Job’s Tears or “Katigbi”: Chewing the Cud of Tear DuctsMay 31, 2015
Cadged by a teary-eyed nephew for a wallet-friendly but relevant science project he can turn up to appease some terrorist of a teacher, this elder sighs in exasperation at how menopause can touch off a contagion of jitters among the young: “Job’s tears. Your lola in Katayan (that’s the dreadful name of a community of butchers and meat stall owners in Tanauan City) has several stands she tends to. Those tears offer more than staple food for thought. Besides, my mom can use someone to share or infect her wisdom to.”
Poor kid will likely find he’d hopped from frying pan to the fire with the tongue-lashing he will get from my beloved cranky mom—that is, before she launches into her rhapsody of the curative properties of katigbi, katayan, Job’s tears, adlai, pearl barley, or Coix lacyrma-jobi. The kid will likely find those katigbi patches nearly shorn of all foliage. Naah, his granny doesn’t even touch them, but folks from near and far make it a pilgrimage of sorts to ask the abuelita for stems, leaves, roots, and fruits for relief to a host of ailments.
The kid was told to dig up on katigbi as food staple in lieu of rice or corn. The Gramineae, a 1965 monograph on food grasses by Agnes Arber notes that Job’s tears were brought to China in the first century A.D. by a Chinese general who overran Tongking where katigbi grains were eaten as a cereal. He had become so fond of the food grain that he brought back to his country several cartloads of the seeds.
‘An army walks on its stomach,’ so counseled Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War,’ and that grizzled warmonger must have taken a liking for katigbi– its grains are softer in texture, more compact, and of better eating quality compared to white corn grits. It looks and tastes just like rice to the average tongue; the more discriminating palate will divine the faint sweetness and the subtle scent akin to fragrant screw fine’s (pandan) as the grain is chewed through.
That Chinese general of yore must have reckoned that Job’s tears was superior to either rice or corn— because the full-tummy feeling lasts longer than a rice- or corn-based repast, why, a 100-gram serving of Job’s tears packs 74 grams of carbs and 13 grams of protein; unpolished and well-milled rice contains between 23 – 28 grams of carbs, and below 3 grams of protein.
In a mawkish childhood past, this elder had fun stringing those sturdy so-polished teardrops into bracelets and macramé bags, sometimes used teardrop with its wisp of sturdy stem as ammo for a makeshift gun. Except for an enterprising old lady I ran into in the 1990s, she culled sheaves of that grass growing along ditches, sold them to a florist for use as accents in floral arrangements, nobody was really interested in Job’s tears; but hey, watercolorist Alfredo Liongoren used the motif in an entire series of paintings from 2001-2002, in allusion to the Biblical character of such extreme patience.
But Lacryma-jobi, the Latin epithet, has nothing to do with an all-suffering Job; it refers to the tear ducts, the pair of lacrimal glands located near the eyes.
Suffer a nephew to find a trace of that precious grain in local markets, even a whit of stems and leaves in off-a-church herbal remedy stalls. The tears are cherished by hinterland tribes, say, Subanen farmers of the Zamboanga Peninsula who grow katigbi alongside palay to shield the crop from insect pests. Unlike rice, katigbi doesn’t need fertilizers, will grow in all types of soil, and provides a year-round harvest of grains that can go into an array ofkakanin (mature grains can be husked, eaten as is, tastes a tad closer topinipig) or as staple food.
A hapless nephew eyeing a science project that can be done in a jiffy ought to find himself swamped by his abuelita’s anecdotes how her katigbi patches had somehow turned into a pharmacy of sorts. And stacks of recent findings can attest to the wonders of katigbi in fighting allergies, bad cholesterol, cancer (leukemia included), stomach ulcers, renal disorders, and osteoporosis, among many others.
He can also cite a December 2000 of the ‘Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine’ in which katigbi extracts had reduced painful menstrual symptoms by 90 percent—that ought to elicit a huge smile from that terrorist of a menopausal spinster, umm, science teacher.