Category Archives: Native fauna and flora

Natural Healing — Pochote

pochote pic

Pochote, Ceiba aesculifolia (Kapok) is also known as apochote, ceiba, puchote, lánta in Chiapas, kuch (Maya) in Yucatán y len-o-ma (Chontal) and Matzu (chinanteco) in Oaxaca.

Once a year, the pochote trees in La Yacata are festooned with huge cotton balls. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to gather them up to stuff some pillows. This year I finally did!

It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. The trunk of the Ceiba aesculifolia (kapok) is covered in thorns, so climbing is out of the question. The seed pods were mostly out of my reach considering these trees can grow up to 25 meters high. The soft, downy fluff disintegrated and floated away after I touched it.  It’s like trying to catch dandelion puffs.  I managed to get one shopping bag full for my efforts.

Since the fluff is quite a bit, uh, well fluffier than synthetic materials, not only did I make a huge mess trying to stuff a pillow, but my bagful was only enough for one very small pillow. Well, I guess I’ll try again next year when the cotton balls bloom.

This tree has no leaves when it flowers, making it a strange sight. Bats are the primary pollinators as well as moths and hummingbirds. It grows in dry and rocky areas, so it comes as no surprise that La Yacata abounds in them.

As with all things found in nature, the pochote has medicinal value. In the states of Mexico and Quintana Roo, it is used to induce vomiting. In Yucatan, the fermented bark is used in a wash given to those with sunstroke.

Again, not surprisingly, the cotton-like fluff has been traditionally used for stuffing. It has also been used as tinder for fires and wicks for candles. Recently, this soft material has been found to be effective insulation for refrigerators.

The seeds of the pochote are toasted and eaten in Veracruz. The roots are also edible. Craftsmen make jewelry out of the seed pods and carve houses from the wood.

Traditionally, infusions of the pochote leaves have been used to treat sores, snake bite, and dermatitis. Francisco Hernández de Toledo mentioned the pochote in his collections of works Plantas y Animales de la Nueva Espana, y sus virtudes about plants and animals found in Nueva Spain (Mexico) and their virtues.

There have been no studies so far to ascertain the validity of using pochote leaves on the skin.


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Natural Healing — Chayote

It’s Eat Your Vegetables Day! So let’s talk about my husband’s favorite vegetable, the chayote!

chayote pic.jpg

Chayote (Sechium edule) is also called the Mexican vegetable pear,  mirliton squash or choyotl. It comes from the Nahuatl word chayohtli and is thought to be one of the earliest cultivated plants in Mesoamerica.

Once the plant takes root, it needs very little care. It will continue to grow and produce fruit for years. Not only is the fruit edible, but the root, stem, seeds and leaves are edible as well. All edible parts are useful in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

The chayote has components that are effective in the fight against cancer. It is rich in amino acids, vitamin C and antioxidants.

The root, which is tuberous and cooked like a potato or yam, has been shown to be successful in treating kidney inflammations. The root, leaves and stem are high in fiber and have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. The shoots reduce obesity and are good for the liver.

Traditionally, an infusion made from 3 to 5 leaves boiled in a liter of water is drunk daily to dissolve kidney stones and reduce arteriosclerosis. It is quite diuretic. The leaves also are antibacterial and can be used as a poultice to dress wounds.

I’ve seen people eat boiled chayote like you would an apple, however, I have to admit, chayote has a flavor so mild that it’s not my favorite squash by a long shot. It is, however, a staple in our bone broth and my husband makes this absolutely delicious dish with chayote, squash, tomato, onion and garlic served over rice that I adore.


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Natural Healing — Papaya


Native to Mexico, the papaya (Carica papaya) gets its name from the Maya páapay-ya which roughly translates as “mottled fruit.” The papaya is yet another staple food in the Mexico diet. Rich in papain, leaves and seeds are used to tenderize meat. The fruit is eaten raw, cooked and blended in fruit juices. The sap from the unripe fruit makes latex.

It is anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory. High in lycopene, papaya juice is often applied to sunburn and skin irritations to reduce inflammation. Papaya also is effective in reducing cancerous breast tumor growth.

Papaya seeds are natural antifungal agents. Dried seeds are often eaten to help in digestion. The seeds have a spicy flavor and are sometimes ground and used to season food as you would black pepper.  They have found to be useful in the treatment of IBS and stomach ulcers.

The leaves are used to treat liver damage caused by dengue in some areas as an antiviral agent. Extracts from the leaves are hypoglycemic and antioxidant and have been shown to improve liver and pancreas function.

The papaya is often prescribed in Mexico to treat parasites and is anti-protozoal. There are several remedies to expel internal parasites. One recipe calls for a mixture of juice, honey and coffee drank before breakfast. Another treatment is a tea made from the leaves drank 3 times a day for three days while ingesting a steady diet of the fruit. Yet a third remedy is to eat poached seeds with sap from an unripe fruit.

If your face is starting to wrinkle, eat more papaya and try a mashed papaya fruit mask! Papaya has been shown to reduce the depth of facial wrinkles

Note: The ripe fruit is safe for pregnant women to eat, however, the green fruit should be cooked first as it may cause contractions.

June is National Papaya Month! Have you had your papaya today?


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Natural Healing–Corn Silk Tea

Corn (Zea mays)is high in fiber thus helpful for proper digestion. It is also high in B vitamins and we all know how good those are for you. It is especially high in niacin, pantothenic acid, and thiamin.  

Zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese are found in corn. Corn is a good source for antioxidants including carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin which are good for your eyes. The kernels are rich in vitamin E which helps protect the body from illness and disease.

Corn oil and corn husk oil used for cooking have been shown to reduce cholesterol with regular use. A return to the traditional three sisters, (corn, beans, and squash) diet has been shown to reduce hyperglycemia-induced pathogenesis and associated complications linked to cellular oxidation stress and hypertension.

Some version of maíz can be found in nearly every meal of the day in Mexico. Atole for breakfast. Tortillas for lunch. Pozole, enchiladas, quesadillas, and tacos for dinner. Even snacks are corn. Elotes (corn on the cob) on a stick smothered in mayonnaise and chili powder are common evening edibles. A cup of maizena (corn starch) is just the thing before bed. Tortillas left over from lunch might be toasted into tostadas and enjoyed with any number of toppings.

It comes as no surprise that even the corn silk has value in Mexican culture. The caballitos de elote (little hairs of corn), also known as barbas de maíz (corn beard), are considered especially good for renal ailments.

My little green herb book, Antiguo Recetario Medicinal Azteca, provides a recipe for a tea to be drunk at room temperature. Boil 15 grams of caballitos de elote in one liter of water, adding alfalfa or barley if desired. Drink three to four glasses throughout the day.

corn tea

Corn silk tea functions as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, which of course supports the use of it in treatments for kidney issues. It also helps with water retention during PMS and is often given to the elderly to help with incontinence. PMS tea is made with dandelion leaves, barbas de maíz, and uva ursi.

Corn silk can be used topically to treat spider bites or other insect stings as an infusion to bring down the inflammation. This is for common bites or stings only. Poisonous spider bites or scorpion stings should be treated by a professional healthcare provider.

Corn silk tea is thicker than you might think and for all intents and purposes tastes like diluted corn starch. If your body is already low on potassium, drinking corn silk tea could make the problem worse since it primarily works as a diuretic.

Another precaution you should take is to ensure that the caballitos de elote should come from non-GMO, organically grown corn. Mexico has prohibited the planting of GMO corn but pesticide use is alive and well.

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