Monday, July 22, 2013

Theobroma cacao--Cocoa Tree

Cocoa trees grow in tropical areas with lots of heat and humidity. This one is in a greenhouse at the UC Botanical Garden. It seems to be doing okay. Those little white things on the truck are flowers. It does form pods (fruit), but they never seem to mature.

The genus, "Theobroma," means "food of the gods." One would think that such a highly rated comestible would be healthy, and indeed it is. Although it was vilified for years, recent research indicates that it is good and good for you! According to the Mayo webpage cocoa contains antioxidants called flavanols that reduce cell damage, diabetes, stroke and heart attack. In addition, cocoa lowers blood pressure and  improves vascular function, Just remember, refined sugar is bad, so you might want to cultivate a taste for bittersweet chocolate.

Since it is a food of the gods, cocoa can be considered a sacred plant. The Maya had a festival in April in which they sacrificed animals to the cacao god. Men used it as a ritualistic drink. They believed that it was toxic for women and children. That sounds more like sacrilege than sacred to me!

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