November Flower of the Month: Carob Tree (MT: Siġra tal-Ħarrub) Ceratonia siliqua

November Flower of the Month:  Carob Tree (MT: Siġra tal-Ħarrub) Ceratonia siliqua

One of the most spectacular archaeophytes of Malta, introduced in ancient times, is the Carob Tree, with its dome-like canopy providing a shady refuge for both wildlife and humans all year round.

After these autumn rains it is not only the visual landscape which changes around us, but even the olfactory one as flowering male Carob trees fill the air around them with a strong smell. Carobs usually have female and male flowers on different trees and the scent will help identify them from afar.

The female flowers are scentless and, when fertilised, will produce pods. This is another great pollinator plant that provides so many insects with food after the dry season, as well as yielding a special harvest of honey with distinct qualities. As a leguminous plant, its fruits have long been used as fodder, foraging and in herbal medicine.

This photo shows the female carob flowers.

Today carob powder and its products (made from the de-seeded ripe pod) are considered as a superfood, while the seeds yield Locust bean gum, widely used in the food industry as a thickener and stabiliser. Some local farmers export the pods, but in Malta its main use in recent years has been for the production of ġulepp tal-ħarrub (a carob syrup traditionally used as a cough remedy) and karamelli tal-ħarrub, the only ‘sweets’ allowed during Lent.

This photo shows the male carob flowers.

In the previous book on Maltese medicinal plants, “Ħxejjex Mediċinali u oħrajn fil-gżejjer Maltin”, the late writer and naturalist Guido Lanfranco recalls how, during the Second World War, food was so scarce that a carob seller used to sell single pods – no wonder, as this “St John’s Bread” was well known since Biblical times as a rich source of protein and energy. Looking at the Carob Tree from a utilitarian point of view, it surely is worth its weight in gold – literally. The term carat used for weighing gold is derived from the Carob’s scientific name Ceratonia: 1 carat (a single carob seed) was standardised at 0,20 grams (though in reality the seeds do vary a bit in weight).

Check out our Community library for publications on local biodiversity!

Photos and text by Annalise Falzon