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  • Writer's pictureHummingbird Retreat

Week 44

Wildlife Wonder- Spices

Grenada is known as the Isle of Spice because of the many spices that it grows and exports. Each of these plants was originally ‘wildlife wonders’ before they were cultivated and there are still forms of these spices growing in the wild. I am often curious as to how people first discovered how these various plants could be used in these ways. For example, how did people discover that the inner bark of a cut-down cinnamon tree could be used to flavour food, once it is dried and curled up? Who first was willing to taste a piece of ginger to know that it had flavour rather than be deadly poisonous?!

The most common souvenirs from Grenada are spice baskets with bags of spices like the photo above. In the centre of the photo is a nutmeg and these were featured in an earlier blog (week 36). People also sell spice necklaces that can be hung in kitchens as aromatic decorations and most food here is full of spice, though not often hot, as you may find in dishes of other tropical countries.

Spices have various health benefits. For example, ginger is supposed to improve digestion and lower blood sugar so it can help with diabetes. Cloves are also known to have these benefits and because they contain a natural anaesthetic they can help with toothache and are sometimes added to toothpaste and mouthwash.

The traditional Christmas meal here is a large, glazed ham, often accompanied with rice and pies and macaroni pie. Another traditional Christmas food is the Black cake which is a dense cake full of rum-soaked fruit. So I’m sure there will be plenty of spices being used over this festive season. So if you are in the UK, or another part of the world, and you are enjoying the season of mulled wine and spiced stollen, just remember that some of those spices may have started their lives on the Isle of Spice and travelled all the way from Grenada!

Grenadian Gift- Sorrel

Sorrel is the Caribbean name for the hibiscus plant known as Roselle which grows about 1.5 metres and has long, slim green leaves. It is native to India but is now popular here and in a field nearby there are Sorrel bushes, planted in neat rows. Sorrel is associated with Christmas because it flowers at this time of year and the flowers are harvested to make a Sorrel drink.

The sepals of the flowers are dried and then sold in dried form, like the photo below. They can then be soaked overnight in boiling water with ginger and other spices. Sugar and lemon juice are added according to taste and of course, rum can also be added! 


Reflections from the Retreat

On the Wednesday before Christmas, we had a huge storm and the rain caused flooding and landslides in the area. One of the places badly affected was the local water system with fallen trees breaking pipes and other pipes were dislodged by the landslide. So on Thursday our water supply stopped. Thankfully the water board, known as NAWASA here, gave regular updates on their Facebook page. They also posted videos of their team of workers using cutlasses to clear fallen trees and precariously crossing slippery and muddy landslides to replace broken pipes. They provided trucks delivering water around the affected areas, but it wasn’t clear where the trucks would be or at what time. So I made do with the limited supply I had collected before the taps dried up but it was challenging not knowing when we would have water back. I pictured grandmothers wanting to cook Christmas cakes and treats for the family, mothers having to ration the water for thirsty children and workers coming in from a day in the fields desperate for a refreshing shower. Thankfully on Saturday morning, we woke to discover water had returned! It made me really appreciate turning on a tap and finding that I had water and I don’t think I’ve ever sung Hallelujah in the shower before. It was as if Christmas had come early!

Talking of Christmas, you may be wondering how my first Christmas has been here. Well, better than I expected. Of course, I have had a few tearful moments such as when we sang ‘O come all ye faithful’ in a church a week before Christmas. When we sang the last verse I remembered how my Mum always says we shouldn’t sing that verse unless it’s Christmas day. I missed the family traditions of doing the ‘big day’ as we’ve always done it, so that it feels like Christmas and of course, I missed not being with my children, and my dog on Christmas day.

However, I have my new ginger kitten, Cosmos, and he has kept me very busy. He is very inquisitive and likes to join in when I am tapping on my keyboard or trying to ‘help’ me with my jigsaw. Thankfully he sleeps as much as he likes to run around the room and play and he is good company, despite me being slightly allergic to cats!

I also have good neighbours and new friends and a group of us met at one of the local beaches for Christmas lunch. There was a BBQ and, as always, plenty to drink and it was good to see friends that I haven't seen for a while and to make a few new ones. It was refreshingly novel to go for a swim and then eat Christmas cake and mince pies on the beach!


When I last visited Grand Anse a few weeks ago, I was drawn to the Catholic Church by the music that was being played and I discovered this lovely nativity scene, in the video below. According to the noticeboard, they had had a nativity play and I wondered if the donkeys had been part of this. You may hear the crunching of nutmeg shells, which are often used for paths in Grenada and see the lizard slipping under the nativity scene.  

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