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Alexander von Humboldt: „The palo de vaca or cow-tree“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <https://humboldt.unibe.ch/text/1818-Sur_le_Lait-69-neu> [abgerufen am 24.03.2023].

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Titel The palo de vaca or cow-tree
Jahr 1853
Ort Enniskillen
Nachweis
in: The Fermanagh Mail and Enniskillen Chronicle 2869 (13. Januar 1853), [o. S.].
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Spaltensatz; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung.
Identifikation
Textnummer Druckausgabe: III.56
Dateiname: 1818-Sur_le_Lait-69-neu
Statistiken
Seitenanzahl: 1
Zeichenanzahl: 5962

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|Seitenumbruch|

the palo de vaca or cow-tree.

We had heard, several weeks before, of a tree, thesap of which is a nourishing milk. It is called ‘thecow-tree’; and we were assured that the negroes ofthe farm, who drink plentifully of this vegetable milk,consider it a wholesome aliment. All the milkyjuices of plants being acrid, bitter, and more or lesspoisonous, this account appeared to us very extra-ordinary; but we found by experience during ourstay at Barbula, that the virtues of this tree had notbeen exaggerated. This fine tree rises like the broad-leaved star-apple. Its oblong and pointed leaves,rough and alternate, are marked by lateral ribs,prominent at the lower surface, and parallel. Someof them are ten inches long. We did not see theflower: the fruit is somewhat fleshy, and containsone and sometimes two nuts. When incisions aremade in the trunk of this tree, it yields abundanceof a glutinous milk, tolerably thick, devoid of allacridity, and of an agreeable and balmy smell.It was offered to us in the shell of a Calabash. Wedrank considerable quantities of it in the eveningbefore we went to bed, and very early in the morn-ing, without feeling the least injurious effect. Theviscosity of this milk alone renders it a little dis-agreeable. The negroes and the free people whowork in the plantations drink it, dipping into ittheir bread of maize or cassava. The overseer of thefarm told us that the negroes grow sensibly fatterduring the season when the palo de vaca furnishesthem with most milk. This juice, exposed to theair, presents at its surface (perhaps in conse-quence of the absorption of the atmosphericoxygen) membranes of a strongly animalised sub-stance, yellowish, stringy, and resembling cheese.These membranes, separated from the rest of themore aqueous liquid, are elastic, almost like caout-chouc; but they undergo, in time, the same pheno-mena of putrefaction as gelatine. The people callthe coagulum that separates by the contact of theair, cheese. This coagulum grows sour in the spaceof five or six days, as I observed in the small por-tions which I carried to Nueva Valencia. The milkcontained in a stopped phial, had deposited a littecoagulum; and, far from becoming fetid, it exhaledconstantly a balsamic odour. The fresh juice mixedwith cold water was scarcely coagulated at all; but onthe contact of nitric acid the separation of the viscousmembranes took place. We sent two bottles of this milk to M. Fourcry at Paris: in one, it was in its natu-ral state, and in the other, mixed with a certainquantity of carbonate of soda. The French consulresiding in the island of St. Thomas, undertook toconvey them to him. The extraordinary tree of which we have beenspeaking appears to be peculiar to the Cordilleraof the coast, particularly from Barbula to the lakeof Maracaybo. Some stocks of it exist near thevillage of San Mateo; and, according to M. Brede-meyer, whose travels have so much enriched thefine conservatories of Schonbrunn and Vienna, in thevalley of Caucagua, 3 days journey east of Caracas.This naturalist found, like us, that the vegetablemilk of the palo de vaca had an agreeable tasteand an aromatic smell. At Caucagua, the nativescall the tree that furnishes this nourishing juice, ‘themilk tree’ (arbol del leche). They profess to recog-nize, from the thickness and colour of the foliage,the trunks that yield the most juice; as the herds-man distinguishes, from external signs, a goodmilch cow. No botanist has hitherto known theexistence of this plant. It seems, according to M.Kunth, to belong to the sapota family. Long aftermy return to Europe, I found in the Descriptionof the East Indies by Laet, a Dutch Traveller, apassage that seems to have some relation to the cow-tree. “There exist trees,” says Laet, “in the provinceof Cumana, the sap of which much resembles curdledmilk, and affords a salubrious nourishment.“ Amidst the great number of curious phenomenawhich I have observed in the course of my travels,I confess there are few that have made so powerfulan impression on me as the aspect of the cow-tree.Whatever relates to milk or to corn, inspires an inte-rest which is not merely that of the physical know-ledge of things, but is connected with another orderof ideas and sentiments. We can scarcely conceivehow the human race could exist without farinaceoussubstances, and without that nourishing juices whichthe breast of the mother contains, and which is ap-propriated to the long feebleness of the infant. Theamylaceous matter of corn, the object of religiousveneration among so many nations, ancient andmodern, is diffused in the seeds, and deposited inthe roots of vegetables; milk which serves as analiment, appears to us exclusively the produce ofanimal organisation. Such are the impressionswe have received in our earliest infancy: such isalso the source of that astonishment created by theaspect of the tree just described. It is not here thesolemn shades of forests, the majestic course ofrivers, the mountains wrapped in eternal snow, thatexcite our emotion. A few drops of vegetablejuice recall to our minds all the powerfulness and thefecundity of nature. On the barren flank of a rockgrows a tree with coriaceous and dry leaves. Itslarge woody roots can scarcely penetrate into thestone. For several months of the year not a singleshower moistens its foliage. Its branches appeardead and dried; but when the trunk is pierced thereflows from it a sweet and nourishing milk. It is atthe rising of the sun that this vegetable fountain ismost abundant. The negroes and natives are then seenhastening from all quarters, furnished with largebowls to receive the milk, which grows yellow, andthickens at its surface. Some empty their bowlsunder the tree itself, others carry the juice home totheir children.—Humboldt’s Travels, in Bohn’s Scien-tific Library.