Category Archives: Native fauna and flora

Natural Healing — Toloache

The beginning of the rainy season in our normally dry area brings with it all sorts of flowering plants that not having grown up here I struggle to identify. Every year, directly in front of our house, a deep green plant with the most glorious white blossoms appears. And every year, some part of me screams “POISON STAY AWAY” at the most primitive level. This year, I decided to positively identify this plant to determine whether my inner plant scream was accurate. It’s not like I’m doing anything else lately.

Anyway, after trekking over to its location to get a few pictures, I leafed through my favorite herbal book Infusions of Healing by Joie Davidow and came across a picture of a similar plant with the botanical name Datura. Armed with this bit of knowledge, I took my search to google to positively identify the plant.

This plant that raises my danger hackles is either a Datura leichhardtii or Datura wrightii, which is also known as Datura meteloides, tolguacha, or Sacred Datura. The internet can get you only so far. Both are native to Mexico and fond of heat. They can grow into a bush that can get up to three feet tall. All parts of these plants are poisonous. 

In English, varieties of the Datura species are known as thornapples, jimsonweed, Devil’s trumpets, moonflower, Devil’s weed and Hell’s Bells.

In Nahuatl, plants in this species were called Toloache, Tolova xihuitl, or Tolohuaxihuitl. Datura innoxia was Toloatzin (bended head) and Datura stramonium was Tlapatli (the plant with the nodding head). In Maya, plants of this species are known as Tohkú and Mehen-x-toh-ku.

Datura ceratocaula is a swamp dwelling plant known as Torna Loca (it makes you crazy). Datura arenicola is another variety native to desert areas in Baja California. Datura discolor is found in the Sonoran desert.  Datura quercifolia is called Toloache hoja de encino (oak leaf plant) because of the shape of its leaves. 

Interestingly, Datura metel is believed to be a result of pre-Colombian cultivation in the Carribbean that somehow traveled to India in the second century C.E. This makes it the oldest plant introduction from the New World to the Old World. 

These deadly plants were used ritually and medicinally by the Aztecs. Priests ingested the plant to induce hallucinations they believed were from the gods. These altered states allowed the holy men to visit ancestors or foretell the future. Not surprisingly, ingesting the seeds and flowers causes respiratory depression, hallucinations, psychosis and arrhythmias.

Datura innoxia is still used as a visionary drug by the Mixtec and added to chicha (corn beer) or pulque (made from the maguey) to induce prophecies. Jugo de toloache is made from D. innoxia and sold as a love potion. Maya Shamans smoke chamal (cigars made from tobacco and dried D. innoxia leaves) to induce a trance.

Datura ferox is believed to be an incarnation of a deity to the Tarahumara and the Huichol. The Tarahumara add the seeds to tesgüino (corn beer). 

The Tepehuanes believe toloache is the husband of the corn woman and son-in-law of the sun. Several indigenous groups once used this plant in rites of passage ceremonies and it is sometimes still used in brujería (witchcraft). 

The Little Book of the Medicinal Herbs of the Indians records several medicinal uses. The leaves of the Tolova xihuitl variety were used to treat earaches and scrofulous tumors. Tolohua leaves crushed in egg yolk was a remedy for glandular swellings. Pain in the side was treated with Tolohua-xihuitl. Genital inflammations were treated with a heated poultice of a variety of herbs including tolohua-xihuitl. A salve was made for cracked feet from herbs, resin, the blood of a rooster, and tolohua-xihuitl. Lesions were also treated in a three part cure that ended with the application of ground up tolohua-xihuitl. Skin afflictions warranted an herbal wash that included tolohua-xihuitl. 

Bernardino de Sahagún recorded that this plant was used to treat fever. The leaves were applied topically in an ointment to alleviate arthritis and sciatica pain and ground up seeds were used for gout. Flowers placed under the pillow were used to treat insomnia or induce a trance. On the other hand, he also wrote of it being used as a poison designed to harm enemies. 

One remedy from Coahuila, calls for the toasted leaves of the Datura wrightii to be placed on sores. In other areas of Mexico, toloache tea is given to laboring mothers to help with the pain. Manteca (lard) and D. innoxia are used to treat joint pain. The Maya traditionally use the plant to treat rheumatism. Smoking the dried leaves is used to treat respiratory ailments.  

Crushed leaves give out a bad smell. The morning blooming flowers are sweetly scented and are found in white, yellow, pink and pale purple. The plant adapts to its environment, making it sometimes difficult to identify. For example, in a perfect setting with adequate sun, shade and water, a plant can reach up to three feet high. However, in a dry area, the same variety might only reach ankle height with small flowers and leaves. 

Although all Datura varieties are toxic, the level of toxicity of a given plant is dependent on the age and growing conditions. This variation makes it hard to determine ahead of time how much of the plant can be used safely for medicinal purposes. In fact, sometimes poisoning may result from eating honey that was made from Datura nectar. 

Datura innoxia has the highest antioxidant levels of the species. Datura stramonium contains alkaloids, tannins, carbohydrates and proteins. Both varieties have antibacterial properties. All parts of the plant are anti-inflammatory and many also have antifungal properties. Extracts can be used to counter cypermethrin pesticide toxicity and organophosphate exposure because it contains atropine. It has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of gastrointestinal ailments and cholera.

Even though the Datura has been used medicinally for centuries, I don’t believe myself qualified to make any sort of concoction from any part of the plant in front of my house. However, I had a marvelous time running down all these interesting bits of information. 

Do you have  Datura in your area?

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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?

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Learn more about traditional herbal remedies in Mexico!

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

New Releases by Surviving Mexico

April quarantine left me feeling like I didn’t get anything done, so I’m delighted to say that I did do some things during May that resulted in a finished book, Book Weaving: How to Create a Story Tapestry From Your Blog Threads

ebook cover

Click on the image for a preview!

It’s designed for bloggers who want to make something tangible from their blog posts. I’d love feedback from anyone who has some thoughts on how I could make the information more interesting or if there are gaps in the material provided on how to structure a book. 

I’m offering the eBook for free for the next few days, so be sure to get your copy from Amazon.

herbal cover

I’d also like to remind everyone that the eBook version of Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico is now available for download for those of you that purchased it as a pre-order. I had to wait until the Ultimate Bundles Herbs & Essential Oils bundle was finished before I could offer it on Amazon. The eBook version is a fraction of the price of the paperback version, so you’re getting quite a deal!

I’m working on a three-book series about self-publishing this month, so look for that announcement in the (hopefully) near future. Meanwhile, gardening is going well, those quarantine projects are slowly coming along, and we have our fingers crossed the rains will begin soon! 

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Filed under Blogging, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing