southern Asia. This plant is cultivated in Bengal for its esculent stems and the small, pendulous tubers of its root, which are eaten by people of all ranks in their curries. Roylel says it is much cultivated about the huts of the natives. It is also cultivated in Brazil and is found in East Australia. The acridity is expelled from this plant by cooking.