Jícama (Pachyrhizus erosus), from the Nahuatl word xicamatl, is a native Mexican plant. From Mexico, it was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish and then to Southeast Asia. In Mexico, two types of jícama are cultivated. Jícama de agua is turnip-shaped and has a clear, watery juice, while the juice from jícama de leche is spindle-shaped and is milkier.
As with other plants we’ve looked at, its importance in the prehispanic diet is evidenced by the number of Nahuatl words devoted to it. These words include the specific name for the root, catzotl, the verb for planting jícama, cahtzōntōca, and the person who plants jícama, cahtzōntōquiliā. Other names it is known by in Mexico include chicam and hehenchican. In English, jícama is most often called the Mexican yam bean.
The edible tuber’s fresh leaves, seedpods, and peel contain the toxin rotenone and make an effective insecticide. However, once the leaves dry, they are no longer toxic and often used as livestock feed in Mexico.
If you’ve never had jícama, you are in for a treat. The tuber is crisp and juicy and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. It has a fresh flavor with a hint of cinnamon. It is often added to salads or sprinkled with limón and chile powder. It remains crisp after cooking, making it an excellent substitute for water chestnuts. Starch from the tuber is used in custards. Even the seed pods can be eaten, as long as they are thoroughly cooked.
Jícama plants need nine months of frost-free weather to mature. Once harvested, the tuber will remain fresh for up to four months whole and up to one week after being cut.
An intestinal purge is made with 40 grams of jícama seed juice drunk morning and night. For wounds, a tincture is made from 100 grams of powdered seeds steeped in ½ liter of alcohol, soaked for three days, strained, then applied as a poultice. An infusion made from the root and seedpods is utilized as a wash for gout and inflammation.
Not only is jícama refreshing, but it also has excellent nutritional value. Jícama contains iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, calcium, and selenium. It also has vitamins C, A, and E. Additionally, studies have shown it is a good substitute for probiotic drinks.
Studies have shown it to have antioxidant, anticancer, anti-diabetic, anti-osteoporosis, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. It has an immunomodulatory effect. It is considered a preventative food source against the development of diabetes and obesity. The toxic rotenone found in the peel, fresh leaves, and seedpods is an effective insecticide and anti-tumor. Regular ingestion promotes cardiovascular health. The seed extract cause muscles to relax as well as reduces anxiety and aggression. The seeds also show moderate anti-herpes simplex virus (HSV) activity.
Agua de Jícama
- 4 cups of water
- ½ cup jugo de limón (Citrus aurantifolia)
- ½ cup jícama peeled and cut into pieces (Pachyrhizus erosus)
Blend the jícama with the limón juice and water. Sweeten with miel (honey) as desired.
Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.