Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wanna Get Drunk?

Once in a while, life gets you down, like right this moment for me. It's easy to say "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on!" But to do it? You need help, real help... and here it is: Hyphaene coriacea in person, the Natal iLala palm! Hear me out!

Southernmost of the ten or so species in the genus Hyphaene which are found in Africa, coastal Arabia, western Madagascar and southern India, it is Hyphaene coriacea that is found mostly in KwaZulu-Natal and southern Mozambique. Female plants like this one bears pendulous inflorescences from the leaf axils, on which large bunches of fruit develop that can be up to 2,000 per plant, but I am not going to count them here. These fruits take about two years to reach maturity and another two years before falling from the plant. In their native countries, the fruits are dispersed by elephants, monkeys and baboons.

The iLala palm is an ethnobotanically-important plant to the Maputaland, part of which is the vigorous local industry in the manufacture of palm brews. That's what can perk you up when you are all black and blue and melancholic: the sugary sap extracted from the stems and flowers is fermented by natural yeasts into a kind of beer called ubuSulu or iNjemane which, when fresh, tastes rather like gingerbeer.

As much as 60 to 70 liters can be obtained from an average tree and the alcohol level reaches 3.6-3.7% by volume within 36 hours. I understand that this rather potent spirit is consumed during social events in its native land accompanied by much laughter and conviviality.

That's it, I am coming here tonight and I know what to do: "The growing tip is cut away, leaves are stripped, incisions made and a leaf stalk inserted as a spout. The sap oozes down and I will get drunk over my sorrow! There is no need to wait for fermentation by yeast!"

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