Filipinos are familiar with the sayote, but not everyone knows its origins and its many uses.
BY ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
SAGADA, Mountain Province — Filipinos are familiar with sayote (Sechium edule) but not everyone knows that this vegetable was introduced by the Spaniards.
Sayote (called chayote by Spaniards) was introduced in Sagada sometime in 1922 by Spanish soldier-turned-farmer Jaime P. Masferre, the father of the legendary photo-artist Eduardo L. Masferre. The older Masferre introduced fruits and vegetables of Spanish origin in the Philippines.
The older Masferre brought the first sayote from Mexico when he and his son came back to the Philippines. They were on their way home after Eduardo lived in Spain for his elementary education, according to the June-July 1995 issue of the Sagada Postboy, a publication of the Saint Mary’s School, an American-established school in Sagada.
In an article written by Bartholomeo Dao-as, Eduardo’s maternal cousin, the father and son returned home from Spain to Sagada in 1922. That was after the older brother of Eduardo died and after Eduardo finished his elementary education in Spain.
The Sagada Postboy traced that when the first sayote were then propagated in Sagada, “it eventually spread throughout the Cordillera as perhaps the most sustainable vegetable in the region,” according to an article written by then Sagada Mayor Thomas Killip.
Masferre established in Batalao, Sagada a 32-hectare farm, which was later reduced to 21 due to land claimants, said Jake Masferre Reyes, Jaime’s great grandson by Eduardo. The older Masferre had in his farm sayote and other foreign fruits and vegetables. However, with a cultural system where seeds and products were communal, he shared the propagated sayote and other plants with the Sagada residents.
“The chayote (or sayote) has climbed its way into the most barren and rocky terrains,” stated the Sagada Postboy.
Sayote survived in the Cordillera because its climate is similar to that of Mexico. In an article by R. Lira Saade of the National Herbarium of Mexico, chayote has been cultivated in Mexico since the pre-Columbian times. The plant’s common names of native origin, like the Mexican Nahuatl’s chayote or chayotli, are concentrated mainly in Mexico and Central America. She said the species was “undoubtedly domesticated within the cultural area of Mesoamerica, and specifically in the region lying between south Mexico and Guatemala.”
Saade added that chayote is grown in the area preferably between 800 and 1,800 meters in altitude. In Oaxaca, Bolivia and Chihuahua, Mexico, it is cultivated above 2,000 meters.
With the similarities in climate and altitude, sayote survived well in the Cordillera. The altitude explains also why it failed to survive in areas with lower altitude like the Cagayan and Ilocos regions.
The sayote was soon called the “hanging green gold” due to its economic value and resilient character, able to survive tough conditions. The Sagada Postboy said sayote is high-yielding while requiring little input. It is also environment-friendly as it is non-polluting.
Ready food, medicine
In Sagada and the whole of Cordillera, sayote provides ready foods from its uggot (tops) and fruits. Uggot can be prepared easily like the fruits which can be chopped and added to the etag (Igorot ham), with or without chicken.
Surplus sayote is also used as alternative animal feeds. In fact, Dao-as said that Eduardo Masferre used sayote to feed his hogs, poultry and rabbit in Batalao and recycled, on the other hand, the wastes of these animals as fertilizers for his sayote and other plants.
The sayote root is not much utilized for food by the Cordillerans, unlike Mexico’s indigenous Mayans who also eat the starchy roots – like the fruits and tops – and added it to beans. Sayote was also the staple food of the indigenous Aztecs in Mexico. At present, sayote can be prepared and eaten raw as salad. It may be stuffed and baked and may be prepared mashed, fried or boiled. It can also be used as soup or cream.
Unknown to many, however, the sayote is also a medicinal plant. Its leaves can be made into tea. It can dissolve kidney stones. On the other hand, it is also used to treat hypertension and arteriosclerosis, according to an article on sayote history and lore on the Internet. (Bulatlat.com)