Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sweet Bonds of Desire

Bejeweled with translucent drops, 
Hidden within a verdant maze of cloudy mist, 
This ancient Teacher 
shows us how to blissfully coexist. 

“Bitter or Sweet, 
thousands consume
by chips, bars, cakes and cups 
the truth of my lessons every day. 
Food of the Gods, 
my elixir banishes depression, 
promotes good health, 
and keeps the inner child at play. 

Lover’s luscious paint, 
Voluptuous temptation upon the skin, 
Winged Serpent’s gift to Man… 
I am an axis upon which Worlds spin. 

Only the tiniest flying Teachers 
May spread my passionate dust. 
Though empires have clamored for my kiss, 
tasting of Earth’s own immortal lust. 

I spread, 
like legends, 
like rumors, 
From temple’s sacred spire 
to envelope all the world 
in sweet ribbons of hidden desire."

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Shay, Jaguarwombyn and Jan Neavill Hersh for naming this Teacher!

"Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create… and who we include.” Pere Henri from the film Chocolat 

“I am a serious chocoholic. For the serious chocoholic, chocolate is better than sex. If you believe that, you REALLY need to meet that special someone who can change your mind. If you HAVE met that special someone and still believe that, I REALLY NEED to know where you get your chocolate!!!” Unknown 

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.” 
― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Theobroma Cacao, or the Cocoa Tree, belongs to the Family Malvaceae which includes okra and hibiscus. This evergreen tree’s origins are hidden within the shifting mists of the Amazon, but everyone is familiar with the two major products derived from the Cacao… cocoa butter, and chocolate! It is commonly believed to have been discovered (in terms of cultivation) and distributed at least about 4000 years ago by the Mayans, although many others believe it was discovered by the Olmecs of South Central Mexico. It is found in Mesoamerican hieroglyphs from the Upper Paleolithic era, and featured largely in ceremonies throughout the Central and Southern American Native Nations. 
Regardless of where it came from originally, the Cacao has a very limited growing area, and can only be found naturally between 20 degrees North and 20 degrees South of the Earth’s equatorial belt. While it can reach heights of up to 60 feet, it is far more typical for the Cacao to stand about 15-35 feet, well beneath the sheltering canopy of the larger rain forest trees growing around it. The Cacao prefers filtered sunlight, and sheltering “mother” trees. 

There are about 22 different species of Theobroma, and the Cacao is typically separated into three main groups; Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario. Criollo was developed in Northern South America and Central America. With the Criollo, the distinctive ovoid fruit pod of the Cacao is either red or yellow, tapering to a point with five or ten longitudinal ridges, and the fruit walls are thinner than the other varieties. Their seeds are either white or purple, and not at all astringent, a defensive seed spreading technique of the other varieties. While Criollo cacaos are believed to produce the highest quality chocolate, they are also the most susceptible to disease and the lowest yielding of the Cacaos. 
Forastero cacaos come from the Amazon Basin, and their ellipsoid fruits are usually smoother, thick-walled without the pointed tip, and may be red, yellow. orange or even purple. Their dark purple seeds are flatter than the other varieties, and the Forasteros dominate the world cacao market (approximately 80%), being the most prolific of the three groups although not considered the best of the three for quality chocolate. Trinitarios originated in Trinidad, and are a hybrid of the other two types. Therefore, appearance can vary widely in the Trinitarios, and the chocolate they produce is considered to be a of high quality. Trinitarios and Criollos are considered “flavor” beans, which will be blended with the “bulk” beans from Forasteros in varying recipes around the world. 

Cacaos have a notoriously difficult time pollinating successfully. Their delicate pink and white flowers are small, only about a 1/2 to 3/4 inch across, and are of rather complex design. Their major pollinators are tiny Midges (Genus Forcipomyia, as well as Dasyheolea and Stylobezzia) , Aphids, Thrips, Ants, and Flies! These pollinators are not drawn by scent, as Cacao blossoms have no smell, but rather by chance. Growers, of course, can hand pollinate their trees but even this does not guarantee a successfully formed cacao pod. 

These “pods” are actually Pepo-like (think Watermelon, Okra, or Cucumber) berries with leathery outer skins, sweet mucilaginous edible flesh, and the seeds (referred to as beans) from which chocolate is made… much to the relief of chocoholics around the world! The yellow-white flesh, or placenta, is said to be very sweet with a mild lemon flavor found refreshing by harvesters on a hot day. Both the flowers and the fruit of the Theobromas are consider " cauliflorous", meaning that flowers (and later fruits) form directly along the trunk and branches of the tree at the site of a former leaf known as a “cushion”. 

It has been estimated that only one in every 100 Cacao blossoms successfully crosses the obstacles it faces to become a full fledged harvest-able pod. Conditions must be right throughout the growing process too for the Cacao to produce successful fruits. The rich oft-times volcanic soil in which Cacao grows, as well as weather conditions throughout the growing, will affect the flavor of the beans. Many never develop past the chileo or juvenile stage. Once ripe, the fruits growing in the wild will not drop from the tree or split open on their own either; waiting to be removed by a wide variety of forest creatures, or man.

"Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second. Such things are not going to affect one?s life ... but 1932 the Mars Bar and 1936 Maltesers and 1937 the Kit Kat - these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country." - Roald Dahl

"Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine." - Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon,1796

"After eating chocolate you feel godlike, as though you can conquer enemies, lead armies, entice lovers." - Emily Luchetti

Each pod contains approximately 20-40 beans. Those Cacaos with astringent seeds would be unpalatable to many creatures who would then drop them, beginning the potential growth of a new Cacao. Cacaos bear fruit and flowers, often at the same time, year round, although June and December are the usual harvest times. High winds and storms can be severely damaging to the rather delicate Cacao tree, which is subject to breakage. Growers always plant windbreaks, often times of other potential crop trees like Banana or Rubber trees. Cacao or Cocoa butter, also known as Oil of Theobroma, is a popular skin emollient around the world, and is also frequently used to coat pills or suppositories. 

Theobromine is an alkaloid within the cacao beans that can resemble caffeine, but is less powerful in effect. This alkaloid’s effect upon the heart and kidneys is more effective making it wonderfully useful in expelling any accumulation of fluid in the body after experiencing a cardiac failure. It is often given in such cases with digitalis to relieve this dilatation. Theobromine also dilates blood vessels making it useful in the treatment of high blood pressure. Theobromine has protective effects against streptoccous, shigella, staphlococcus, and related pathogens. However, it should also be noted that theobromine is considered addictive and a habit forming stimulant! 

Chocolatl did not arrive in West Africa until about 1879, and it was consumed only as a beverage until about 1828 when the cocoa press was invented, allowing for the production of cocoa powder which was necessary for the making of chocolate confections. Currently, the Ivory Coast produces the majority of the world’s chocolate at an estimated 30%. Other countries included in the Top 10 list of chocolate producers would be: Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and the Domincan Republic. 

Chocolatl or Xocolatl was generally a chilled rather gritty beverage of ground roast cacao beans, maize, vanilla beans, chilies, cinnamon and other spices, water, and honey. It was believed to be a healthy invigorating tonic, an aphrodisiac, a mental stimulant, mood elevator, and source of divine blessings (like youthfulness) and inspirations, especially shamanic visions. 

Across Mesoamerica, it was believed that the first Cacao tree grew in the “Garden of Life” where it’s marvelous fruit fed the Gods until they charged Quetzalcoatl (aka Kukulcan or Ququmatz), the Winged Serpent, with bringing the Cacao to Earth to share with mankind. Quetzalcoatl is said to have ridden a beam of the Morning Star to bring the Cacao to Earth. Quetzalcoatl was a deity of winds, air, the dawn, and fertility, especially vegetative fertility, and was a patron of shamans, merchants, crafters & artists. At that time, Chocolatl was reserved for nobility and shamans, used during special ceremonies and as food sacrifices, along with blood, to the Gods. The Mayans held a yearly festival beginning April 22nd for Ekchuah, their cocoa grower’s/sellers god. Traditionally a cocoa-colored dog is sacrificed during this festival. The cacao beans were also used as currency across Mesoamerica. 100 cacao beans, for example, could buy a slave. 

There are in essence three types of chocolate in an endless array of possibilities. White chocolate consists of just cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla and occasionally other flavors; creating a confection of delicate taste and texture. Dark chocolate is made up of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar or other sweetener, and a variety of flavorings. Dark chocolate carries more of the Cacao nutritional benefits, and is generally considered healthier for you than chocolate that has been diluted with Milk. Milk Chocolate, however, remains as the most popular chocolate in the confectionery scene, despite the fact that the addition of milk cancels it’s antioxidant effects. Semi-sweet chocolate contains calcium, carbohydrates, fat, iron, phosphorous, potassium, protein, and the vitamins A, B and C. 

Unusually high in both fiber and protein for a fruit, Cacao is consumed in countless forms across the world every day. Researchers at the University of California recently found that chocolate, especially Dark chocolate, is rich in complex flavonoids that help us to maintain good circulation, reduce blood pressure and clotting, which is a major cause of heart attacks. Their findings further support that chocolate increases the antioxidant activity within the body, which can reduce the damage of cancer-causing charged particles as well as generally improving our immune system! 

Cacao’s connectivity, sensitivity, and reliance upon All Our Relations reinforces it’s image as a World Tree. Diligence in maintaining the necessary ingredients in the proper balance is required of Cacao people engaged in a project or working towards a goal. Likewise, Cacao teaches that the goals we set for ourselves and the concepts that we want to bring to fruition in our lives, should be both well planned for, and they should also spring forth from the center of our being as something that moves us in a vital way. Cacao teaches us to take in Life, to connect, absorb, enjoy, and spread by reflecting the vibrant joys and sensual treats found in Life with enthusiasm, as well as moderation and wisdom. 

Intuition used in harmony with Knowledge, Strength found in balancing moderation with indulgence, immersion in the senses, evoking feelings of love, well-being, or exuberance for Life are all Cacao lessons; especially the concept of inspiring others with these attitudes. Cacao people, like most Tree people, need a healthy and diverse support network. Humor and introspection are vital tools to staying well grounded. The film Chocolat is filled with wonderful examples of this Teacher in varying degrees of Balance. 

Learning when to indulge and when to abstain is a key Cacao lesson. It is up to us to not only recognize our own talents, but choose to use them to a good purpose! There is a giddy delight to the lessons imparted by this Teacher that cautions us to beware indulgent imbalances. Yet, whenever we feel like too little butter over too much bread, or feel like the Adversities and Darkness inherent in Living and Learning might be consuming us… Cacao is an excellent Teacher to turn to for replenishment and enlightenment! Cacao can help us fill up on the passionate and enlivening creative energy of Life, release our Shadow, or shed addictive behavior. How does this amazing Teacher appear in your life? 

“Put a smile on your face, make the world a better place.” Hershey’s Chocolate

"Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an adequate substitute for chocolate because it has some similar nutrients (calcium, phosphorus), and because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt." ~Sandra Boynton, author of Chocolate: the Consuming Passion

“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.” 
― Katharine Hepburn

Potential Balancing Energies: Snake, Birds of all sorts especially the Quetzal and Raven, Earthworm, Beetle, Fly, Aphid, Thrip, Ant, Midge, and other Insects, Other plants like Hibiscus, Okra, Maize, Chili peppers, Water, Vanilla Bean, Banana, and Rubber tree, Rabbit, Dog, Monkeys, Rodents 

Key Concepts: Balance, Axis Mundi, Interconnectedness, Spreading Joy/Good Humor, Banishing Stress, Sensuality, Fertility, Health, Shadow Work, Indulgence, Abstinence


  1. I was at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History last week, and all the wonderful gems and minerals reminded me of you!

    1. awww, thanks Chris :) what a wonderful way to be remembered!