It might look like a banana but an Ensete, or an Enset, is the 'false banana' and this plant has recently featured on the BBC news and other news outlets.
The news story is that the enset might be a vital new food that will help feed millions across Africa. The fruit of the Enset is not edible but stems and root can be fermented to make a sort of bread and/or porridge. This matters as it could help provide food where climate change is creating uncertainty. In Ethiopia this plant is already grown as a food crop but not generally elsewhere. "The plant is almost unknown outside of Africa" the BBC tell us and at that I pause. Is the Enset anything to do with the Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelli' that I and many other gardeners grow? Beloved for its dark red foliage and for looking like a fancy banana.
This reminded me about when learning about the Hokkaido Millennium Forest Project . It is now four years (four years!) since I attended the Beth Chatto Symposium where Dan Pearson and Midori Shintani talked about the development of the forest. One of the things they talked about was that when the forest areas were being planted up, many of the plants had to be protected from visitors eating them. Many of the plants they were talking about are ones we grow as ornamentals and which I had no idea that they were edible. Now I could write many volumes on all I do not know about plants being edible or not. I am renowned for not eating raw vegetation (salad! raw fruit picked from a tree! yuk!) but I do eat vegetables if slightly cooked and apple crumble is good. Boiled lettuce I draw the line at. I know as I write this I am lucky, nay privileged to be able to be this picky. The cucumber I discard from my bought sandwich is a waste, I know this. In my hamster keeping days, many decades ago now, I used to take my discarded salad from garnishes and sandwiches home for the hamblers. I suppose now I should do so for the compost heap. It did mean I would find soggy serviettes with wilted salad in my pockets if I forgot about it; which I did with regularity.
I read the BBC article again and I look to my Ensete overwintering in the conservatory. Am I suggesting that I boil up the stems and ferment them for six months to make porridge? No but I am looking at it and thinking about buying a food stuff for decoration and whether my buying this could lead to someone else not having enough food. It might not be that direct a correlation and yet it gives me concern. It gives me concerns about food waste in general and about the lack of availability of food across the world and of course in this country as well. I think about food banks, about community planting projects and all the ways that some people do what they can and yet so many go without.
and let's face it, I am having these thoughts knowing that I grow ginger plants for decoration, why have they not troubled me in the same way? I know I am not a saint, I also know I need to think about these things more.
So I need to be more aware. I am not saying I will always make the 'right' choice, but I will try to make informed choices. At least then if I know it is not the best choice I can decide if I can justify it before committing. This will be work in progress.
Stay safe and be kind.