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Edible Orchids!

During February and early March this year I had the chance to contribute to the first ever Indonesian Orchid Festival held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Hundreds and thousands of visitors enjoyed amazing displays of Indonesian orchids in the tropical warmth of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Under the theme "Orchids After Hours" guests attended a series of talks including the 'behind the scenes' efforts in presenting and tending the displays, how Kew scientists are contributing to protect endangered plant life, and insights on a worldwide classification of medicinal plant names.

My talk: 'Indonesia's Spice connection' started with an edible orchid and ended with insights on the world's contribution to Indonesian cuisine. And yes vanilla is a member of the orchid family and today is the world's second most valuable spice after saffron.

Yes, Vanilla is a flowering orchid.

Vanilla was part of my childhood in North Sulawesi but the core of my talk was about nutmeg and cloves, the spices that brought the world to Indonesia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the islands of Banda - once so very famous and almost forgotten today. It's the spice trade from Indonesia that resulted in the famous swap by the English of the nutmeg growing island of Run for New York, formerly Dutch New Amsterdam.

Here's a few pictures (below) from those evenings inside the warmth of the conservatory and the clever displays of Indonesian flora and natural history. My thanks to the staff and catering team at RBG Kew who put on a lovely Indonesian menu at the gardens during the festival and support for my demo talk. I prepared litres and litres of roasted butternut squash soup plus fragrant nutmeg cloves and ginger tea for those who joined my talks - to help keep out the cold on their way home.

Photo credits: top right RBG Kew; remainder Petty Elliott.


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