Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea


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.


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.  

I was disappointed, so say the least.  Apparently, there is something I am doing that prohibits the pink color of matali tea. I’m wondering if it is the species of Wandering Jew that I am using?  Perhaps if I used the full purple leaf variety rather than the variegated plant, the tea would turn the promised pink color.  Has anyone been successful?  Do tell!






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

18 responses to “Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea

  1. Pingback: Book Review–Into Autumn by Larry Landgraf | Surviving Mexico

  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

    • You are absolutely correct, the second plant is not Tradescantia zebrina. I included the picture as a thought that perhaps matali tea used an un-varigated species to get its purple color which I was unable to replicate with the recipes I found. It was just a thought and I certainly didn’t try it since I had no way of telling what the result would be. The scientific studies that I found only used the Tradescantia zebrina in their studies. Thanks for the comment.


  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!


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