Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

Natural Healing — Jícama

Photo credit: Judgefloro and Wibowo Djatmiko

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.

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Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.

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My Inner Herb Song

So I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and I expect it will be a rough couple more. Things started out rosy in March, and then I had a birthday—just my 49th, not a milestone or anything, and while I’m ok with my age, it reminded me of all those who didn’t make it to 49 with me. 

But I shook it off and kept moving forward in busyness–until I lost my main source of income teaching online. And I was sure something would turn up, but as the days turned to weeks, and nothing did, well, you can imagine how that weighed on me. (More about that saga in another post). 

Midway through April now, and I’m dealing with swollen and painful joints keeping me housebound, just when I thought to start planting my garden. And looming ahead is May when my son turns 20 (where did the time go?), and my mom will have been gone a year. 

In between, I’ve been working steadily on some plant studies. Yesterday I finished the thirtieth one, which means the first draft of a new herb book will be out soon. 

Chatting with one of my besties, who is also having a rough time of it (aren’t we all?), I mentioned how much I enjoy my herb research. I admitted I even have a little herb song that plays in my head while I look up Nahuatl terms and try to decipher yet another scientific paper on plant properties. 

It goes something like Rihanna’s “Work,” but instead, I sing, “Herbs, herbs, herbs, herbs. I really like them herbs, herbs, herbs, herbs…Digging in the dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt….” and so on. Anyway, it’s a happy little ditty with a lot of repetition and mumbling. 

You may be wondering how I pick the next plant study when there are so many to choose from. After all, Mexico is one of the ten most biodiverse countries in the world. 

Sometimes it’s random. I might see something in an article or in my Facebook feed about some plant or other, and I jump in with both feet researching. But mostly, it’s more of a personal connection that leads me down the garden path of investigation.

For example, last week, my sister-in-law was over, and I, of course, had to show her my plants. She pointed to one particular viney weedy thing with white flowers that sprung up from nowhere and said that that one was for coughs. WHAT! Now I have to look into la artemisia (the plant in question) and see what is to be seen. Very exciting!

Or take another instance. I expect this year to be rather difficult all around with rising food prices and now my unemployment. So I thought long and hard about what would be the best use of the limited growing space I had. While researching native plants, I came across huautli, outlawed by the Spanish conquerors. Now known by its European moniker, amaranto is hailed as a superfood. Well then, I could plant huautli and girasoles (also believed to be native to Mexico) along with maíz, frijoles, and calabazas. And it’s exciting!

Or maybe I’ve picked up another tea concoction for my son to try who still struggles with breathing two years after Covid, and it doesn’t work as well as the last tea. After looking at the ingredients and seeing that gordolobo (Verbascum thapsus) is in one but not in the other–and voila. Gordolobo is a plant that helps his breathing and I’m off to the indigenous herbalist in town to get some and at my computer doing some more research. 

Each plant is like a little mystery waiting to be solved. I try to answer what it is, how is it best grown, how it is used (fresh or dry), and ultimately what is its value. It’s fitting as I putter in my garden, sitting, of course, to spare my knees, with my hair faded to grey and the freshness of youth gone, I wonder: Who is she? What is her value? How is she best grown? And then my little inner herb song kicks in…and it’s ok.

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Discover how native Mexican plants can enrich your garden!

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Announcing the Traditional Mexican Herbalism Wellness Garden

Just in time for spring (ok so I missed by a few days), the Practical Mexican Herbalism for Wellness has just opened enrollment to the Traditional Mexican Herbalism Wellness Garden course

In this class, you’ll be able to explore the viability of adding one or all of 19 native Mexican plants to your garden. Each lesson contains growing and harvesting tips, historical and medicinal information, and a recipe or remedy so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

You’ll also receive the 58-page Wellness Garden booklet with plant studies and illustrations done by the talented Claudia Guzes AND the 38-page Works Consulted bibliography so you can conduct your own research.

If you aren’t ready to commit, then consider the Mexican Herbalism FREE Course and check out a sample lesson from both the Traditional Mexican Herbalism Wellness Garden and Traditional Mexican Cold and Flu Remedies courses.

After all, in the spring, a gardener’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of plants, or so I hear. So, let the planting begin!

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