Gardening

with Lee Mullen

Carob Tree (St. John’s Bread or Locust)

Carob pods
Green and ripe pods

The Carob tree (from Hebrew: Charuv), Ceratonia siliqua, is an evergreen shrub or tree native to the Mediterranean region, cultivated for its edible seed pods.

This moderately growing tree can reach up to 10 metres tall. The crown is broad and supported by a thick trunk, brown rough bark and sturdy branches. Leaves are 10—20 cm long, alternate, pinnate. The flowers are a green-tinted red, small, numerous, and about 6—12 mm long and unfortunately, very smelly! The fruit is a pod which can be long, straight or curved, and thick. Carob is a member of the pea family, and as such its roots host bacteria. This converts nitrogen which can be used by plants to make food.

It grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas and tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. It is a very drought-resistant tree, well adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean region.

Carob tree
Ceratonia siliqua: Carob tree with un-ripe pods

Also known as St John’s Bread or Locust (rumour has that this is the Locusts and honey that John the Baptist ate). Carob provides good sustenance during times when other crops are scarce and is a traditional feed for livestock in many areas.

In the Middle East, it is used as a snack or treat. It is said to have laxative qualities. Moreover, the crushed pods are used to make a refreshing drink with a distinctive taste.

Carob is often eaten fresh, put in cakes, icing, and sometimes cookies. The seeds themselves are used as animal feed. They are also the source of locust bean gum, a thickening agent.

Carob pods were the most important source of sugar before sugarcane and sugar beets became widely available. Nowadays, the seeds are processed for the use in cosmetics, curing tobacco, and making paper.

Also known in alternative culture as “Hippie Chocolate”, the flesh of the carob pods is occasionally claimed to taste similar to sweetened cocoa, (For this reason, it is considered non-toxic to dogs, and is used in dog treats such as Carob Chip Cookies). Mixed with saturated fats like butter, it is used to make a sweet confection, considered chocolate-like by some, that is usually referred to simply as “carob.”

I have seen this tree planted in many a street and garden in Australia and it is widely available in nurseries. Certainly ideal for a water wise garden or verge.

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