I don’t remember all that much about my schooldays, more important things have happened since. But I clearly remember one lesson. Mr Clifford, the science teacher, was explaining the structure of an atom. Someone asked the inevitable question “but if we can’t see it, how do we know it is there?” “Ah”, said Mr Clifford tapping the table in front of him, “but how do we know anything is there, how do we know this table is here? But”, he said, “that’s philosphy.”
That question really caught my imagination, and years later when I was studying philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, I read Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosphy where that question about the table comes under discussion. As does another question: that of truth and knowledge. Simply put, I know all bachelors are men because that lies within the very meaning of the word men “bachelor”. Similarly, can I know that all swans are white? No, I have to keep seeing swans and noting their whiteness. One day I’ll go to Australia, or the zoo, and see a black swan. Whiteness is not a defining factor of swans; that was Russell’s point.
It was buchu that led to these musings as the dogs and I ran this morning. We grow buchu commercially and I always have the notion that buchu flowers are white. As we peaked at the highest point of the run and headed down the moutain (always a very happy moment in the morning run) I suddenly saw this flash of lilac.
Buchu – in this case a hybrid of Agthomsa Crenulata, with an unusual mauve coloured flower
I stopped at once, and low and behold it was a little buchu plant, a hybrid from the farm, with lilac coloured flowers. They were hard to photograph in the dim morning light – I can’t wait for the days to lengthen so that photography becomes easier in the early mornings when I run. Where did this purple come from?
In referring to the books, buchu, or Agthomsa as it is properly known, can indeed flower in mauve. Rather like a swan can be black.
The buchu harvested on our farm is mostly a hybrid. The oils are distilled from the leaves and is used in the European food flavouring and perfume industry, mostly for its strong blackcurrent flavour and smell. Here in South Africa it is used medicinally, it is one of the oldest medicinal flowers in the Cape, indeed in the world. Personally I believe in its natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and I love its aniseed, fennel like flavour and drink a cup or two most days.
Agthomsa crenulata hypbrid: this plant is farmed here and harvested for its essential oils
The other highly aromatic plant on the farm at this time of year is the wild rosemary. This grey scrubby bush used to irritate me, but no longer. Running my hand down the leaves and smelling the rosemary scent, seeing the lands full of shrubs and this exquisite, delicate flower has become a winter joy.
Eriocephalus africanus or wild rosemary
Wild rosemary has taken over this land on the lower slopes of the farm
We are enjoying a mid-winter break at the moment. Winters in the Cape can be long and stormy and sometimes quite cold. This year we are enjoying a warm July. Here in Africa the temperatures are as warm as an Irish summer – over 25 degrees during the day. It’s a bit confusing for the poor plants though and I’m sure we’ll see some strange flowering dates as a result.
The mornings are clear and lovely. As we ran we saw the first rays of sun over the Simmonsberg to the South West. A joyous morning.
The first rays of sun on the Simonsberg