Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

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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Natural Healing — Canela

Although there are several types of cinnamon available commercially, Mexican recipes and remedies call for cinnamomum zeylanicum otherwise known as Ceylon cinnamon. These light brown sticks are made up of many thin layers and are easily ground with a metate (grinding stone). 

This spice was brought to Mexico in 1690 by Juan de Esteyneffer, a Jesuit physician from Germany. He combined remedies and treatments he learned in New Spain (Mexico) with the European knowledge he had as a pharmacist in his work Florilegio Medicinal, published in 1712. Juan de Esteyneffer had a powerful belief in the healing properties of cinnamon or rather canela from the Latin word cannella meaning “little tube” referring to the way the bark curls as it dries. He prescribed it as a cure for sudden blindness and deafness indicating that the physician should chew on a stick and then blow the pieces into the eyes or ears of the afflicted. 

While that particular remedy didn’t catch on, canela is used to treat stomach issues, fever, cough, colds, rheumatism, regulate menstruation, teething issues, motion sickness, and hangovers in Mexico. It also is considered an aphrodisiac. 

Canela essential oil is used as a rub for rheumatism. Cinnamomum zeylanicum has wound healing properties, being both anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (reducing the sensation of pain). 

For cough, 1 section of canela, gordolobo (mullein), ajo (garlic), is boiled in ¼ liter of water and drunk as needed, sweetened with honey and flavored with limón (lime). Cinnamomum zeylanicum is an effective fungicide and can be used to treat a variety of fungi that cause respiratory infections. 

It has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiparasitic properties as well as anti-gastric ulcer and anti-secretagogue effects, supporting its use as a stomach ailment remedy. It has also shown to be effective against Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacteria found in the upper gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract and the colon. Both rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease have been associated with this periodontal infection. 

Motion sickness calls for canela tea. Teething issues are treated with a decoction of canela, mejorana (marjoram), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), menta (peppermint) and cempasuchil (marigold) is administered. 

Cinnamomum zeylanicum has hepato-protective effects, making it a beneficial addition to those that drink just a bit too much alcohol by reducing the effects on the liver. It also lowers the serum cholesterol levels. 

Studies have shown that canela is useful in the treatment of PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) and helps regulate menstrual cycles among women with this condition. It has also shown to be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms. For cramps, a decoction made with the flowers from la barra de San Jose (Joseph’s staff) and cinnamon is the recommended remedy. A postpartum treatment calls for ajo (garlic), ruda (rue), laurel, romero (rosemary), orange peel, clavo (clove), canela, and alum is added to a small brazier of coals and burned. The new mother stands over the brazier as it smokes. This treatment is done every other day until the 40-day postpartum period is over. 

Canela has anti-cancer properties and has been useful in treating leukemia. It has been shown to have antioxidant properties and be useful in reducing damage to the pancreas often experienced by those with diabetes as well as being antidiabetic in nature. Studies suggest that regular ingestion may halt or delay Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been shown to be effective in reducing the progression of multiple sclerosis. The combination of cinnamon bark extract and honey has potential activity against acne-causing bacteria.

Although tea is the typical method of preparation as an herbal remedy, canela is also a staple in many other traditional beverages. Mexican chocolate, horchata (rice milk) and cafe de olla (coffee) are always made with a dash of canela. Mole, the thick chocolate sauce served with meat and rice, also uses canela, both when it is in broth form and then added again when ground. Tepache, an alcoholic beverage made from pineapple is seasoned with cinnamon. One of the most common atole (a thick corn drink) flavors is canela. And finally Ponche Navideño (Christmas punch) would not taste the same without this little twig. 

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Natural Healing — Calabaza

Calabaza was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied squash).

In addition to a delightful culinary treat, calabaza has been used medicinally to treat intestinal parasites, gastric disorders, obesity, diabetes, and nervios (nerves). 

Cooked squash of any variety is good anytime to calm the nerves. If you’d like to find a way to incorporate more squash in your diet, horchata de semillas de calabaza is a refreshing beverage. Take 100 grams of squash seeds (pepitos) and 5 grams of hierbabuena fresca (fresh spearmint leaves). Add ¼ liter of milk and piloncillo (cone brown sugar) to taste. If you are using it medicinally, drink for three days in a row for stomach ailments. 

Domesticated Calabaza

There are five varieties of calabaza cultivated in Mexico today. 

Cucurbita moschata (including butternut squash) is referred to by a variety of other names including calabaza de Castilla, calabaza de casco, calabaza de pellejo, calabaza cuaresmeña, calabaza caliente, calabaza de pepita menuda, támala, calabaza de camote, calabaza torpe, ayote, Xnuk kuum, Nujuch kuum, and Xmejen kuum (Maya). The seeds, roots, flowers, and squash from the cucurbita moschata variety are used to treat urinary tract infections and skin ailments. The extracted oil has antioxidant properties. 

For parasites, one remedy calls for a concoction of 30 grams of aceite de ricino (castor oil) and a pinch of salt. This is paired with calabaza en tacha made from C. moschata without the skin served in ½ cup of milk. 

Another parasite treatment consists of a handful of toasted or raw seeds known as pepitas also from the cucurbita moschata variety of calabaza (pumpkins) and a few hierbabuena (spearmint) leaves eaten on an empty stomach. 

The flowers of the cucurbita pepo are eaten seasonally with blue or yellow corn tortillas, most often in quesadillas. To prepare the flowers, they are boiled and the water is discarded so that any toxins are eliminated. The flowers are also served as part of salads or stuffed with cheese. The roots, leaves, squash, and seeds of this variety are used to stimulate the appetite. 

Cucurbita pepo is also known as calabaza de comer, calabaza de manteca, calabaza de carrizo, calabaza mediana, Tsol, Tsool, Tzol (Maya) tempranilla, and mensejo. The grated raw peel from the cucurbita pepo is applied to burns and hemorrhoids as it is effective in wound healing. This variety, from root to fruit, is used in several areas of Mexico to improve health in general. It has a pancreatic lipase inhibition effect.

Cucurbita argyrosperma is also known as calabaza caliente, calabaza de las aguas, calabaza pinta, calabaza de casco, calabaza criolla, calabaza pipiana, calabaza tapona, calabaza rayada, pipián, or calabaza guajolota. The seeds, flowers, young stems, and tender squash are eaten. The squash is made into a pulp and applied externally to treat skin ailments. 

Cucurbita ficifolia is known as chilacayote, chilacayo, or chilaca. In Nahuatl, this variety was chilicayotli from the word tzilacayotli originally which translates to “smooth squash”. The young stems are eaten as a vegetable. When this squash is fully mature, it is fibrous and is used to make the sweet cabellos de ángel (angel’s hair) treat. Other candied squash made from this variety are dulce de alcayota, cayote en hebras, mermelada de calabaza, mazamorra de calabaza. 

In Chiapas, the seeds are toasted and set in honey to make palanquetas (a candy bar). C. ficifolia has a marked hypoglycemic effect. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Extract from C. ficifolia has been shown to be promising in the treatment of obesity. 

Cucurbita maxima is also known as zapallo. Its seeds are the snack pepita rusa (Russian pumpkin seeds), eaten salted and toasted. This variety includes the red or orange pumpkin most people associate with Halloween. It is native to South America. In Chiapas, this variety is called malayota because it resembles tamale dough when pulped.

C. maxima has been shown to quickly decrease high blood glucose levels. C. maxima seed oil is useful in treating an overactive bladder. Ayo-nelhuatl (cucurbita maxima) root is mentioned in Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis as part of a concoction used as an after-birth vaginal wash. 

Wild Calabaza

These five are the most commonly cultivated calabazas found in Mexico. However, there are other wild calabazas that are used medicinally as well. 

Cucurbita foetidissima (Buffalo Gourd) is a wild calabaza whose sour fruit is used medicinally after being cooked. The seed sprouts and roots are toxic and should never be ingested. The leaves and roots are used medicinally in Chihuahua.  In other states, the roots are used to make soap because of its saponin content. 

This variety is also known as calabacilla amarga, cohombro, hierba de la víbora, calabaza amargosa, calabacilla loca, calabacilla silvestre, calabaza de burro, chili coyote, calabaza hedionda, calabaza silvestre, calabaza del diablo, calabacilla de burro, Cua-cua (Chontal), chichic-amole and guelto-lana (Zapotec).

Apodanthera undulata (AKA calabaza hedionda or melon loco) is made into a pulp and used topically in the state of Guanajuato. The seeds are used to stimulate appetite in Jalisco and Zacatecas where it is known as calabaza amarga or calabaza loca.

In addition to the medicinal applications already mentioned, all calabazas varieties have antifungal and antibacterial properties. One more interesting cucurbita is the Cayaponia tayuya. The roots of this squash, native to the Amazon, have been useful in treating rheumatoid arthritis and also been proven helpful in the treatment of Epstein-Barr and skin tumors

It just goes to show that a plant we may overlook may be full of beneficial properties.

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