Category Archives: Native fauna and flora

Surviving Mexico on Instagram

guadalajara mountains

Did you know that for the past few years I’ve been posting the natural landscapes and colors of central Mexico on Instagram?  Really.  I have nearly 600 pictures uploaded to the site.

blue morning glory

Recently I ordered prints of most of those snapshots and sent them to my mother to enjoy.  She doesn’t have an Instagram account.  She told me enjoy them she did!

fuzzy rock flower

I know the picture quality isn’t the best.  I’m using my phone after all and I am by no means a professional photographer. I did purchase my latest cell phone because of its improved quality photographs (it’s a Polaroid phone) But mostly, it helps that Mexico is breathtakingly beautiful.

amoles road

I take pictures of things that catch my eye, which are not necessarily things that are commonly considered attractive.  For instance, I took a picture of this hillside because it looked like an alligator to me.

alligator mountain

If you notice, there is not one single picture of me at Surviving Mexico on Instagram. Nope, I’m not a Selfie girl. Instead, what you will see, is Mexico through my eyes. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

purple water lilies

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Natural Remedies — Cherimoya

It’s that time again.  Walking in our backyard has become a hazard.  When you least expect it, heavy green fruit balls just might fall on your head.  So beware!

Our cherimoya, AKA chirimoya, chirmuya or custard apple, tree is loaded this year.   This strange name comes from the Quechua language and means “cold seeds” so called because the tree grows at altitudes of 1,300 to 2,600 m (4, 200 to 8,500 ft) and must have cooler weather periodically or will eventually go dormant.  There are several varieties of cherimoya.  The one in our backyard is the Annona cherimola.

You know a cherimoya is ripe when it has the consistency of a ripe avocado when squeezed, a bit mushy but is not yet brown and rotty. The peel and seeds are not edible.  In fact, the seeds are poisonous when crushed.  They contain small amounts of neurotoxic acetogenins like annonacin.  Dried seeds that have been ground into powder can be used to make a paste that can help get rid of hair lice.

Cherimoya tree bark extract is also dangerous.  If injected it can induce paralysis. I don’t know how anyone would have discovered that by accident, but it’s a useful fact to know. The leaves have long been used to treat hypercholesterolemia in Mexico and scientific study has confirmed that there is a basis for their use in treating high cholesterol. Cherimoya leaves have also been used traditionally in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery and again, scientific studies confirm its use for those illnesses.

“We had an abundance of mangoes, papaias and bananas here, but the pride of the islands, the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya, was not in season. It has a soft pulp, like a

And oh, the taste!  Once you break open a cherimoya, the inside is creamy white. The riper it is, the sweeter and softer the texture.  While I’ve seen descriptions of the flavor ranging from banana to bubble gum, to me, it has a sweet, citrus flavor.  In fact, they are so sweet that I can’t eat more than one.

IMG_20171017_120519

There’s more to these huge ugly roundish fruits than meets the eye. Cherimoya is an excellent source of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, fiber, and riboflavin.  It’s been proven to help with depression and to be suitable for the treatment of oxidative stress related disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Asperger syndrome, cancer, atherosclerosis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, Sickle Cell disease, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even tempers the wear and tear of normal aging like wrinkles, osteoporosis and gray hair. Cherimoya has also been shown to be successful in the treatment of diabetes and gastrointestinal disorders.

The fruit is only in season a short time, in our area mid-September to November, so it’s best to eat what you can while the cherimoya is available.

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Rainy Season Foraging

I’ve already written about how foraging is part of our lifestyle. (See Gleaning) Our animals are taken out of their corrals and allowed free foraging daily.  Recently this mass exodus has not just been limited to the goats, sheep, and horse, but also the chickens, ducks, and rabbits delightedly head out to the tall grass for vittles.

When the Earth provides such abundance, it really is a sin against nature not to harvest its bounty (See Tunas, Pitayas, and Cactus) both man and beast.  Of course, each season brings its own flavors.  This past month, we did some rainy season foraging.

Not edible!

Lots of rain mean lots of mushrooms.  This year was hardly a bumper crop, but we did get a meal or two out of the mushrooms.  I always let my husband harvest these as I’m still a little unsure of choosing the right ones.  Both types of mushrooms that grow in droves during the rainy season look like partially opened umbrellas.  The edible mushrooms are pink underneath.  The poisonous ones are brown or white underneath.

Then there is this plant that my husband called toritos (little bulls).  I’m pretty sure that’s not its name.  The interior of the seed pods before it hardens up is edible. It tastes, well, beany.  Once the pods harden, they darken to an almost black color and two pointy prongs pop out at the end.  My husband and his brothers used these mature seed pods as bulls in their play way back when.

Another edible plant is what my husband calls quesitos (little cheeses) because once peeled it resembles a cheese wheel.  These are bitter in taste.  I’ll pass.

This pretty flower turns into tiny metallic colored berries.  They sort of taste like blueberries.  Apparently, there are several varieties of this plant differentiated by the flower color but all giving the same sort of berry.  Anyone know the name of this plant?

Stopping on our nature hike to take a picture in Los Amoles, I found tomatillo growing wild at my feet.  Tomatillo is used in all sorts of savory Mexican dishes.  It has a tart or tangy flavor to it.

Not edible!

The fruit developing on this plant is not to be eaten, according to my husband, although it bears an uncanny resemblance to a squash.

Verdolaga (purslane) is found year-round.  Cooked up it has the consistency of spinach with a sort of tangy taste.  It’s often used in green salsa.  

This plant is called Chichi de burra (Donkey boobs).  The pods are edible and taste like figs.

The tubular petals from this flower (Klip Dagga) have nectar that can be sucked out making it a favorite of chuparosas (rose suckers otherwise known as hummingbirds) and mariposas (butterflies).  They grow in large bunches under the mesquite tree near our house.  It’s my favorite place to be at the tail end of the rainy season.

This is not an all inclusive list of wild edibles by any means.  Every year, I learn a little bit more about the flora and fauna that surround me.  Where else can I get a glimpse of a mountain lion, a roadrunner, and fox in one day?  Where else do butterflies of every imaginable color and size flutter in clouds?  Where else are daily humdrum activities stopped with the glimpse of a hummingbird? La Yacata remains the place to be for me!

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Natural Healing–Tamarindo

The benefits of that free Herbal Medica course haven’t ended yet!  

Have you ever wondered what those pod things were at the Asian or Mexican market?  Wonder no more.  Today, let me share what I learned about tamarindo.

The Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) tree is not a plant native to Mexico, but was brought by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century and has since become an integral part of Mexican cuisine and traditional medicine.  It’s a slow-growing, long-lived tree that can be 80-100 feet tall with a trunk circumference up to 25 feet.  The evergreen feathery foliage is made up of pinnate leaves that fold up at night.  It has small 5-petalled yellow flowers with orange or red streaks.  The flower buds are pink.  It takes 80 to 90 years for a tamarind tree to begin producing fruit. The fruits are green pods or beans that ripen to a cinnamon brown color.  The outer covering becomes brittle and the pulp within dries to a sticky paste. The fruit begins to dehydrate in 203 days and reaches full ripeness in 245 days.  The fruit can be left on the tree for as long as 6 months after full ripening. (Morton, J. 1987. Tamarind. p. 115–121. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.)

Tamarindo fruit is high in tartaric acid, sugar, B vitamins, calcium, thiamin, iron, magnesium, niacin, vitamin C, copper, and pyridoxine.  Other antioxidants found in the tamarindo include limonene, geranoil (shown to inhibit cancerous pancreatic growth), safrole, cinnamic acid, methyl salicylate, pyrazine, alkylthiazoles.  Its high content of malic acid, tartaric acid, and potassium bitartrate make it an excellent treatment for constipation, which you may want to remember should you be tempted to eat large quantities.  

Tamarindo has also been used traditionally as a treatment for stomach discomfort, diarrhea, parasitic infections, dysentery, helminth infections, malaria cell cytotoxicity, used as a gargle for sore throats, mixed with salt and made into a liniment for rheumatism and arthritic inflammation.  It’s been used for Datura poisoning, alcoholic intoxication,  liver toxicity, and sunstroke.  It has also been recommended as a daily drink for those suffering from thyroid disorders and as a way of fluoride detoxification.  The dried or boiled leaves and flowers can be made into poultices for swollen joints, sprains, boils, hemorrhoids, gonorrhea and conjunctivitis. The roots and bark are boiled in an infusion for chest complaints and as an ingredient in treating leprosy. In one study, the seeds have shown improve glucose homeostasis in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes mellitus, which may lead to further studies as a treatment for diabetes in humans.  In another study, the bark has been shown to possess blood glucose lowering effect along with antioxidant effect and protective effect on renal complications associated with hyperglycemia.  In yet another study of hens fed tamarindo as part of their daily diet, it has been linked to lower cholesterol in the hens’ serum and egg yolks leading to the speculation that similar results could be obtained in humans. (Top 15 Health Benefits of Tamarind and 30 Health Benefits Of Tamarind and 7 Amazing Benefits Of Tamarind)  I could go on and on as to the health benefits, but I think you get the picture.

Are there any safety concerns about tamarindo?  Yes, there are.  As I outlined above, the ingestion of tamarindo has definite effects on the body.  If you have certain conditions, tamarindo may make your condition worse.

As it lowers blood pressure, it may increase bleeding when taken with aspirin, ibuprofen, blood thinners, and anti-platelet drugs.  As its ingestion reduces serum glucose levels, diabetics who are already taking drugs for lowering their blood sugar level should be careful to not eat too much.  As with any food, you may have an allergic reaction.   Excessive quantities of tamarind may damage the enamel of your teeth.  Frequent ingestion of huge amounts of tamarind can promote the formation of gallbladder stones.  If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or ‘acid reflux’, you should stay away from it since it will probably increase the acid in your stomach. If you are taking any sort of vasoconstrictor you need to know that tamarindo is known to add to the vasoconstricting effects by accelerating the process of narrowing of the blood vessels. If you are using any ophthalmic antibiotic on your eyes topically, avoid tamarind intake as it will interact with the cream. (Top 10 Side Effects Of Tamarind) So moderation is the key.

Just one of the many tamarindo products found in Mexico!

So how do you eat it? Maybe the correct question is how don’t you eat it?  The fruit can be eaten raw right off the tree. Wherever you go here in Mexico, you can find tamarindo candy dipped in chile, tamarindo balls, tamarindo candy that comes out of its containers like a  playdoh barber shop toy, tamarindo fruit roll-ups,  tamarindo juice, tamarindo soda, tamarindo Tang, tamarindo salsa, tamarindo on a plastic spoon,  tamarindo margaritas, tamarindo lollipops,  tamarindo marinade, tamarindo gummies,  tamarindo nectar tamarindo popsicles, tamarindo hard candy, tamarindo soup, and many more delightful and savory uses.  (Recetas de Tamarindo).  Would you believe that it’s also found in good ol’ Worcestershire sauce?  

Although I can get agua de tamarindo from the same tricycle market vendors that sell jamaica and horchata, I thought I’d try and make my own. Here’s how that went.

I picked up some dried pods at the market.  Then I cracked and peeled them.  Because of the stickiness factor, it was a bit more difficult than peeling a boiled egg.  I soaked them in water for about an hour.  When the pulp was soft, I removed the seeds and mashed the pulp with my fingers.  That part didn’t take very long.  After that, I added more water and strained the concoction to remove any large lumps and fibers. Add sugar to taste and ice and it’s ready, the perfect refreshing summertime drink!

I kept the seeds and have planted them.  I’d surely like my own tamarindo producing tree (in 80 or 90 years)!

Tamarindo has other uses as well.  Tamarind lumber is used to make furniture and carvings.  The fruit pulp is used to polish brass statues and lamps, and remove the tarnish from copper, brass, and bronze items.

The word itself also has some distinctly Mexican uses as well.  Tamarindo is sometimes used to insult los transitos (traffic police) probably first begun as a commentary about their brown uniforms.  My husband has also said that among hombres (men) tamarindo can be used to imply someone is stupid or an a**hole.  So perhaps it’s not a word you can throw around lightly in some parts however delicious the fruit!

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