Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea

wandering-jew My interest was piqued one day at the tianguis (flea market) in Valle de Santiago when the elderly woman wrapped in her dark blue rebozo against the cold that sold us the plant (for 10 pesos). She mentioned that this plant, which I knew as Wandering Jew, was called “Sin Verguenza” (Without shame) because it propagates without any special care whatsoever.  She then said that it was good for treating diarrhea.  I had not heard anything ever before about medicinal uses of Tradescantia zebrina, so when I began my Herbal Materia Medica course through Herbal Academy, I added it to the list of herbs I wanted to investigate more thoroughly. Before I had even begun my investigation, my husband plucked and ate a leaf as a cure for his upset stomach one day.  As he didn’t die, and in fact, felt much better, I thought there might be something to this old wives’ tale. I found out that Tradescantia zebrina was native to Mexico. However, I didn’t find anything in English about its medicinal use except a vague reference to a tea made from its leaves called Matali. So that’s what I searched for.  Bingo!  Youtube video and everything!  Matali is a tea common in Tabasco used for treatment for urinary infections and kidney issues.   The preparation in the video was far from exact, so I tried digging deeper.  One recipe for a kidney cleanse instructed boiling the leaves in water and allowing it to cool.  Add lemon juice and honey.   There was no mention on how many leaves or how long to boil the concoction.   Apparently, I wasn’t the only one looking for this recipe.  Yahoo respuestas led me to yet another recipe.  There I was told that there is no exact number of leaves used in making the tea.  Boil some, taste, and if it seems weak, add some more leaves.  If it is too strong, add more water to dilute the tea.  Okie Dokie. There was a separate recipe for dysentery treatment. An unspecified number of leaves should be crushed with a bit of water. The mixture should then be strained.  Mountain honey (the best I could figure miel de monte translates as) and lemon juice are added.  This tea should be drunk 3 times a day for the duration of the illness. Much to my surprise, I found the Chinese Traditional Medicine also listed a tea made from the Wandering Jew for stomach ailments.  In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass) and is recommended for kidney issues.  Here I found some harvesting advice (don’t touch the sap because it might cause skin irritation) and a description of what the tea tastes like “slightly tasteless with a light herbal aroma having a purple/pink color after being boiled for a few hours.” A few HOURS?  Well, that’s still not specific enough.  So I kept searching. Finally, I found a site that gave a more precise recipe.   Use 200 g each time.  Soak 15 pieces of red dates in a container.  Wash the Shui Gui Cao 3 times.  Boil 1.5 liters of water.  Add the Shui Gui Cao, red dates and 12 slices of ginger.  Cook on low heat for 1.5 hours.  Add brown sugar for sweetness.  It can be reheated for maximum benefits.  Drink 2 to 3 hours after eating or on an empty stomach for best results.   Another site gave the same recipe, however, cautioned not to use an aluminum pot to make the tea since it would cause a chemical reaction and result in a slow form of poisoning.  Ok.  Good to know! There were quite a few things this tea was accredited to cure including bladder problems, piles, uric acid, blood in the stool, pulmonary tuberculosis, cough, kidney infection, poisonous snake bite, vaginal discharge, urinary infection, hemoptysis, nephritis dropsy, acute conjunctivitis, swollen larynx, even diabetes. The diabetes cure had a recipe too.  Make a cup of tea using 3 leaves.  Drink 3 cups per day.  If making the tea is too bothersome, you can just eat one leaf 3 times per day. I wasn’t the only person to look deeper into medicinal use of the Wandering Jew plant. One study showed that a methanolic leaf extract from the Tradescantia zebrina plant had the highest antioxidant content of the plants studied.  Antioxidants are good.   Dr. Jim Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database cited a 1969 study by Maximino Martinez listing this plant as a treatment for dysentery. wandering-jew-tea Well, with this information, it was time to make matali myself.  I boiled a handful of leaves for 2 hours as instructed and got weak tea colored water. It wasn’t pink.  And it tasted like, well, boiled water.  So maybe I didn’t put enough leaves in it.  I thought I’d try just making a cup with 3 leaves. I choose leaves with the purplest underside, boiled the water and added the leaves.  AND….the water turned out exactly the same color.  I sampled it, and it was tasteless, although I did notice my tongue had a thin coating of blah afterward, so much so that I went and brushed my teeth and tongue to get rid of the feeling.  

Update May 2020

I had so many comments about matalí tea that I thought I’d try making it a second time, to see if I could get the pink color. This time, I cut the leaves lengthwise and instead of boiling them, I allowed them to steep in boiling water.  To my disappointment, no matter how long I allowed them to steep, the water remained decidedly not pink. However, the tea tasted much better. It had a plant flavor rather than the BLAH that resulted from boiling the leaves.  Some interesting tidbits shared by readers include: According to Thomas Ngumi, in Kenya the leaves are used as vegetables among the Kamba community.  David de la Rosa’s brother in Guatemala makes matalí tea using 7 leaves in 0.75 liters of water, boiling for about 3-5 minutes. David claims that drinking the tea every other day has reduced his brother’s prostate and improved his urination, as well as reducing his PSA levels.  Wes Lowrence told me that the tea is brown until he adds lemon juice to lower the pH level, then it turns a brighter color.  Another commenter suggested cutting the leaves to release the inside portions, then pour the boiling water over it, which is what I attempted this time. He also suggested that I wait until it cools for the pink/purple color. Chilling it overnight before straining will intensify the color.  One reader shared that her Chinese grandmother boiled the leaves in water along with their flowers. There was no specific amount of water, leaves or boiling time. She used this concoction to reduce the “heat” in the body as defined by traditional Chinese medicine.  Another interesting bit of information that Shannon shared with me is that the Mexican president  Andrés Manuel López Obrador had a dinner engagement with all the country’s governors in January 2020. The beverage served reportedly was matalí. The article included a picture and sure enough, each attendee had a glass of extremely pink drink.  I did, however, notice that the scientific name mentioned in the article was Tradescantía Zebrina Purpusii which is a darker variety of Tradescantia zebrina Mystery solved! The variety needed to get the pink color is indeed different. However, the medicinal properties are very similar. We continue to use Tradescantia zebrina as a home remedy for acid reflux and heartburn here. Instead of bothering with the tea, we just eat a leaf or two and experience nearly immediate relief.


Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.


Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

27 responses to “Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea

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  2. Curiouser and curiouser. I have some growing and am prone to the occasional bladder infection.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My grandmother had a one these in a planter, and my mom has one too, but I had never heard of its medicinal purposes! Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. fascinating. They look so pretty – it grows well in India too – must get some for my balcony. I’m a bit worried about drinking the tea from it although I’m usually quite adventurous.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thomas ngumi

    In Kenya the leaves are used as vegetables among the Kamba coomunty

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Anthony Pearce

    if the pic at the bottom is what you were using, it looks like something else.
    Check that you really have the correct plant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are absolutely right. The last picture was not a picture of varigated wandering jew. It was a picture of a similar plant I found later which I wondered if it would be comparable and make the tea red/purple but haven’t found any information on that particular plant yet. Thank you for your comment!


  9. Kol Timbers

    Thanks for sharing the recipes. So the picture you have at the top of the page is indeed Tradescantia zebrina, but the picture on the bottom is of Tradescantia pallida. Tradescantia zebrina grows a bit like a vine, but both can be called Wandering Jew Plant according to Wikipedia, but I’ve always heard people refer to T. pallida as Purple Jew Plant.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. David de la Rosa

    My brother, who lives in Guatemala, told me about this plant. He tells me that he makes tea, using about 7 leaves in 0.75 liters of water, boiling it just for 3-5 minutes. He drinks the tea every other week, for the whole week, 2-3 times per day. His prostate was enlarged, it has reduced its size and urination patterns, he used to get up at night several times, now he goes to the bathroom just once a night. His PSA level has decreased, I have not the exact numbers, as his doctor just said that it decreased.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Thanks for that information. I was a bit frustrated with the inexactness of some of the recipes. We have taken to just eating a leaf when our stomach is upset–works better than Alka Seltzer. Do you know if the tea gets pinkish?


  11. The color- it whenever i make lavender tea, it’s very brown and until I drop the pH with lemon juice, then it becomes quite vibrant. I’ve also noticed the effects are stronger after the lemon.

    I’m growing one of these from a cutting. Once it’s grown a bit more I’m going to try this!


  12. Echo

    Heya, I’ve got one of these and it makes lovely tea. From my research and what I’ve found I typically take leaves and either use a knife or kitchen scissors to cut them up to release the inside portions of the leaves. Pour boiling water over them and wait until it cools, that’ll give you a pink to purple color. You can chill overnight before straining for a very vibrant purple color.


  13. NI

    Thanks for the post. I remember my grandmother, who was originally from China, boiled the leaves in a pot of water. She plucked a lot of these purple leaves with their flowers, and filled up the pot with water, and boiled. There was no specific amount of leaves, water, or time. And she used to do it from time to time. Maybe to reduce the “heat” in the body. “Heat” as in the Chinese medicine description….anyway, your post brings back some memories for me. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Christie

    My wandering jew is almost a dense fuschia on older leaves that are “sun stressed” i wish i could show a picture. I wonder if the age if the leaf changes potency??? using an aged deep color leaf but not dead/dry vs. a variagated, green, young leaf…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Joan McBean

    I want to know if we can dry the wandering Jew leaves for future use as a tea. Did you come across any mention of this?

    Liked by 1 person

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