Category Archives: Native fauna and flora

Has rainy season arrived?

The neighbor’s roof! Not a great picture but I wasn’t going outside!

The month of May was blazingly hot, as it is every year. At the very end of the month, we had a shower or two that sent the campesinos out into their fields to ready the rows for planting. Then June arrived and we’ve been hit with not one, but two, terrific storms. The first storm was so strong that the neighbor’s roof blew off, metal support beams and all. 

The rain brought out all the critters. We’ve been inundated with scorpions in the house. Every night we try to do a thorough wall check for these little buggers. Having been stung before, all of us wish to avoid that painful encounter completely.

Then the mice have been out and about. Fred does his part in the back to try and keep the mouse population under control. George takes credit for Fred’s kills in the morning, as any respectable head dog would do. And delightfully, Manchas has proven herself to be an excellent mouser, despite her small size. Yesterday morning, Cocoa and Fuzz roused me out of bed for their breakfast at the ungodly hour of 4:50 am. I didn’t see Manchas, so I flicked on a few lights and saw she had not one, but two mice in her clutches on the back porch. WHOOP!

Another home invading species that had taken shelter indoors during the rain was the tarantula. The day before yesterday, my son got into the shower and immediately jumped back out for a weapon. He became a broom-wielding naked ninja against a family of spiders, the largest the size of his hand. We think the spiders had been living in the woodpile and slid into the bathroom window to avoid the worst of the wetness. 

Finally, to remove any remaining doubt that the rainy season has begun, the chicatanas have hatched even though it’s a few weeks early. These flying ants are considered a delicacy in many areas of Mexico, but I haven’t been tempted to try them yet.

Unfortunately, due to the sheets of rain that fell during these two storms, any rows that the farmers made have washed away. The ground is so saturated that walking becomes a heavy-booted effort, so the remarking of the rows is extremely slow going. 

With Mexico in the throes of the worst drought in 30 years, the rainy season is received with gleeful anticipation. Here’s hoping that Tlaloc will smile upon his subjects this year. 

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Filed under Alternative Farming, Battling Nature, Homesteading, Native fauna and flora, Water issues

Natural Healing — Yerba de Sapo

Yerba de Sapo / Eryngium carlinae

One day, I was out foraging for wildflowers and came across the unique blue-tinged beauty above. I took a picture of it, but for the longest time couldn’t find anyone who could identify it. Several weeks later, the indigenous herb seller at the local tianguis (flea market) had a basket of these flowers dried. Delighted, I asked what the name of it was and what it was used for. He gave me the name “yerba de sapo” and with that, I was off on my investigations. 

Yerba de sapo translates as toad’s herb in English. The particular variety I encountered is Eryngium carlinae but there are more than 200 varieties in this species around the world. Some sources say this plant is blue thistle, others record it as button snakeroot or sea holly, and yet another source lists it name as Eryngo

The name in Spanish isn’t any less confusing. Yerba de sapo can also be spelled hierba de sapo, however, this is also the term used for Eryngium heterophyllum, another variety of the Eryngium genus with similar health uses. Other names include cabezona and cardón. 

It has been used since the time of the Aztecs as a restorative tonic, remedy for kidney problems, and weight loss aid. The mashed leaves were used to make a poultice for sore eyes. It was also used to regulate menstruation. 

For kidney ailments, a handful of yerba de sapo is boiled in a quart of water. Then one small glass is taken before breakfast. The herb guy recommended a handful of the herb should be boiled along with a bit of palo de brasil (Haematoxylum brasiletto) and palo azul (Eysenhardtia texana) in a tea drunk daily, to lower cholesterol levels and reduce weight.

A tea made from just the leaves is used to treat cough and whooping cough. The roots are edible and sometimes eaten toasted for urinary tract infections. The juiced roots are prescribed as an aphrodisiac, to improve urinary function or induce contractions. Combined with other herbs, it is used in a gonorrhea treatment. It is also used to treat kidney stones and as a cancer remedy. Yerba de sapo is often prescribed to allieviate angina pain and reduce arteriosclerosis.

Few scientific studies have been done on eryngium carlinae. However, those that have been conducted show promising results for its medicinal use. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of diabetes. It has a hypocholesterolemic effect, meaning that yes indeed, it will lower your cholesterol. It reduces lipid peroxidation in the brain, kidney, and liver while increasing the catalase activity having antioxidant properties. It is antibacterial and has been approved as a beverage with renoprotective effects, thus good for the kidneys. 

Eryngium carlinae grows in chalky or limestone soil and higher elevations. In fact, the specimen I came across during my foraging trip was in the mountains near El Cerro de Los Amoles in what had been a limestone evacuation area. The plant does not like to be moved, but it can be propagated with root cuttings. 

Precautions:

Because it can stimulate uterine contractions, yerba de sapo should never be taken during pregnancy. It should not be ingested for more than eight weeks so as not to cause kidney damage. Those that are allergic to fennel, dill, or celery may experience an allergic reaction. 

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Natural Healing — Peyote

Peyote / Lophophora williamsii

Peyote (mescal button) is best known for its hallucinogenic properties. This small, spineless cactus has a large quantity of mescaline which can cause euphoria, hallucinations, depersonalization, and psychoses. It is not physically addictive and does not produce life-threatening symptoms unless there are preexisting conditions that its ingesting aggravates. It does contain hordenine which increases blood pressure. The hallucinogenic tea made from peyote is bitter and causes nausea. 

It has traditionally only been ingested as part of religious ceremonies and therefore hasn’t developed into a recreational drug in Mexico. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is known as hikuri in Huichol, the language indigenous people in the state of Nayarit. Other names for the Lophophora williamsii include kamaba by the Tepehuán in Durango. The Tarahumara in Chihuahua use the term honanamé. The Cora call this plant houatari. The Nahuatl word peyotl which is the word peyote is derived from roughly translates as “silk cocoon” or “caterpillar’s silk” referring to the white wooly strands found on the top of the plant.

Among the Huicholes, Cora, and Tarahumara, the plant is sacred. Yearly pilgrimages are taken by the Huicholes by devotees to the desert area in San Luis Potosi where the peyote grows.  

Peyote has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Mexico, possibly as far back as 5,700 years ago. Peyote remnants have been found in a burial cave that dates back to 810 to 1070 CE in Coahuila, Mexico

Peyote was used prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Bernardino de Sahagún described the hallucinogenic effects of peyote in his work Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España in 1558. He wrote “There is a plant that recalls the truffle; it is called peyotl, it is white in color and is produced in the northernmost regions of the country. Those who eat it see surprising and laughing things. This drunkenness lasts two or three days, and then it goes away. This plant is commonly consumed by the Chichimeca; It supports them and gives them courage for combat, sheltering them from fear, thirst, and hunger. The use of this drug was in the hands of the fortune-tellers and witches, and especially of the wearers of charms.“

As its use was tied so closely to religion, the Catholic priests sent to convert the native Mexicans were determined to stop its use completely lest the souls of the new Christians be contaminated. The Spanish Inquisition prohibited peyote use in Mexico in 1620. A confessional from 1760 contains the questions “Have you killed anyone? How many have you killed? Have you eaten the flesh of man? Have you eaten peyote?” implying that murder, cannibalism, and peyote use were on the same grievous sin level. 

Traditionally, peyote is also used in rural areas of Mexico to treat fever and as a general cleansing of both body and soul. Thin slices of the cactus are soaked in water, but not boiled, which is then drunk by the person with a fever. Sunstroke is also treated with sliced pieces soaked in water. However, in this case, the water and slices are placed in a glass and then poured over the person’s head. 

There’s more to this little cactus then hallucinations. Peyocactin is an antibiotic derived from the peyote cactus effective against 18 different penicillin-resistant bacteria. Extracts from the Lophophora williamsii have also been shown to stimulate the immune system. Hopefully, further research will be done on this medicinal plant in the future.

Note: Although peyote is not illegal in Canada nor in Mexico, it is limited in use in the United States to religious ceremonies. In the U.S. it is considered a controlled substance. Lophophora williamsii is an endangered species and should not be harvested in the wild. 

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