Category Archives: Native fauna and flora

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

Natural Healing–Wandering Jew Matali tea

wandering-jew

My interest was piqued one day at the tianguis (flea market) in Valle de Santiago when the elderly woman wrapped in her dark blue rebozo against the cold that sold us the plant (for 10 pesos). She mentioned that this plant, which I knew as Wandering Jew, was called “Sin Verguenza” (Without shame) because it propagates without any special care whatsoever.  She then said that it was good for treating diarrhea.  I had not heard anything ever before about medicinal uses of Tradescantia zebrina, so when I began my Herbal Materia Medica course through Herbal Academy, I added it to the list of herbs I wanted to investigate more thoroughly.

Before I had even begun my investigation, my husband plucked and ate a leaf as a cure for his upset stomach one day.  As he didn’t die, and in fact, felt much better, I thought there might be something to this old wives’ tale.

I found out that Tradescantia zebrina was native to Mexico. However, I didn’t find anything in English about its medicinal use except a vague reference to a tea made from its leaves called Matali. So that’s what I searched for.  Bingo!  Youtube video and everything!  Matali is a tea common in Tabasco used for treatment for urinary infections and kidney issues.  

The preparation in the video was far from exact, so I tried digging deeper.  One recipe for a kidney cleanse instructed boiling the leaves in water and allowing it to cool.  Add lemon juice and honey.  

There was no mention on how many leaves or how long to boil the concoction.  

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one looking for this recipe.  Yahoo respuestas led me to yet another recipe.  There I was told that there is no exact number of leaves used in making the tea.  Boil some, taste, and if it seems weak, add some more leaves.  If it is too strong, add more water to dilute the tea.  Okie Dokie.

There was a separate recipe for dysentery treatment. An unspecified number of leaves should be crushed with a bit of water. The mixture should then be strained.  Mountain honey (the best I could figure miel de monte translates as) and lemon juice are added.  This tea should be drunk 3 times a day for the duration of the illness.

Much to my surprise, I found the Chinese Traditional Medicine also listed a tea made from the Wandering Jew for stomach ailments.  In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass) and is recommended for kidney issues.  Here I found some harvesting advice (don’t touch the sap because it might cause skin irritation) and a description of what the tea tastes like “slightly tasteless with a light herbal aroma having a purple/pink color after being boiled for a few hours.”

A few HOURS?  Well, that’s still not specific enough.  So I kept searching.

Finally, I found a site that gave a more precise recipe.   Use 200 g each time.  Soak 15 pieces of red dates in a container.  Wash the Shui Gui Cao 3 times.  Boil 1.5 liters of water.  Add the Shui Gui Cao, red dates and 12 slices of ginger.  Cook on low heat for 1.5 hours.  Add brown sugar for sweetness.  It can be reheated for maximum benefits.  Drink 2 to 3 hours after eating or on an empty stomach for best results.  

Another site gave the same recipe, however, cautioned not to use an aluminum pot to make the tea since it would cause a chemical reaction and result in a slow form of poisoning.  Ok.  Good to know!

There were quite a few things this tea was accredited to cure including bladder problems, piles, uric acid, blood in the stool, pulmonary tuberculosis, cough, kidney infection, poisonous snake bite, vaginal discharge, urinary infection, hemoptysis, nephritis dropsy, acute conjunctivitis, swollen larynx, even diabetes.

The diabetes cure had a recipe too.  Make a cup of tea using 3 leaves.  Drink 3 cups per day.  If making the tea is too bothersome, you can just eat one leaf 3 times per day.

I wasn’t the only person to look deeper into medicinal use of the Wandering Jew plant. One study showed that a methanolic leaf extract from the Tradescantia zebrina plant had the highest antioxidant content of the plants studied.  Antioxidants are good.   Dr. Jim Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database cited a 1969 study by Maximino Martinez listing this plant as a treatment for dysentery.

wandering-jew-tea

Well, with this information, it was time to make matali myself.  I boiled a handful of leaves for 2 hours as instructed and got weak tea colored water. It wasn’t pink.  And it tasted like, well, boiled water.  So maybe I didn’t put enough leaves in it.  I thought I’d try just making a cup with 3 leaves.

I choose leaves with the purplest underside, boiled the water and added the leaves.  AND….the water turned out exactly the same color.  I sampled it, and it was tasteless, although I did notice my tongue had a thin coating of blah afterward, so much so that I went and brushed my teeth and tongue to get rid of the feeling.  

I was disappointed, so say the least.  Apparently, there is something I am doing that prohibits the pink color of matali tea. I’m wondering if it is the species of Wandering Jew that I am using?  Perhaps if I used the full purple leaf variety rather than the variegated plant, the tea would turn the promised pink color.  Has anyone been successful?  Do tell!

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This post was proofread by Grammarly.

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

Discovering Permaculture

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So this month in my spare time, (HA!) I decided to take an Introduction to Permaculture course through Oregon State University.  I managed to get it done in 21 days and received this nifty little badge because I completed all the course requirements.

The final assignment was entitled 10/10/100.  In the next 10 days, devote 10 hours and $100 of my local currency and do something with what I learned.  Then post it here.  So here’s my first section of the assignment, to share with you what I have learned in this course.

What did I learn?

Each week focused on a specific aspect of permaculture.  Week 1 defined the process.  Week 2 concentrated on observing the current landscape.  Week 3 highlighted design methods and the principles behind them.  Week 4 listed specific strategies for applying permaculture.  

What is permaculture?

Permaculture is the ethical creation of sustainable human settlements and food production systems that take into consideration the interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the natural environment.  You don’t see much of this happening these days, especially with the current movement to abolish the EPA.  Mexico is even worse at this sort of environmentally conscious thinking, in part because of NAFTA.  However, I did learn that there are pockets of resistance even here.  Monsanto GMO crops are still officially banned in Mexico.  Las Cañadas co-op in Veracruz is an organization dedicated to the education about and practice of sustainability.  Mexico City has also been making efforts at urban gardens.  Additionally, Mexico City still uses a limited number of chinampas (floating gardens) first developed by the Aztecs when they settled the region. Is it enough to counteract the damage unsustainable practices have caused?  It hardly seems so.

Captura de pantalla (74)

See that red rectangle? Yep, that’s us.

Where am I in the process of permaculture design?

Not far enough.  I learned an important terminology distinction.  I should not strive to be self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant.  No single aspect of the ecosystem is self-sufficient but rather is part of the interdependent web of life. With that, my homesteading life goals have changed a bit.

As you know, La Yacata has a dry climate, except for the torrential tropical rains from June until September.  As a result, the natural landscape consists of drought resistant plants, cactus, mesquite, and acebuche.  The area had been cleared for cultivation of las tres hermanas (squash, beans, and corn) about 100 years ago.  Most of the area has lain fallow for 20 years or more.  There is no natural water supply despite claims to the contrary.  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

It gets worse.  It seems like the colonos (community members) are determined to exploit what there is to the point of complete environmental. Before the chicken feather guys constructed his pig/chicken compound, the upper part of La Yacata had wild orchids during the rainy season.  Before the pig guy backed up the sewer system, the rain flowed freely from the hillside into the arroyo bordered by dense vegetation.  (Have I mentioned that these two are in-laws?) We have others who come and cut down the mesquite to make charcoal to sell in town, removing an essential component of the ecosystem.  There is no recognition of interdependence here.

Breaking it down even further, our green area is not as green as I would like.  Currently, we have a lovely cherimoya tree that provides a good section of shade, as well as a blackberry bush gone wild, 2 guayaba trees, a pomegranate tree that finally is producing fruit now that the goats and chickens are contained on the other side and a lemon tree that is a bit stunted after last year’s blight.  

We have a few smaller trees started, nispero, aguacate, papaya, durazno, capulin, and mango but it’s too soon to tell if they will flourish or die. Our new puppy likes to munch the lower branches and every now and then that rogue white hen escapes and eats the leaves.

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The rain water floods the area beside our house in the rainy season. We’ve had to add a run-off path.

Miss Piggy’s former compound is undergoing a transformation from wasted space to raised garden, although it didn’t work out so well last year.  We catch and store our rainwater in the aljibe and tinacos. The rain runoff builds up on the right side of our wall and so we have a drainage path through the back yard.

klip dagga

Klip dagga grows wild in La Yacata and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

I have big plans for our backyard this year, although it seems all my efforts are sabotaged.  In addition to the animal issues, there are human issues.  One year I transplanted a handful of klip dagga plants from under the mesquite down the road to our yard.  They were doing well, sprouting up all over the place, and my son got annoyed and chopped them all down one afternoon.  Sigh.  I’m determined to make another attempt this year.

What are the permaculture design principles?

There are 12 principles of permaculture as defined in the book “Permaculture Principles and Pathways beyond sustainability” by David Holmgren.

I’ll list them here.  You can do your own research if you wish.

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions.
  10. Use and Value Diversity.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
Captura de pantalla (75)

Red is our home zone. Yellow is our home orchard. Green is our farming zone. Light blue is the semi-managed zone. We managed with grazing the goats there. Dark blue is the wild where we forage.

How can I apply the techniques to my own situation?

Our goal for solar is right in line with these principles. We catch and store rainwater. We obtain a yield from both cultivated areas and wild foraged areas. We try to keep down our waste generation and apply self-regulation.  We can improve on using the edges and marginal and the integrate rather than segregate principles.

How important is permaculture?  

A number of the podcasters talked about the imminent crash of the ecosystem.  Imminent as in the next 20 years. How did we get to this precipice?  Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael chronicles our historic demise from the birth of agriculture to modern-day unsustainable farming practices.  And yet there have been places where the utter desolation has been transformed into viable habitat in as little as 5 years.  

After seeing these incredible examples of regeneration, it’s easy to agree with Bill Mollison, author of Permaculture Designer’s Manual,  when he says “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  The solution is simply that more people need to identify themselves as “leavers,” those that live in harmony with nature, rather than “takers,” those that seek to dominate nature, if we are to survive this ecosystem crash as a species.

As for that 10 hours / $100 assignment I mentioned at the beginning–looks like I’m heading to the local tianguis (flea market) this weekend to pick up some more of those home grown, native plants the women in rebozos (shawls) sell.  At $10-15 pesos per coffee can packed vegetation, I’m sure I’ll have the back yard on its way to permaculture in no time.  It’s good for me, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the little old ladies.

Interested in learning more about permaculture?  Check out these podcasts!

Earth Repair Radio with Andrew Millison

The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Diego Footer’s Creative Destruction

Sustainable Living Podcast

Sustainable World Radio  

The course I took is now available to download!  Check out Introduction to Permaculture by Andrew Millison.

discovery

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