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Sausage fruits can grow to be very large, averaging 30 to 99 centimeters in length and 15 to 20 centimeters in diameter, and have a cylindrical shape with rounded ends. The skin is rough, thick, hard, and ranges in color from brown, grey, to grey-green. Underneath the surface, the flesh is very dense, fibrous, and ivory to pale green, encasing many light brown, oval seeds. Sausage fruits are poisonous when raw and must be cooked, developing a neutral, somewhat astringent taste with bitter undertones.
Sausage fruits have varying seasons when grown in the northern and southern hemispheres. In its native land of sub-Saharan Africa, the fruits are harvested in the summer through early winter.
Sausage fruits, botanically classified as Kigelia Africana, are woody berries that grow in clusters attached to long, rope-like stems, dangling from the branches of a large, fast-growing tree. In Africa, Kigelia Africana trees are commonly found beside bodies of water, including rivers, streams, and ponds, and the trees are also seen along floodplains in the African savanna. The trees are often found thriving in harsh environments, and among native tribes, plants that are closely connected to water sources are considered to be sacred and hold many life-giving properties. The fruit, flowers, leaves, and wood of the tree are used in traditional medicinal practices, and no part of the tree is wasted as it is also used for construction materials and culinary purposes. Kigelia Africana trees are highly regarded as an ornamental tree, favored for its crimson, hanging flowers that bloom at night. The pollinated flowers give way to the oblong fruits, which can grow to weigh over nine kilograms, and both the flowers and the fruits are an important food source for native animal species such as primates, hippos, giraffes, and elephants.
Sausage fruits are a good source of phosphorus, essential fatty acids, and are known to have anti-microbial properties, which can help reduce symptoms associated with eczema and skin irritations when applied topically. In Africa, the fruit is also commonly cooked, ground into a powder, made into a paste with oil, and applied to the face to improve skin complexion. In addition to the fruits, the leaves of the tree provide magnesium, iron, amino acids, and calcium.
Sausage fruits are poisonous when raw and must be cooked before consumption. The fruits are mainly considered to be a medicinal ingredient, but they are sometimes eaten by roasting, baking, drying, or fermenting. Cooked Sausage fruits are frequently consumed with other foraged ingredients such as fruits, nuts, and roots, and can be incorporated into meals of stewed meats, porridges, or carbohydrate-heavy items such as rice, beans, and potatoes. The seeds can also be roasted and consumed as a nutty, crunchy snack. In Central Kenya, Sausage fruits are used to increase the fermentation process of a local beer. The fruits must be dried in the sun before use, and depending on the maker, it is sometimes treated with honey and bee pollen or fermented in sugar cane juice and dried again to remove toxins. The fruits are then combined into a mixture and left to complete the fermentation process, creating a pungent, slightly sour beverage, and the drink is traditionally consumed at large gatherings and local events. Sausage fruits will keep for a couple of weeks when stored whole and uncut in a cool, dry, and dark place.
In Africa, Sausage fruits are deeply intertwined into the culture and lifeblood of many tribes. The tree is seen as holy, and important gatherings, meetings, and rituals are often held at the base of the tree. It is also believed by some tribes that the fruits are a symbol of human bodies, and when someone dies unexpectedly away from the tribe, a fruit is buried in place of the body. Beyond spiritual uses, Sausage fruits are widely used for their tough, outer skin, and the fruits are hollowed and constructed into bowls and containers. They are also carved into relics, dolls, and instruments, and the pulp of the fruit is used to produce a red fabric dye.
Sausage fruits are native to sub-Saharan Africa and have been growing wild since ancient times. The seeds of the trees were spread by humans to Australia, the Philippines, and Asia, where it became largely naturalized throughout India. Today Sausage fruits are still considered to be somewhat rare, localized to select regions around the world, but they can also be found in limited supply through specialty growers in the United States. Kigelia Africana trees are notably grown at the San Diego Safari Park and Zoo in San Diego, California.