Pericón (Tagetes lucida) is also known as, hierbanís, cuchrucumín, flor de Santa María, hierba añil, periquillo, yerbanís, Mexican tarragon in English, yauhtli in Nahuatl, and Naná uarhi in Purépecha. It is native to Mexico and in the same family as the more well-known cempasúchil (Tagetes erecta). The Aztecs used it in cooking, as medicine, and in rituals. It was an ingredient to the sacred drink chocolatl and still added to chayote and elotes (boiled corn ears) for flavoring. As it was considered holy to Tlaloc, the rain god, it was rubbed on the chest to ensure safety before crossing a river. It was closely associated with the harvest because it is found after the first rains of the season and blooms around the time the corn is ready to harvest.
After the conquest, pericón became associated with San Miguel (Michael the Archangel). In many areas, it is customary to place crosses made from the plant in each corner of la milpa (cornfield) and on doors to homes and businesses on September 28 to invoke the protection of San Miguel as part of the periconeada (also known as la Fiesta del Pericón) ceremony. September 29 is the feast day of the three archangels, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael.
Medicinally, pericón is prescribed as a tonic for diarrhea, empacho (indigestion), asthma, colds, rheumatism, susto (a nervous disorder), and to regulate menstruation in Mexico.
An infusion for stuffy noses is made with a handful of leaves in a quart of water. Another tea for fever includes the stems, leaves, and flowers. Dried plants are often burned to keep flies and mosquitoes away from an area.
So I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, and I expect it will be a rough couple more. Things started out rosy in March, and then I had a birthday—just my 49th, not a milestone or anything, and while I’m ok with my age, it reminded me of all those who didn’t make it to 49 with me.
But I shook it off and kept moving forward in busyness–until I lost my main source of income teaching online. And I was sure something would turn up, but as the days turned to weeks, and nothing did, well, you can imagine how that weighed on me. (More about that saga in another post).
Midway through April now, and I’m dealing with swollen and painful joints keeping me housebound, just when I thought to start planting my garden. And looming ahead is May when my son turns 20 (where did the time go?), and my mom will have been gone a year.
In between, I’ve been working steadily on some plant studies. Yesterday I finished the thirtieth one, which means the first draft of a new herb book will be out soon.
Chatting with one of my besties, who is also having a rough time of it (aren’t we all?), I mentioned how much I enjoy my herb research. I admitted I even have a little herb song that plays in my head while I look up Nahuatl terms and try to decipher yet another scientific paper on plant properties.
It goes something like Rihanna’s “Work,” but instead, I sing, “Herbs, herbs, herbs, herbs. I really like them herbs, herbs, herbs, herbs…Digging in the dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt….” and so on. Anyway, it’s a happy little ditty with a lot of repetition and mumbling.
You may be wondering how I pick the next plant study when there are so many to choose from. After all, Mexico is one of the ten most biodiverse countries in the world.
Sometimes it’s random. I might see something in an article or in my Facebook feed about some plant or other, and I jump in with both feet researching. But mostly, it’s more of a personal connection that leads me down the garden path of investigation.
For example, last week, my sister-in-law was over, and I, of course, had to show her my plants. She pointed to one particular viney weedy thing with white flowers that sprung up from nowhere and said that that one was for coughs. WHAT! Now I have to look into la artemisia (the plant in question) and see what is to be seen. Very exciting!
Or take another instance. I expect this year to be rather difficult all around with rising food prices and now my unemployment. So I thought long and hard about what would be the best use of the limited growing space I had. While researching native plants, I came across huautli, outlawed by the Spanish conquerors. Now known by its European moniker, amaranto is hailed as a superfood. Well then, I could plant huautli and girasoles (also believed to be native to Mexico) along with maíz, frijoles, and calabazas. And it’s exciting!
Or maybe I’ve picked up another tea concoction for my son to try who still struggles with breathing two years after Covid, and it doesn’t work as well as the last tea. After looking at the ingredients and seeing that gordolobo (Verbascum thapsus) is in one but not in the other–and voila. Gordolobo is a plant that helps his breathing and I’m off to the indigenous herbalist in town to get some and at my computer doing some more research.
Each plant is like a little mystery waiting to be solved. I try to answer what it is, how is it best grown, how it is used (fresh or dry), and ultimately what is its value. It’s fitting as I putter in my garden, sitting, of course, to spare my knees, with my hair faded to grey and the freshness of youth gone, I wonder: Who is she? What is her value? How is she best grown? And then my little inner herb song kicks in…and it’s ok.
Discover how native Mexican plants can enrich your garden!