From Eat the Weeds
and Other Things Too website
by Green Deane
jamaicensis : Near Beer
Should the civilized world come to an end and you have a hankering for
a stout beer you’re in luck: You can make one from the Blue Porterweed,
jamaicensis. And if a beer is not to your liking, then you
can make it into a tea with a beer-like foam.
Porter is a dark brown beer on the bitter side. A stout is a strong
porter. Porter’s Beer, Porter’s Ale, Porter House Steaks all go back to
shops that serviced porters and laborers in England as early as the
early 1700’s. The Central American brew made with the Blue Porterweed
got its name by the dark color and bitter flavor of that ancient ale.
The tea side of the Blue Porterweed is better known. It was once
exported from Brazil as Brazilian Tea and was also used to stretch
Chinese tea. In fact it is still used in Brazil today. It is drank for
taste or sometimes as medicine.
Beer and tea is not the plant’s only claim to fame, besides a long list
of herbal uses (see the herb blurb below.) It is a mainstay
of almost every butterfly garden. Because of the plant’s growth habit
of sending up a spike that then flowers out continuously it is
butterfly fast food. Attracted to it are skippers, viceroys, monarchs,
and queens, among many.
Tastes like mushrooms
is from the Greek words stachys meaning spike and tarphys which means
thick or dense. This is reference to the flower spike. How
that is said is a bit of debate. In Latin they say
steak-ee-tar-FEE-tuh. In Greek, which is what the words are, the first
“A” would be short: stah-ee-tar-FEE-tuh. Jamaicensis means
of Jamaica — read Caribbean — and is said jah-may-KEN-sis. At any rate
some think it got to Florida around 1700 from Jamaica and then
butterfly gardens around the world.
How did they make the beer? No one seems to report that. The way to do
it is make a tea of suitable taste and then add sugar and yeast, which
is how the soft drink Root Beer started out, as root tea.
I learned from my good friend Ryan (husband of forager Sunny Savage and
good friends of mine) that the blossoms taste like mushrooms. And they
do! Delicately so. I’ve never found a reference for said but Ryan said
they ate them in Hawaii where he grew up. I’ve tried them. Tasty and
A few words of caution: Don’t mistake Vervain, Verbena officinalis,
which has some edible parts, for Blue Porterweed. There is some
resemblance but Vervain branches more freely, has plump bloom tips and
the leaves are more lance shaped whereas the Blue Porterweed tends to
have oval leaves, less branching, and has a long skinny flowering tip
that is skinny to the end.
“Itemized” Plant Profile: Blue Porterweed
A low shrub that trails on the ground, tips rising up, no taller than a
yard, usually much less, one or two feet, stems angled,
leaves opposite, oval to lance shaped, dark green one to four inches
long, edges distinctly toothed. Five petal blue flowers grow on a
spike, a few at a time opening only one day. There are several related
species: Remember, it is a short plant with blue flowers. If it came
from a nursery it is probably NOT the right plant.
Time Of Year: Year round, spring to
fall in more northern climes.
Environment: Sand dunes to pine forests to scrub land and even occasionally wetlands.
Naturalized in Florida, Alabama, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Found in
seasonal flower gardens
Herb Blurb: 2003 Abstract: The anti-oxidant effects of ethyl acetate (EAcE) and n-hexane extracts (nHE) of dried leaves of Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
Vahl. (Verbenaceae) on the reactive oxygen species (ROS) generating
during the respiratory burst of rat peritoneal macrophages were
investigated. Only EAcE, at concentrations between 0.4 and 40 µg/ml,
inhibited the extracellular release of oxygen radicals by resident
peritoneal macrophages stimulated with phorbol-12-myristate 13-acetate
(PMA). At concentrations above 40 µg/ml, EAcE inhibited the production
of nitric oxide (NO) in macrophages stimulated in vivo with sodium
thioglycollate then in vitro with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and
gamma-interferon (IFN-). nHE extracts at concentrations between 0.4 and
40 µg/ml did not scavenge O-2 generated enzymatically by
hypoxanthine/xanthine oxidase (HX/XO) system, but EAcE at the same
concentrations showed potent O-2-scavenging activity. At 40 µg/ml, EAcE
also inhibited XO activity. These results suggest that the EAcE extract
of S. jamaicensis may be a potential pharmaceutical value in treatment
of immunopathological diseases related to oxidative stress.
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