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Word for Wednesday: R is for riparian.

When I created this weekly alphabet challenge all those weeks ago, I had no master plan mapped out ahead for each letter.  As the time has gone on I have found myself keeping a general watch out whilst reading, thinking about words or quotes that might make good choices, either that week or further down the alphabet.

Most letters have been reasonably easy to find an interesting word for.  But this week we are at ‘R’ – I know, already! – and I have really struggled to come up with something.  Nothing has jumped out at me whilst reading, and I’ve had no inspirational incidents to act as a catalyst, unlike with my F, L and P word posts, for example. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to go ultra bland and boring.

And then looking blankly at my blog page, inspiration struck. ‘Readsbyredriverbanks’ – there must surely be an interesting ‘R’ word on the river theme? Well, of course there is.  Riverine is a good one, meaning either ‘relating to, formed by, or resembling a river’ or ‘living or situated on the banks of a river’.  But a more unusual one that I’d not heard before is riparian.

 

Riparian (adj).

  • relating to or living or located on the bank of a natural watercourse (as a river) or sometimes of a lake or a tidewater 
  • of, pertaining to, or situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water.
Derivation: from the Latin, ripari-us  + -an, from Latin ripa,  the bank of a river.  First Known Use: 1840-50.

 

This photo shows the beautiful but pernicious water hyacinth.  It grows voraciously along sheltered riverbanks and in the storm run-off channels in Brunei.  Those exquisite soft blue flowers are just so delicate  looking, it is hard to believe that the water hyacinth is something of a horticultural thug.

It is a fast growing, highly adaptable, and invasive riparian plant, native to South America, and the Amazon basin in particular.   Today it is at home in a wide range of habitats across the world.  You may well have seen it taking over the less forceful native riparian species if you have ever been for an amble along the banks of a river in North America, Asia, Australia, Africa or New Zealand.

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Lacking any literary inspiration for a quote using the word ‘riparian’, I thought I’d share this story about the riparian water hyacinth plant instead.  I found this little gem on wikipedia and was amazed afresh at some of the hair-brained ideas people come up with at times:

“The water hyacinth was introduced [to America] in 1884 at the World’s Fair in New Orleans, also known as the World Cotton Centennial. The plants had been given away as a gift by a group of visiting Japanese. Soon after, the water hyacinth was choking rivers, killing fish and stopping shipping in Louisiana, and an estimated 50 kilograms per square meter choked Florida’s waterways. There were many attempts to eradicate the flower, including one by the U.S. War Department to pour oil over many of the flowers, but none worked. In 1910, a bold solution was put forth by the New Foods Society. Their plan was to import and release hippopotamus from Africa into the rivers and bayous of Louisiana. The hippopotamus would then eat the water hyacinth and also produce meat to solve another serious problem at the time, the American meat crisis.

Known as the American Hippo bill, H.R. 23621 was introduced by Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard and debated by the Agricultural Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. The chief collaborators in the New Foods Society and proponents of Broussard’s bill were Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the celebrated American scout, and Captain Fritz Duquesne, a South African scout who later became a notorious spy for Germany. Presenting before the Agricultural Committee, Burnham made the point that none of the animals that Americans ate, chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, lambs, were native to the U.S., all had been imported by European settlers centuries before, so why should Americans hesitate to introduce hippopotamus and other large animals into the American diet? Duquesne, who was born and raised in South Africa, further noted that European settlers on that continent commonly included hippopotamus, ostrich, antelope, and other African wildlife in their diets and suffered no ill effects. The American Hippo bill nearly passed, but fell one vote short.”

I wonder how successful they would have been had they passed the vote?  They were effectively suggesting they would farm hippopotamus herds!   I have read in the past that these huge beasts are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other large animal.  I can believe it.  Also known by the deceptively benign name of ‘river horse’, they are highly territorial, very flighty, aggressive, powerful, and surprisingly fast on their feet whilst giving chase. They might look comically tubby and docile, but I would not like to get in the way of one, that’s for sure.

Was the South African Captain Fritz Duquesne playing a joke that got out of hand when he first made the suggestion?  From where we see things from today, the whole concept seems ludicrously far-fetched doesn’t it?  Whatever the back story, I think South Africans would have been laughing all the way to the braai (Afrikaans for barbeque) over that crackpot suggestion. But just imagine how different the riparian environments of Louisiana might have looked.  Serious food for thought (just not of the hippo burger variety).

 

 

An alternative start to the weekend: Peppermint Essential Oil.

Those Ancient Greeks were a hot-headed lot weren’t they?! Greek mythology is so full of intrigue, passion and power, and I am a bit of a sucker for interesting myths and legends that explain why certain words and names exist today.  Exploring the origins of peppermint, it seems even the plants got wrapped up in the myth-making!

According to mythology, Hades (God of the underworld) seduced the nymph, Minthe.  In doing so he betrayed his wife, Persephone (Goddess of nature). In a jealous rage, Persephone turned Minthe into a plant, so that people would forever trample on her love rival. Hades was furious at Persephone, not least because he was powerless to undo the transformative spell.  But wanting Minthe to be remembered always for her beauty and vivacity, Hades bestowed the peppermint plant with a heavenly aroma, released each time the leaves are crushed.  In a cruel twist for the slighted wife, Persephone could never forget her husband’s duplicity, because having turned Minthe into an aromatic plant, the lingering scent of peppermint was present evermore as an inescapable reminder.

Long before the Ancient Greeks and their myth-making, people started to appreciate the health and medicinal properties of peppermint. As far back as 1,000 BC, Ancient Egyptians valued peppermint as a treatment for stomach and digestive problems.  Although the Ancients did not have fancy technology and scientific laboratories to prove their theories about medicinal plants, in the case of peppermint, they were definitely on to something.

Peppermint, and peppermint essential oil in particular, is invaluable in treating digestive problems.  But is also a star performer for a whole host of other common ailments.  It is an incredibly versatile essential oil!

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Peppermint oil has a strong menthol aroma which is wonderfully uplifting and invigorating.  It also has powerful decongestant, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, anaesthetic, and antiseptic properties. It is a very stimulating and energising oil, which makes it great for waking you up and getting you going (the flip-side being that you should avoid it near bed time if you are prone to insomnia, as this pepped-up oil won’t help matters!).  It should be avoided altogether by people using homoeopathic remedies as the two don’t mix.

There are hundreds of ways to use peppermint essential oil, but here are some of the ones I find most routinely useful:

  • Hammer headaches by applying a couple of drops directly to the temples and firmly massaging around the temple area, at the base of the skull and over the scalp.
  • Cool a fever by applying a few drops to an icy cold damp washcloth and then applying to the forehead and torso.  This is also great for just cooling down on really hot sticky days!
  • Relieve stomach ache by drinking one drop of peppermint oil (it must be therapeutic grade oil – it will say if it is on the bottle) in a large glass of water.  If you don’t have therapeutic grade peppermint oil, try shop-bought peppermint tea.  Or make your own by bruising a couple of stems of peppermint leaves and infusing them in boiling water for a couple of minutes before drinking.
  • Nausea and travel sickness can be tackled very effectively using peppermint essential oil.  I used it during my pregnancy to quell nausea, rubbing one drop into my abdomen and inhaling deeply when it was particularly bad.  Not every essential oil is safe for use during pregnancy, but provided your pregnancy is going well, peppermint oil is one of the essential oils that is generally considered safe in small quantities.  However, if in doubt it is always best to seek advice first.
  • A drop of peppermint oil directly applied to mosquito, ant and sandfly bites is a great anti-itch treatment.  Making it worth its weight in gold out here in the tropics!
  • Feeling stressed out, anxious and exhausted? Add a couple of drops of peppermint oil to a diffuser or oil burner and enjoy the menthol vapours.  Expect to feel uplifted, energised and refreshed.  If you can, at the same time take the opportunity to sit, relax, breath deeply, and let go of your physical and mental tensions.  It works, I promise!
  • A few drops scattered over the shower floor in a steamy bathroom will help you breathe easier if you are suffering with a cold and feeling woolly-headed, bunged up and breathless.

Peppermint oil is a real mainstay in my bathroom cabinet.  But as with most essential oils, a little goes a long way.  If you want to try it for yourself, use this oil in tiny quantities, especially if applying to the skin, so as to avoid skin irritation.  And avoid using peppermint oil with young children and babies as it is too powerful for their little bodies.

Perhaps you already have a bottle in your home?  If so, how do you use it? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any tips on getting even more aroma-benefit from peppermint!