Category Archives: Health

Natural Healing — Peyote

Peyote / Lophophora williamsii

Peyote (mescal button) is best known for its hallucinogenic properties. This small, spineless cactus has a large quantity of mescaline which can cause euphoria, hallucinations, depersonalization, and psychoses. It is not physically addictive and does not produce life-threatening symptoms unless there are preexisting conditions that its ingesting aggravates. It does contain hordenine which increases blood pressure. The hallucinogenic tea made from peyote is bitter and causes nausea. 

It has traditionally only been ingested as part of religious ceremonies and therefore hasn’t developed into a recreational drug in Mexico. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is known as hikuri in Huichol, the language indigenous people in the state of Nayarit. Other names for the Lophophora williamsii include kamaba by the Tepehuán in Durango. The Tarahumara in Chihuahua use the term honanamé. The Cora call this plant houatari. The Nahuatl word peyotl which is the word peyote is derived from roughly translates as “silk cocoon” or “caterpillar’s silk” referring to the white wooly strands found on the top of the plant.

Among the Huicholes, Cora, and Tarahumara, the plant is sacred. Yearly pilgrimages are taken by the Huicholes by devotees to the desert area in San Luis Potosi where the peyote grows.  

Peyote has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Mexico, possibly as far back as 5,700 years ago. Peyote remnants have been found in a burial cave that dates back to 810 to 1070 CE in Coahuila, Mexico

Peyote was used prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Bernardino de Sahagún described the hallucinogenic effects of peyote in his work Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España in 1558. He wrote “There is a plant that recalls the truffle; it is called peyotl, it is white in color and is produced in the northernmost regions of the country. Those who eat it see surprising and laughing things. This drunkenness lasts two or three days, and then it goes away. This plant is commonly consumed by the Chichimeca; It supports them and gives them courage for combat, sheltering them from fear, thirst, and hunger. The use of this drug was in the hands of the fortune-tellers and witches, and especially of the wearers of charms.“

As its use was tied so closely to religion, the Catholic priests sent to convert the native Mexicans were determined to stop its use completely lest the souls of the new Christians be contaminated. The Spanish Inquisition prohibited peyote use in Mexico in 1620. A confessional from 1760 contains the questions “Have you killed anyone? How many have you killed? Have you eaten the flesh of man? Have you eaten peyote?” implying that murder, cannibalism, and peyote use were on the same grievous sin level. 

Traditionally, peyote is also used in rural areas of Mexico to treat fever and as a general cleansing of both body and soul. Thin slices of the cactus are soaked in water, but not boiled, which is then drunk by the person with a fever. Sunstroke is also treated with sliced pieces soaked in water. However, in this case, the water and slices are placed in a glass and then poured over the person’s head. 

There’s more to this little cactus then hallucinations. Peyocactin is an antibiotic derived from the peyote cactus effective against 18 different penicillin-resistant bacteria. Extracts from the Lophophora williamsii have also been shown to stimulate the immune system. Hopefully, further research will be done on this medicinal plant in the future.

Note: Although peyote is not illegal in Canada nor in Mexico, it is limited in use in the United States to religious ceremonies. In the U.S. it is considered a controlled substance. Lophophora williamsii is an endangered species and should not be harvested in the wild. 

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Natural Healing –Alfalfa

Medicago sativa arrived in Mexico with the Spanish colonists in the 16th century as fodder for their horses. The original Arabic word al-faṣfaṣa has evolved to alfalfa, which is how it is referred to in North America. It’s still commonly used as animal food. However, alfalfa is also used to strengthen lungs, treat kidney inflammation and anemia, as a relaxant, to prevent scurvy, and alleviate rheumatism in traditional Mexican medicine. 

Studies have shown that alfalfa stems and leaves reduce cholesterol absorption and atherosclerotic plaque formation. Regular ingestion reduces hyperglycemia levels. It also has antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Alfalfa is also antioxidant and may protect the brain from damage as a result of strokes. The plant loses potency when dried, so using fresh leaves, flowers, and roots is best. 

As a detoxifier, three teaspoons of lightly crushed leaves are steeped into a cup of boiling water daily. For kidney infections, a full plant with roots and two Agave lechuguilla plants are boiled in a half liter of water for five minutes. Another remedy calls for four complete agave lechuguilla plants and one full alfalfa plant with roots. Boil them for five minutes a liter of water. Allow it to cool. Drink half in the morning before breakfast and half in the afternoon before dinner. Alfalfa is effective in reducing painful urination and can help with peptic ulcers as well. It has a mild diuretic effect, making it a useful digestive aid. 

For nerves, one cup is taken every other day with 25 grams of new leaves boiled in a half liter of water for three minutes. For anemia, the flowers and leaves are used in a decoction. 

Blend lime, alfalfa and water into a beverage for lung remedies. For general well-being, and to avoid scurvy, fresh leaves are often added to soups, atole, or eaten with tortillas by children. Not surprisingly, alfalfa has properties known to improve immune system functioning

As a treatment to encourage increased lactation, 50 grams of new leaves are boiled in a liter of water and given to the new mother. Since it has been shown that alfalfa has significant estrogenic activity, if the low milk production issue is due to hormones, this is an effective remedy. Alfalfa has also been useful in treating hot flashes and night sweating in menopausal women and increasing thyroid functioning. 

Boiled alfalfa seeds sweetened with honey is prescribed to alleviate rheumatism. However, raw alfalfa seeds and sprouts are toxic and can cause lupus-like symptoms in certain individuals. Seeds should never be taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. 

Alfalfa has a grassy taste, as you might expect. It’s not a strong flavor and can be easily added to blended juices if you are considering including this herb to your regular diet.

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Natural Healing — Chicalote

Chicalote (Argemone mexicana) grows in abundance in La Yacata during the dry season. I discovered that it has medicinal value quite by chance. I was looking for another plant, and found a picture of this one, which I could positively identify, having seen it year after year by my house. 

Mexican prickly poppy has several names, leading to some confusion. Chicalote is the name I am most familiar with, however in Mexico, it is also known as cardo, cardo santo, adormidera, adormidera espinosa, amapolilla, and Amapola montés. Cardo santo was the name given to this plant by the Spaniards when they cataloged medicinal plants they found, not to be confused with Cnicus benedictus which is also known as cardo santo. 

In Nahuatl, it was known as chicálotl, chillazotl, or xicólotl. In Zapoteca spoken in Oaxaca, the same plant is called guechinichi. In Maya, it is k`iix-k`anlol or k`iix-saklol. In the language spoken by the Tarascans centered in Michoacan, it was shate or xaté. And in Huasteca, the indigenous language of San Luis Potosí, it was known as tzólich.

The fact that so many different indigenous groups identified this plant so specifically shows its importance both culturally and medically. Chicalote was believed to be sacred to the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, the fact that it grows abundantly in the dry season notwithstanding. It was used to treat water related diseases like palsy. Most indigenous groups in Mexico believed that diseases could be classified into four categories, hot, cold, wet and dry. And that sometimes gods punished their subjects with specific diseases that must be treated with appeasement of the angry god, who would then send a cure. Thus, near drownings or lighting strikes (signs of Tlaloc’s displeasure) were also treated with chicalote. 

You should exercise caution when using this plant as the seeds are toxic to humans and animals that accidentally ingest them while grazing. On the other hand, a pinch of ground seeds mixed with water makes an effective laxative. 

The sap is an orange-yellow color and contains berberine and protopine. It has been used medicinally in Mexico as a topical analgesic. The seeds are also crushed and mixed with petroleum jelly for an ointment to treat burns and skin infections. 

The leaves when smoked have a slightly narcotic effect, however vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects. This hypnotic effect is the reason the chicalote was used traditionally as a sedative, for migraines and coughs, and for epilepsy. The Seri in Sonora use chicalote leaves to treat kidney pain and expel afterbirth. 

An infusion of leaves is used to treat nervios (nerves). Insomnia can be relieved with an infusion of 14 grams of the flowers in ¼ liter of water drunk before bed. 

For migraines, a spoonful of leaves is steeped in a cup of boiling water and drunk. For a severe cough, drink 1 cup of tea made from 50 grams of ground seeds and leaves that have been boiled for 15 minutes in a liter of water before bed. 

Traditional medicine also uses chicalote to treat diarrhea. The leaves are boiled with ground, browned rice and drunk throughout the day. 

Quite a bit of scientific study has been done on the Argemone mexicana. Not surprisingly, most of the traditional uses have merit and some new applications have been discovered. The leaves and stem are antibacterial, antifungal and anti-parasitic. They also contain anti-cancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The leaves are also useful in reducing side effects experienced from synthetic medicines and are effective in the treatment of epileptic disorders. And finally, Malaria, HIV and morphine withdrawal have been successfully treated with decoctions made from the Argemone mexicana. 

Who would have believed that this scrubby thistle would have so many medicinal benefits?

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