Natural Healing–Zapote Blanco

Zapote blanco (Casimiroa edulis) Photo credit Daderot.

Zapote blanco (Casimiroa edulis) is a tree native to Mexico and Central America. In Nahuatl, it is known as cochizapotl, cochiz-xihuitl or Iztactzopotl which translate as sleep fruit. In Maya, it is called yuy. Other names in Spanish are matasano sapote, sapotilla, chapote, and zapote dormilón.

The tree bears a sweet fruit with a soft seedy white inside and green skin similar in appearance to an apple. Traditionally, the leaves are used as a sedative to treat nervous disorders and insomnia and to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that the leaves and seeds are anti-hypertensive, supporting their use in the treatment of high blood pressure. This plant has also been determined to have anti-anxiety and sedative effects. It’s one of the ingredients in my favorite “relaxante” tea.

The leaves and fruit are also used to reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain and empacho (stomach upset). Francisco Hernández de Toledo mentions in the Florentine Codex that zapote blanco was used to treat diarrhea in infants and calmed children’s upset stomachs caused by excess gas. The seeds have hypnotic and aphrodisiac effects. The leaves are applied as a poultice for wound treatment. Powder made from ground seeds is used to treat skin infections. 

The fruit has been shown to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties. Infusions made from the leaves work well as an anti-depressant. Leaf extracts from the zapote blanco are anti-cancer in nature, inhibit HIV-1 reverse transcriptase, and are potentially anti-epileptic

Zapote blanco leaves are also used in a cleansing wash for women post-delivery in some areas of Mexico. The leaves are combined with romero (rosemary) and pirul (Schinus molle) and the woman bathes using the infused water for 3 or 4 days after giving birth. Another purification treatment involves brushing a bundle of leaves still attached to the stems across the body of a person who wishes to be cleansed in the temazcal (steam bath).

The leaves are cooked and ingested as a vegetable to treat diabetes in some areas. The Otomí ingest cooked leaves as a treatment for anemia, called el iztaquiotl.

Leaves added to a warm bath used to to treat body pain and fever. For arthritis pain, the branches, leaves, and seeds are made into an infusion. The root from the zapote blanco tree is used as an effective wash to treat gonorrhea in Guatemala. Zapote blanco should not be used during pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions.

Zapote Leaf Insomnia Tea

  • 10-20 leaves from Zapote blanco (Casimiroa edulis)

Boil in ½ liter of water. Strain. Drink one cup an hour or two before bed after the last meal of the day.

Zapote Leaf Blood Pressure Decoction

  • 25 Zapote blanco leaves (Casimiroa edulis)
  • 15 chayote leaves (Sechium edule)

Boil 10 minutes in 1 liter of water. Strain and sweeten with honey.

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Filed under Health, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

Prepping in Mexico –Extortion and Kidnapping

Extortion is being forced to do an activity like pay money or provide information by force, violence, trickery, or intimidation.  The prevalence of impunity found in most of Mexico allows the criminal organizations, usually with ties to the dominant cartel in the area, to literally get away with murder when it comes to extortion. In one survey, one out of every four participants had been a victim of extortion.

In 2017, 6.6 million cases of extortion of individuals were reported, while there were 525,000 cases of extortion against companies in the same time frame. Mexico’s National Agriculture Council estimates that more than $120 million is paid in extortion annually by farmers.

Some common extortion methods are:

Gota a Gota 

When a gota a gota (drop by drop) racket is set up, a small business owner or street vendors is given a high-interest rate loan by the organization to improve businesses or purchase merchandise. Initially, the interest rate verbally agreed upon might be 15-20%. However, the rate increases to 50% four weeks or so later. When business owners can not pay, they are threatened, robbed and attacked.

Mexican small business owners are extremely susceptible to this type of extortion because only about 39% of the population of Mexico has a bank account, a requirement to get a small business loan from a bank. Furthermore, experts estimate that 75 million people in the country have no access to financial services to start-up micro or small business, making a loan shark the only available option.

La Cuota

La cuota (cut) is money solicited from businesses, farmers, teachers, taxi drivers, street vendors and other merchants for “protection” at regular intervals. Nonpayment results in the destruction of property, violence, kidnapping or murder. Many who have been unable to pay have been forced to give up their business, sell their farms, or move away.

Cobro de piso or Derecho de piso

Business and vendors can also be solicited forcefully for a Cobro de piso or Derecho de piso which is understood as a “fee” to use the space the business is on to conduct business. This is not a rental fee, but additional extortion. Sometimes the victims are asked to pay money, other times they are forced to sell certain illegal items from their stalls or provide “favors” to certain individuals. For instance, a restaurant may pay the cobro de piso by allowing a certain mariachi band to perform instead of another. Or a taxi driver may pay for his derecho de piso by transporting drugs across the city.

Cártel del Tabaco

Associated with Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, the Cártel del Tabaco forces vendors and small business owners to sell Tobacco International Holdings (TIH) cigarettes by threatening their lives and livelihoods. First, the operatives pose as government representatives and conduct a raid on the establishment, seizing “forbidden” merchandise. The business is then served “official” documents that list the approved brands of cigarettes. Vendors who refuse have been tortured and killed.

La Mordida

La Mordida literally translates as “bite” and refers to money paid to a government official. You may be a potential victim of la mordida if you are pulled over for an imagined traffic violation. Even after presenting all your documentation, the officer may change the charge or threaten to impound your vehicle. La mordida also occurs in situations where you need certain official documents. Obstacles are created making it impossible for you to get these documents through any legal manner.

La mordida may be offered to the official with ¿No habrá otra manera? (Is there no other way?) or ¿Cómo nos podemos arreglar? (How can we reach an arrangement?).  The response to either question is the amount of the bribe necessary to fix the situation. Sometimes there is a bit of negotiation before the final price is agreed upon by both parties. The money is then transferred discretely, hidden in the pages of a pamphlet or beneath the “ticket.”

La Palanca

When La palanca (lever) is enacted, it usually does not involve money. Instead, it’s an exchange of favors. You can request la palanca from someone you know directly or from a person related to or known to someone you know. It is used by both sides to solve a problem which requires someone to intervene on your behalf. If someone has gone out of their way to assist you in this manner, then you are under obligation to return the favor at some unspecified time in the future.

La palanca can be created by giving a large donation to a political candidate with the idea that the donator will receive a large work contract when the candidate is elected. Another use of la palanca may occur when a family member needs emergency medical attention. As the process of obtaining adequate medical care can be a long and drawn-out procedure in Mexico, finding a palanca in the medical facility can speed things up substantially as well as provide for higher quality care.

Extorsión telefónica 

Extorsión telefónica can occur when you receive a call saying that someone you know needs X amount of money for X. The caller may imply that he or she knows you or your family member and hopes you will provide information about your location or family. The caller may have some information about your family even, convincing you this is a real situation. The caller will provide you with an account where you can deposit the money needed to pay the coyote (human smuggler), medical bill, or just money to help out. 

Secuestro Virtual

Secuestro virtual is a variant on extorsión telefónica. In this scenario, the caller claims to have kidnapped a family member. There may be someone in the background crying or screaming. In order for you to see your loved one again, X amount of money must be deposited in a certain account or sent through OXXO to X person. The caller threatens to harm your loved one if you contact the police or delay in sending the money. 

Secuestro

Secuestro is kidnapping and it doesn’t just happen to the wealthy. Secuestro exprés (express kidnapping) is the term used when a person is held for a low dollar amount ransom. You can become a victim of secuestro exprés if you get into a taxi that instead of taking you to your destination, takes you to an ATM and demands you withdraw a certain amount of money. Or you are taken somewhere and the kidnapper calls your family to collect a ransom.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a victim of secuestro will be released even after the ransom is paid. Some estimate that at least 200 people are kidnapped in Mexico every day.

This is only a partial list of extortion schemes prevalent in Mexico.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that often police officers and government officials are involved in these extortion schemes, from the seemingly useful palanca to the more sinister secuestro.

What can you do to avoid becoming a victim of extortion? It really depends on the type of extortion scheme being played.

Although many “gringo” sites admonish you to never pay, if you are being solicited for money for whatever reason, it is really up to you to decide to pay or report it to the police. Bear in mind that Mexico has such a high rate of impunity that the chances of something actually being done about it are slim to none.

Once we were asked to pay an exorbitant mordida by the state police in Guanajuato. So that our vehicle was not impounded and we were not left on the side of the road miles from home, we paid the mordida. However, since all our vehicle registration papers, driver’s licenses, and identifications were in order, we went to the state police office to file a complaint. The man at the desk gave us a form to fill out which was forwarded to Guanajuato City for investigation.

During the two months that the case was under review, we were harassed by the state police nearly every time we ventured out. After the judge reviewed the case, he determined the two police officers involved were at fault. They were suspended for two weeks with pay as punishment.

If the extortion attempt is being made over the telephone, do not provide the caller with ANY information about you, your location or your family. Hang up. Contact the person who the caller said was injured or being held for ransom immediately. You can report extortion attempts in Mexico by calling 088 or by contacting the Centro Nacional de Atención Ciudadana @CEAC_SSPCMexico on Twitter.

A teacher I worked with was a victim of extorsión telefónica. She received a call during the school day saying that her college-aged daughter had been taken. She was directed to deposit $7,000 pesos into a specific account immediately for her daughter’s release. $7,000 pesos was more than two months’ wages for her. She was panicked when she called her daughter’s cell phone and couldn’t reach her. She left the school, raced to the bank, withdrew the cash, and sent it to the contact the caller had given her. It turned out that her daughter had not been kidnapped. She hadn’t answered her mother’s call because her phone was dead. However, the money was long gone and the family struggled the next few months to pay the bills. 

I also know people who have actually been kidnapped. Some were ransomed and released. Others had their ransoms paid but were killed anyway. And yet others were killed when their family could not come with the money to pay the kidnappers. It’s anyone’s guess how a kidnapping situation will turn out.

To avoid kidnapping, develop your situational awareness. Be cognizant of people watching you or taking your picture. Vary your daily routine. Keep your car locked and check the back seat before getting in. Use only taxis that are registered. Do not go out in public if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They make you an easy target.

Walk with someone else. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes in case you need to run. Avoid areas that do not have many people or lights. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t listen to music or play around with your phone in public areas. Use the ATMs that are inside the banks and never use them after dark. Let someone know where you are at all times and when to expect you. Trust your gut reactions. If something appears suspicious, it probably is.

If someone attempts to kidnap you, make as much noise as possible to attract attention to your plight. If you have been kidnapped, stay alert and pay attention to your location and your captors.

¡Ten cuidado!

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Natural Healing – Flor de Azahar

Citrus × Aurantium (photo credit Zeynel Cebeci)

The word Azahar comes from the Arabic az-zahr which means flowers. This term can refer to the blossoms of el naranja, el limonero (Citrus × Limon), or even the cidro or citrón (Citrus medica) tree. Most often, Flor de Azahar refers to sweet orange flowers (Citrus × Sinensis) rather than bitter orange (Citrus × Aurantium). However bitter orange blossom is the preferred ingredient for the Mexican pastry pan de muerto.

Citrus trees are not native to Mexico. They arrived with the Spaniards in the 1500s and were embraced as both a flavoring and a medicinal component. One account of the town of Chapala records that Father Sebastián de Párraga arrived in 1562 and planted the first orange trees in the area. 

Flor de Azahar is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and as a digestive stimulate in traditional Mexican remedies. A tea made from blossoms and leaves is used as a remedy for anger issues known as muina or coraje. Adding 7 drops of rum or brandy to Té de Flor de Azahar (Orange Blossom Tea) is thought to help menopausal hot flashes and alleviate menstrual cramps.

Flor de Azahar is also used to treat tuberculosis in some areas of Mexico. Bitter orange (citrus × Aurantium) and sweet orange (citrus × Sinensis) have been shown to have anticancer, antianxiety, antiobesity, antibacterial, antioxidant, pesticidal, antimycotic, and antidiabetic activities. They have mild sedative effects, supporting their use in insomnia and anxiety treatments. Sweet orange (citrus × Sinensis) is an effective treatment for infectious diarrhea and both sweet and bitter orange have antimycobacterial activity supporting their use as a treatment for respiratory issues including tuberculosis.

Té de Flor de Azahar (Orange Blossom Tea)

Here are some simple remedies you can make using Flor de Azahar.

Anxiety Tea

Boil ¼ liter of water. Add:

  • 1 tablespoon Flores de Azahar (Citrus × Aurantium)

Sweeten with honey. Drink 3 cups per day. The last cup should be drunk right before bed.

Digestive Elixer

  • 1 liter of water 
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons of flores de Azahar (Citrus × Sinensis)
  • 1 ½ kilo of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of rum

Boil until it gets syrupy. Take 1 tablespoon after each meal.

Insomnia Tea

Boil ¼ liter of water. Add:

  • 1 tablespoon of Flor de Tila (Ternstroemia lineata)
  • 1 tablespoon of Flor de Azahar (Citrus × Sinensis)
  • Sprinkle with canela (cinnamon)

Stress Headache Tea

Boil 1 liter of water. Add:

  • 1 tablespoon Flores de Azahar (Citrus x Aurantium)
  • 1 tablespoon Passiflora (Passiflora  edulis)
  • 1 tablespoon Flor de Tila (Ternstroemia lineata)
  • 1 tablespoon Manzanilla (Matricaria chamomilla)

Steep for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

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Filed under Health, Mexican Food and Drink, Natural Healing