As head of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers on the Big Island, Ken Love often gets asked to talk to folk about what he does and how to do what he does. This week, he’s in L.A. and I was invited to go a gathering of neighbors at the Hollywoodland Orchard to hear him talk about fruit trees – how to propagate them, how to feed them, how to trim them, and how to love them.
I think the original plan was to talk to us about how to prune citrus, specifically one particularly rambly lemon tree on the property. But we’re in mid fruit and flower right now — pruning now would “confuse” the happy tree — so he suggested we work on, “that poor loquat,” that was shading the ground behind him instead.
That “poor loquat” actually looked pretty spectacular to me — tall, big broad leaves, and lots of potential little loquats (those will be ready for harvest in May). Ken’s worked with loquats for over 30 years and some of that time was spent in Japan, where they’ve not only mastered the peculiar art of growing big and juicy loquats (a complete mystery to me up until now), but they’ve bred over 600 varieties of them.
I’ve never liked loquats. Or rather, I never liked the loquats from my tree. They have always been more seed than fruit and had all the sweetness of soaked paper towel. But it turns out that’s what you get when you don’t actually tend to your loquat tree. I can leave my navel orange and lemon trees alone and they’ll give me big juicy fruit each season. Do that with a loquat and you get what you give.
Who knew having all these little fruits on the tree was actually a bad thing? Proper pruning for big fleshy fruit dictates only the three base fruits of the crown remain. I spent part of my morning carefully clipping excess fruit bud off of my tree.
I also harvested some leaves. Ken blew my mind when he told me the leaves (which I needed to thin out anyway) would make a passable tea. Not only was it a nice way to achieve a homegrown cuppa, but the tea would allegedly help me with my lungs. I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma about a decade ago and breathing in the colder months can sometimes be a bit of a chore, especially post-cold and cough. I had been growing and ignoring a potential medicinal helpmate this whole time?
Even after working for the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Maryland, even after benefiting from acupuncture and various holistic herbal therapies, I am still an “alternative medicine” skeptic. I question its real efficacy all the time, and often wonder if it’s mostly my desire for it to actually work that manifests a result. Placebos anyone? This makes me a flawed test subject for things like checking how much better I feel after drinking my homegrown loquat tea. As much as I question it, I am also, thankfully, curious. After checking to make sure the tea wasn’t actually toxic or potentially harmful, I plowed forward, washing leaves in preparation for dehydration.
My worst chest congestion and breathing issues occur first thing in the morning, linking perfectly with my preferred tea time. Loquat tea is called Biwa-cha in Japan. A lil research, a lil testing, and voila, I had a sizable tin of dried leaf flakes ready for brewing. I set them aside and waited for sunrise.
How to prepare Biwa-cha and the results…tomorrow.