How Wild Schisandra Berry Helps to Protect China’s Giant Pandas

Kristina Johnson wrote . . . . . .

In the cool mountains of the Upper Yangtze region, Chinese villagers clamber up dogwood and maple trees to gather what Dr. Oz has called a “miracle anti-aging pill.” The small, red schisandra berry has a peculiar taste — five tastes, in fact, because it’s considered to be at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.

Chinese restaurants serve it macerated in alcohol from tall glass containers, like the office water cooler, where customers can fill a cup. Long before it became a “superfood” in the U.S., schisandra was made into bright-colored juices, jams and savory soups. It has always been a medicinal plant, prized for its ability to calm chronic coughs, night sweats, incontinence and insomnia. But now the berry is at the center of a dramatic new approach to conservation, helping to save both the forest where it grows — one of the most biodiverse places on the planet — and the villagers who harvest it.

Across China, families are allotted farm plots by the government. For years, people in the Upper Yangtze pooled resources to supplement what they could grow on their own with communal fields of corn and other staples on the high slopes surrounding their homes — crops they sold for extra cash.

But as the hills were stripped to make way for farms and logging, the mountains started to break with mudslides and rockslides. That destroyed forests where the vast majority of the country’s commercially harvested medicinal plants, like magnolia bulbs and angelica roots, are found, as well as crucial habitat for the Giant Panda.

In the late 1990s, the government banned timber operations on the hillsides. Later, in a program called “Grain for Green,” it barred agriculture on the tall slopes, too. It was salvation for the forests, but the farmers had to scramble to replace the lost income. Families started gathering more wild plants than ever, ripping entire schisandra vines from trees to get as many berries as possible. This not only killed the plants, but also spread the foragers’ human scent, scaring panda mothers who then abandoned their babies.

It was a lose-lose in terms of biodiversity, and the obvious response seemed to be to end the schisandra harvest, even if the villagers suffered as a result. But that’s where this conservation story takes an unusual turn.

In 2008, Josef Brinckmann, an ethnobotanist and research fellow in medicinal plants at Traditional Medicinals tea company, traveled to the Upper Yangtze. He believed that the solution, both for schisandra and the people collecting it, wasn’t to ban wild harvests, but to improve and encourage them.

“Rural villagers understand the environments where they live better than anyone,” he says.

Two years later, Brinckmann was part of a team, along with members of the World Wildlife Federation, the Swiss and German governments, and other groups, that created the FairWild standard — the first verification system to focus on both environmental conditions and labor practices in the wild-plant industry.

Under FairWild, indigenous and rural groups around the world are trained in sustainable harvesting methods, allowing them to secure contracts to sell their products for higher prices. Under the program, villagers are rewarded for protecting their landscapes and seen as keepers of often ancient botanical knowledge.

Around the world, 19 plant species in 10 countries are now certified under FairWild, and at least 1,000 households in Central Europe, Africa and Asia are involved. That amounts to about 300 tons of plant material each year, with Roma collectors in Hungary and Bosnia filling sacks with rose hips and nettles, while families in Kazakhstan dig for licorice roots.

Many of the collectors around the world are elderly or women and children, who otherwise depend on subsistence farming. But many are also completely landless.

“Wild harvesters are often some of the poorest people, because they don’t have access to land to farm,” says Anastasiya Timoshyna, the medicinal plants program leader at TRAFFIC, an anti-wildlife-trafficking organization that helped create FairWild.

Instead, these gatherers, like the villagers in China’s Upper Yangtze, are quietly responsible for maintaining the world’s supply of wild plants, a supply that provides medicine — as well as food — for up to 80 percent of the developing world.

“The biggest threat to biodiversity is farming and development, not over-harvesting wild plants,” says Brinckmann.

In fact, a fifth of wild plant species today face extinction, and a third are threatened, because agriculture — more than any other factor — is consuming their habitat, according to the Kew Garden’s “State of the World’s Plants” report.

“If you don’t assign a value to a forest or a meadow, local people will switch to farming or grazing,” says Brinckmann.

Of course, neither was an option for the villagers of the Upper Yangtze, whose situation looked even more difficult after a massive earthquake hit in 2008, killing 69,000 people and leaving nearly 5 million homeless. Before the earthquake, collecting medicinal plants made up as much as 40 percent of an average household’s cash income. After the earth stopped shaking, restoring the wild-plant economy became a national priority.

With help from the EU-China Biodiversity Program, World Wildlife Fund-China, and the United Nations Development Program, the Chinese government put the FairWild standard in place. Researchers like Brinckmann trained local schisandra pickers to gather berries only from the lower two-thirds of the vine, leaving the rest for birds and wildlife that would spread the seeds through the forest.

Collectors also avoided Giant Panda breeding areas, one of a number of protection efforts that seem to be working. Last year, the Giant Panda’s status improved from “endangered” to “threatened,” after a 17-percent rise in population from 1994.

Today, the schisandra project has helped families set up a 23-village cooperative and establish contracts with buyers, including Traditional Medicinals, that pay a set price that is at least 30 percent more than the market rate. Once the Chinese government finishes training inspectors to carry out FairWild certifications (hopefully later this year), the schisandra harvesters will be officially certified under the label, though they currently abide by all of its requirements.

Convinced by the results, the villagers in the co-op already want to expand their offerings. Each time the foragers add a new plant to the FairWild list, they have to design a management plan not just for that bush or berry, but for the entire micro-ecosystem where it grows. Keeping one species healthy means keeping hundreds of others safer, too.

Source: Food & Environment Reporting Network


Thai-style Egg Custard Dessert


2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons whole cloves
300 ml cream
1 cup water
1/2 cup palm sugar, chopped
280 g can coconut milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten


  1. Preheat the oven to warm 160°C (315°F).
  2. Place spices, cream and water in a medium pan. Bring to simmering point. Reduce the heat to very low and leave for 5 minutes to allow the spices to flavour the liquid.
  3. Add the sugar and coconut milk to the pan. Return to low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a medium bowl until combined. Pour the spiced mixture over the eggs and stir to combine. Strain into a jug and discard the whole spices. Pour the custard mixture into eight 1/2-cup ramakin.
  5. Place ramekins in a baking dish.Add hot water to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
  6. nsert a knife in the centre of one of the custards to check if they are set. The mixture should be only slightly wobbly. Carefully remove the custards from the baking dish. Serve hot or chilled with a little whipped cream and toasted coconut shreds.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Step-by-step Thai Cooking

Character Snack: Sweet Penguin Buns

Sweet Bean Paste Filling

Green Tea Flavoured Filling

Video: Bagels Are New York City’s Tastiest Jewish Tradition

Brought to New York shores by waves of Eastern European immigrants around the turn of the 20th century, bagels and bialys quickly became a culinary totem of vibrant Jewish enclaves springing up in Manhattan and Brooklyn. And while bagels weren’t invented by New York’s Jews (of which there are around 1.5 million today), they remain a doughy, delicious symbol of the community’s unique culinary heritage. These days, Americans — Jew, gentile, whatever — eat just shy of $1 billion worth of that symbol every year.

Watch video at You Tube (4:30 minutes) . . . . .

Type 1 Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Rose Kivi and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD wrote . . . . . . .

What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease. In type 1 diabetes, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin are destroyed, and the body is unable to make insulin. While the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, it is thought to be an autoimmune response; something, such as a virus, triggers the body’s immune system to create an antibody that kills the cells in the pancreas responsible for making insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that helps to lower blood sugar by allowing sugar to pass from the blood into the cells. When there is no insulin, blood sugar, called glucose, builds up in the blood. Glucose is a natural sugar that your body uses as a source of energy. It is obtained from food. Extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscle tissues. It is released when extra energy is needed, such as between meals or when sleeping. Normal levels of blood sugar are helpful, but when it builds up, it can cause both short term and long term problems.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas. These are the cells that create insulin. People with type 1 diabetes cannot make enough insulin to control their blood sugar.

The reasons why the immune system attacks beta cells are unknown.

Who Is at Risk for Type 1 Diabetes?

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes are poorly understood. However, some factors have been tentatively identified.

Heredity may be important in some cases of type 1 diabetes. If you have a family member with the condition, your risk of developing it is increased. Several genes have been tentatively linked to this condition. However, not everyone who is at risk for type 1 diabetes develops the condition. It is believed that there must be some type of trigger that causes type 1 diabetes to develop.

Younger people are more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The most common age of diagnosis is between 11 and 14 years old. It is rarely diagnosed after age 40.

Cold weather may increase risk for type 1 diabetes, so those who live in cold climates may have a higher risk. People in Finland are approximately 300 times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those in the United States.

People with certain antibodies may also have a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. These antibodies, which are made by the body in response to certain viruses, are found in some people years before the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. It is also thought that viruses may play a role in developing diabetes.

Race may be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes. It is more common in Caucasians than in those of Asian and African descent.

Finally, early diet may play a role, since those who are breastfed and introduced to solids foods later show a lower risk of type 1 diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes usually develops more quickly than type 2 diabetes, which can take years. The following symptoms may be signs of type 1 diabetes:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • blurry vision
  • fatigue
  • excessive urination
  • dramatic weight loss in a short period of time
  • numbness or lack of sensation in the feet
  • Symptoms of ketoacidosis (rapid breathing, dry skin and mouth, flushed face, fruity breath odor, nausea, vomiting or stomach pain)

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor.

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosed?

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed through a series of tests. Because type 1 diabetes often develops quickly, people are diagnosed when they have signs and symptoms of high blood sugar and their blood glucose level is over 200 mg/dL.

A fasting blood test can be used to diagnose type 1 diabetes.

In this test, you fast overnight before having your blood sugar tested. It is more reliable than a random test. A value of less than 100 mg/dL is considered normal. A value of 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL indicates pre-diabetes. Someone with a value of 126 mg/dL or a higher is diagnostic for diabetes.

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Treated?

Because the body no longer makes insulin, people with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin and manage their diet and exercise to keep blood sugars within a healthy range.


People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin everyday. The insulin is usually administered by injection. However, some people use an insulin pump. The pump injects insulin through a port in their skin. It can be easier for some people than sticking themselves with a needle. It may also level out blood sugar highs and lows.

Insulin needs vary throughout the day. People with type 1 diabetes regularly measure their blood sugar to figure out how much insulin they need. Both diet and exercise can affect blood sugar levels.

Diet and Exercise

People with type 1 diabetes should eat regular meals and snacks to keep blood sugar stable. A dietitian familiar with diabetes can help to establish a healthy, balanced eating plan. Exercise also affects blood sugar and insulin amounts may need to be adjusted to account for this.

Foot Care

Type 1 diabetes can damage the nerves, especially in the feet. Small cuts can quickly turn into severe ulcers and infections. Therefore, diabetes treatment should include regular foot checks. Injuries should be brought to the attention of a doctor.

What Are Complications of Type 1 Diabetes?

High blood sugar levels can cause damage to various parts of the body. Poorly managed diabetes increases the risk of these complications, which include:

  • increased heart attack risk
  • eye problems, including blindness
  • nerve pain
  • infections on the skin, especially the feet, that could require amputation in serious cases
  • kidney damage
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

What is the Prognosis for Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes can be managed with proper treatment. People who manage their diabetes can live a healthy life.

Source: healthline

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