The Kachnar Tree is a Boon in Pakistan But a Pest in Florida
The Kachnar tree (Bauhinia variegata), or Orchid tree or already Mountain Ebony tree has many uses in Pakistan, where it is an native species. Where it is planted in urban areas, such as in Islamabad, it helps combat air pollution caused by traffic fumes and if planted in arable land, it gives some shade, but not enough to deprive crops of sunlight, and as it has long roots, it does not compete with them for water. Its roots can go down to the depths of low water tables. One of its other benefits in farm land is that it balances the nitrogen content in the soil, which may have increased due to over use of nitrogen based fertilizers in the past.
However, I am particularly fond of this tree because of its edible flower buds and flowers. For three or four weeks in spring, you can feast on the flower buds, cooked with meat, or as the main elements in a vegetable dish with lots of spices, tomatoes, onions and garlic. It has a taste which is reminiscent of liver, but with a very slight flowery undertone, which is absolutely delicious. The French call this tree Bois de Boeuf, probably because of its meaty taste.
I chanced upon it at the local greengrocers, and he very kindly told me how to cook it to perfection. He had bought it from small boys from poor families who could make an income from selling the flower buds at this time of year. It must take hours to pick a kilo of these buds, as they’re tiny, but they were in abundant supply only a few months ago. The flowers are also good when made with other elements in pakoras, although you have to pick your own flowers and use them quickly, so any recipe for their use should start with the words, first find a Kachnar tree. Luckily there is one growing near to my little house, so it wasn’t too difficult to find a flowering tree.
In the state of Florida the Orchid tree is considered a pest – one of the imported species which do a lot of damage to an ecosystem and eco-system that they are not native to. If you live in Florida and have some Kachnar trees near you, take advantage of them and cook their very tasty buds.
The Paper Mulberry tree was imported into Pakistan because it was fast growing (so is the Kachnar) and because it could help combat air pollution in Islamabad. This tree has caused more harm than the native kachnar tree would have, as when the pollen is released, people suffer from respiratory ailments caused by it. There have been calls to cut down these alien trees and the government and municipal authorities have promised to do this, but as however, they have not been cut down.
The Paper Mulberry might be ornamental, but it has no edible parts, and has proved a nuisance instead of a help. It’s a shame that all too often people want the exotic, instead of the shared. In this case such a preference has caused environmental, in addition as health problems.