From the breathtaking beauty of some of these plants to the less attractive yet equally powerful, gain valuable insights into the traditional uses and modern applications. Whether you are a professional in the field of herbal medicine or simply curious about the power of these plants, this volume has something to offer.
Unlock the healing power of blossoming plants and take control of your health and well-being. Don’t miss out on Volume 4 of the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series. Order your copy today and discover the incredible healing properties of these plants.
Did you know that May is National Amaranth month? And did you know that amaranth is a native Mexican plant with oodles of health benefits?
Let’s dive into the history a bit. The Amaranthus species has three varieties cultivated as a grain. These are Amaranthus cruentus (Blood amaranth), Amaranthus hypochondriacus (Prince’s feather), and Amaranthus caudatus (Loves-lies-bleeding). The first two are native Mexican plants while Amaranthus caudatus was originally native to Peru.
Amaranthus cruentus is huauhtli in Nahuatl and known by that term’s variation huaútli throughout Mexico. In Maya, it is xtes or tez, alparie in Purépecha, guegui in the language of the Raramuri, xidha in Otomí and wa’ve in Huichol. Other names for varieties of this plant include quelite, bledo, and quintonil all of which are also used to identify plants in unrelated species, making them problematic for identification purposes. Amaranto is another moniker gaining popularity.
The importance this grain once held in the prehispanic is seen by the number of names in Nahuatl for specific varieties. Black amaranth was tlilhuauhtli. Xochihuauhtli was yellow amaranth. Wild amaranth was tezca huauhtli. Another type of amaranth was michihuauhtli. And texouauhtli was the word for blue amaranth. This language precision was natural considering approximately 80 percent of the prehispanic indigenous diet was made up of this grain. Huaútli was cooked, popped, or ground into flour. It was used for atole, tamales, and tortillas. The tender leaves were boiled as a vegetable.
Discoveries of this grain in the kitchens and places of worship at an excavation site in Tepetitlán, an area near Tula, further demonstrate its importance. Tula is not an area where maize thrives because of altitude, frost layer, and poor soil quality. Instead, huaútli was the main crop for the area, especially valued during drought periods as it could be stored in clay pots for long periods of time without rotting.
According to the Mendoza Codex, newborn babies were bathed with leaf infusions. Amaranth paste was used to make symbolic objects presented to a new baby to help identify its place in society, such as a bow and arrow for a hunter, a scribe’s utensils for the priesthood, and so on.
Amaranto seeds formed into a ball with agave honey called tzoalli was a common travel food. Mixed with blood it was an offering to the gods. Warriors ate it to increase their strength. Today, this recipe is known as alegrías (joys) and is found in traditional sweet selections throughout the country and during the Día de Muertos festivities molded into skulls.
Tzoalli was vilified by Spanish priests after witnessing the festivities of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, the principal deity of war, sun and human sacrifice, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan, which was celebrated in what is now December. Among processions, dancing, singing, praying, and human sacrifice, a representation of the god was formed from tzoalli. At the conclusion of the holiday, this was cut into small pieces and celebrants partook of a piece in a communal ceremony known as “the eating of the gods.” The Catholic Church outlawed the cultivation of huaútli, punishing anyone who planted it by cutting off their hands and anyone who ate it with death.
Amaranthus is an extremely adaptable crop, heat/drought-resistant, with no major disease issues, and easy to grow. It is full of iron, calcium, phosphorous, folic acid, manganese, selenium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C.
Traditionally, a tea infusion made from the leaves is prescribed for diarrhea and stomach pain. For chest and back pain, the infusion is made from the flowers. For menstrual pain, the flowers are boiled in chicken broth. Leaf poultices are applied for cold sores and skin infections.
⅛ cup of water
1 cone of piloncillo (brown sugar)
¼ cup of honey
½ limón juice
1 cup + 3 tablespoons of amaranth seeds
1 cup of a variety of seeds, nuts, and dried fruit (optional)
In a skillet over medium heat, toast the amaranth seeds until they puff up and are evenly browned, about 10 minutes. If adding nuts or pumpkins seeds, add them to the amaranth and toast briefly.
In another pot, combine the water and piloncillo. Stir over low heat until the piloncillo dissolves. Add the honey and mix again. Then add the limón juice and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. If adding dried fruit, do so now.
Pour the liquid mixture over the toasted seeds and mix thoroughly. Spread the combined ingredients in a pan lined with wax paper. Allow it to set for 2 hours. Cut into bars or use shaped cookie cutters.
Not everyone is aware that vainilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a gift from Mexico first cultivated by the Totonacs. When the Aztecs conquered the Totonacs, they paid their tributes in vanilla, which they called Xanath, meaning “hidden flower.” In Totonac myth, Tzacopontziza was a young girl in love with a poor farmer named Zcatan-oxga. Tzacopontziza’s beauty was noticed by the god of happiness, who tried to woo her. Tzacopontziza refused his advances. Angered by his rejection, the god of happiness made a deal with Tzacopontziza’s father for her hand in marriage. Tzacopontziza refused the marriage and ran away with her beloved. They were captured and executed, their hearts thrown into a ravine. Her heart grew into the orchid that gives us the vainilla pod and his became a bush that supported its viney weight. In other versions of the myth, the lovely Tzacopontziza had been given into temple service by her parents, and by running away with her poor farmer she committed sacrilege which ended in death for both.
Xanath was considered sacred and used as a fragrance in temples by the Totonacs. The flowers were stored in amulets as a protective force. The Aztecs, too, revered this extract. The bitter drink xocolatl was flavored with a dash of vanilla as recorded by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a Spanish soldier. The Spanish name for this flavoring comes from the word for pod “vaina.” So “vainilla” is little pod, not very original at all. In Nahuatl, cuauhmecaexotl is the vanilla plant. The Zoque-Popoluca, who live in the southern part of Veracruz, call this plant tlilxóchitl, and the Mexicas use the term tich moya which means “black flower.”
Hernán Cortés is given credit for taking this flavoring to Europe in the 1500s. However, the transplanted seeds never produced vanilla beans due to a lack of pollinators.
Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world because extraction is so labor-intensive. The orchid plant vanilla planifolia is a clinging vine that can get up to 300 feet long. It can take up to three years for the plant to mature enough to flower. Melipona bees, orchid bees (Euglossini), and hummingbirds are the primary pollinators of the greenish-yellow flower that only blooms for 24 hours. Cultivated vanilla planifolia is pollinated by hand. Vanilla beans are also harvested by hand as they ripen and then cured. From pollination to harvest, it takes 9 months. Some species of the orchid vanilla planifolia are found in remote areas of Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz and in danger of extinction.
Traditionally, vainilla is used as a gastro-intestinal anti-inflammatory and to treat diarrhea. The aroma is believed to reduce anxiety and depression and is prescribed in cases of susto (sudden fear), up to 25 drops a day in coffee, tea, or milk. The Cruz-Badiano codex has the first recorded illustration of the vanilla planifolia plant. The Florentine Codex records a remedy for cough made from vainilla, cacao(Theobroma cacao), and mecaxóchitl (Piper auritum).