Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

Natural Healing–Jaripos

One day when I stopped to pick up the daily tortillas from my sister-in-law’s tortilleria, she handed me a bag of orange-red fruit and told me to make juice from it. So I did. It was deliciously sour and refreshing. To make the juice, let the berries soak in water until it turns a pinkish color. Then, strain, add sugar or honey to sweeten it and enjoy. 

Jaripos or Limillas

These little fruits are known as jaripos in Cerano, Guanajuato, but neighboring Puruándiro, Michoacan calls them limillas. Puruándiro has taken this fruit, from the Rhus microphylla shrub, into their heart so deeply that they have an annual festival in April celebrating la limilla, which can be used to flavor ice cream, atole, marmelade, artensenal bread and local brews. In English, this shrub is known as the littleleaf sumac or desert sumac. 

The Rhus species has over 250 varieties. Although little study has been done on Rhus microphylla, other varieties have anti fibrogenic, antifungal, antimalarial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antimutagenic, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, and antiviral properties. Additionally, flowering plants belonging to the Anacardiaceae family are cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic. 

Sumac berries contain malic acid, tannic acid, and gallic acid. Not all sumac varieties are edible. However, Rhus glabra, Rhus typhina, Rhus aromatica, Rhus copallina, Rhus integrifolia, Rhus microphylla, Rhus ovata and Rhus trilobata are.  Sumac berries which are safe to eat are red when ripe and covered in a soft fuzz

In Chihuahua, la limilla is used to treat leukemia. Rhus glabra, Smooth sumac, boiled fruit has been used as a treatment for painful menstruation. The roots and berries were made into a wash for sores. In Monterrey, Rhus Virens, Evergreen sumac, bark is boiled to make a tea used to treat diabetes. 

Rhus Trilobata produces a similar berry to the Rhus microphylla but is known as agrillo. The shrub has an intense smell which is the reason for one of its names, skunkbush. Among different indigenous groups, the bark, fruit, leaves, and roots were used medicinally traditionally. Rhus typhina, Staghorn sumac, leaves protect against oxidative damage

Hopefully, there will be more studies done in the future to ascertain the health benefits from the sumac berry. Meanwhile, while in season, I’ll enjoy an occasional glass of jaripo juice.

***

1 Comment

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

Natural Healing — Pitahayas

Pitahaya AKA Dragon Fruit

With things being what they are these days, we have to take our joys where we find them. This week our big highlight was our cactus produced pitahayas, one for each of us. We planted it two years ago from a cutting from the neighbor. I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of a long productive spell. 

Hylocereus polyrhizus cactus

The Hylocereus cactus that produced our pitahayas (as opposed to pitayas which come from the cactus stenocereus) is the Hylocereus polyrhizus. It produces fruit that has a pink covering with a reddish, seedy (and delicious) interior known as pitahaya roja. It’s native to Mexico but found in many tropical regions nowadays. In our region, this fruit is also called tuna tasajo. Tuna is the generic term for cactus fruit while I assume tasajo is from an indigenous source, possibly Purépecha, but I couldn’t find an English or Spanish translation for the word. Another term used generally for the fruit from the Hylocereus cactus is pitahaya orejona.

Hylocereus polyrhizus is a viney cactus. Ours has snaked its way up the wall, but I’ve also seen it locally wind itself around mesquite trees. It has a night-blooming flower, so it is dependent on night pollinators like moths or bats. The gorgeous white flower usually wilts within a day or two.  

The betalain that gives this yummy fruit its red color is also found in beets, Swiss chard, and amaranth. Betalain not only makes a natural food coloring but also is rich in antioxidants. The seeds contain linoleic acid which is a functional fatty acid.

This seedy fruit helps the digestive process through prebiotics. It has a preventative effect against breast and colon cancer. It has been shown to aid in reducing cholesterol levels. The lycopene content that gives the fruit its red color is effective in neutralizing heavy metals and toxins including MSG and herbicide ATZ. Furthermore, the antioxidant and fiber content of this fruit may be useful in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

Traditional Mexican remedies include a diet rich in pitahaya to stimulate appetite and improve digestion. The fruit can be eaten raw, juiced, or made into ice cream or syrup.

Two or three fruits eaten an hour before breakfast for two or three days are prescribed to help with constipation. To treat intestinal parasites, the seeds of several fruits can be separated out and chewed thoroughly before swallowing.  

The flowers can be cooked and eaten like vegetables. Dried flowers can be used to make tea which is used to treat nervous disorders and insomnia. An infusion made from the flowers is also used to treat gum pain and tooth infection. 

Dysentery was treated with a section of root boiled in a covered cup over a slow fire. The concoction was allowed to cool with the top still on and sweetened with honey, then left overnight to be drunk in the morning before breakfast. This process was repeated every day for seven days for maximum results.  

Pitahaya blanca from the Hylocereus undatus cactus.

There are several other varieties of sweet pitahaya available in Mexico. Hylocereus undatus has white fruit and pink skin. This is the type most grown commercially and known as pitahaya blanca. It originated in the southern part of Mexico. Pitahaya blanca is sweeter and has a higher sugar content than either the red or yellow varieties. 

The name reina de la noche (Night Queen) refers to the bloom of this variety. H. undatus has been shown to have wound healing properties when used topically and useful in treating oxidative stress and aortic stiffness in streptozotocin-induced diabetes. The peel has antibacterial properties effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella typhimurium among others.

Hylocereus megalanthus has a yellow fruit and white exterior which is called pitahaya amarilla. The seeds from H. megalanthus fruit have the largest amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids when compared to the other varieties. Hylocereus Purpusii produces fruit with purple skin and pulp. 

Hylocereus ocamponis is native to the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. It’s pinkish on the outside and a darker red inside.

Have you tasted pitahayas? Which color?

***

Learn more about traditional herbal remedies in Mexico!

2 Comments

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

A Chile By Any Other Name….

Last week I was doing some research and stumbled across a study highlighting the health benefits of cayenne pepper. The study stated that eating cayenne peppers increase digestive fluid production and boost the stomach’s defense against infections. It occurred to me that I didn’t know how to say cayenne pepper in Mexican Spanish.

So I started with Google which reported that it was “pimiento de cayena.” The lady at the molino (spice grinding shop) just looked at me blankly when I used that. Then I tried Wikipedia which said chile morrón. However, chile morrón is a bell pepper in our area.

Next I polled my Facebook group, Women Surviving Rural Mexico. One lady said she’d heard the term cayene (pronounced kai-en-nay). Another said chile dulce, which can also be used for bell peppers. And still another woman said chile piquín. Chile piquín in my area refers to very small, very spicy orange chiles. 

So I asked my sister-in-law who took a poll among her pistoleras (the ladies that make tortillas with her). They came up with the name chiltecpín roja. Doing some research on that term, I don’t think it is correct either. The word chiltecpin in Nahuatl means ‘flea chili’ and is a small, extremely hot, red chile. Incidentally, this variety is thought to be the oldest of the Capsicum genus ever cultivated.

The name game gets even more complicated when you realize that dried and fresh chiles have different monikers. The jalapeno becomes chipotle, poblano changes to ancho, chilaca dries and is then pasilla. The Anaheim chile becomes colorado, mirasol changes to guajillo, serrano dries and is then chile seco. The bola chile dried is cascabel.  

None of this helped me find out the name for the cayenne pepper, unfortunately. If anyone can give me some insight on this, I’d appreciate it! 

On the other hand, a little more digging produced the fact that any of the chiles in the Capsicum annuum family will provide similar health benefits. These chiles have been used as a spice and medicinally in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived, the uses of some of which I’ve experienced myself. 

For example, chile cola de rata (Chile de árbol) toasted on the comal will certainly clear your nasal cavity. A generous bite of chile piquín will instantly banish a headache, after your eyes stop watering that is. Getting chile juice on your hands and touching another body part will stimulate circulation rapidly and painfully.

The chile has been acknowledged by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Evidence points to the chile being part of the indigenous diet as far back as 6500 BC and domesticated by 4100 BC. Excavations under the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan have uncovered fossilized remains of Capsicum chiles dating back to CE 150-250.

Chile continues to be a primary ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Chile seed shakers are on the table in the restaurants that serve birria. Bell peppers are mixed in the nopal servings. Every salsa, including guacamole, is spiced with this little fruit. Even the candy often has chile powder on it! 

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chile peppers. Capsaicin is what gives them medicinal properties and their spiciness. The more capsaicin in a pepper, the spicier it is.  Interestingly, you can develop an immunity to the effects of capsaicin over time. So those who consume chiles regularly don’t receive the same benefits as those that ingest them only on occasion. On the other hand, long-term consumption of capsaicin has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. 

Eating chiles increases energy expenditure and core body temperature which is lowered again through perspiration. Capsaicin reduces the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and reduces the risk of stomach ulcers

Capsaicin can also reduce pain when applied in a cream to the skin. It decreases the amount of a neuropeptide that travels to the brain to signal pain. Capsaicin cream is recommended for muscle, joint, lower back, and post-operative pain. It can also help lessen pain from nerve conditions like shingles. Capsaicin cream has been successful in the treatment of psoriasis as well. 

Capsaicin slows the growth of cancer cells and causes cell death for prostate, pancreatic and skin cancers. Chiles contain antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin which give them their red color. 

Capsaicin has antimicrobial and anti-virulent activity and is useful in combating Streptococcus pyogenes. Cayenne chile in particular has been shown to suppress the development of 16 different fungal strains. 

In Mexico, chile powder and olive oil are mixed for a liniment to treat joint and back pain. It can be sprinkled on food to improve digestion and circulation. Eaten whole, chiles are useful to promote sweating to break a fever. 

The seeds can be rubbed on hands or feet to warm the areas up. Be careful not to get any in your eyes. If that happens, use hair to rub them to reduce the burning. It works, amazingly enough. If you have long hair, don’t be offended if someone grabs a hunk over lunch to do just that.

So even though I still don’t know exactly what cayenne pepper is called in Mexico, chiles are a healthy addition to any diet!

****

Would you like to read more about Mexican traditional remedies?

3 Comments

Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Natural Healing