Category Archives: Natural Healing

Natural Healing — Tomatillo

Photo credit: Stefan.lefnaer

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is also known as tomate fresadilla (tomate de fresadilla), tomate de cáscara, tomate milpero, miltomate (from the Nahuatl mjltomatl field tomato), farolito, and tomate verde or just tomate. In contrast, the term jitomate is used for red tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) from the word XĪTOMA-TL, while these small husked fruits’ name comes from the Nahuatl term TOMA-TL.

Although best known for adding the delicious sour taste to salsa verde, tomatillo has also been used medicinally at least since the time of the Aztecs. Traditionally, this fruit which can be found in yellow, orange, green, and purple, has been used for headaches, infections, fever, stomach ailments, and diabetes although there has been no scientific evidence supporting the plant’s hypoglycemic action

On the other hand, the calyx, leaf, fruit, and stem have antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, with the husk having the highest concentrations. Additionally, the sticky part of the calyx has anti-inflammatory properties. The fruit has been shown to aid in digestion and is high in antioxidants. Extracts have shown promise in inhibiting pancreatic tumor growth and cancer chemopreventive properties as well.

The toasted fruit is mashed with salt and applied externally for earaches, headaches, and sore throats. Sweetened juice is prescribed for sore throats. Boiling the husk with pericón (Tagetes lucida) is recommended to make a tea to ease a sore throat and hoarseness. 

Stomach ailments caused by bilis (excess rage believed to acculumate in the liver) are treated with an infusion made from nopal root (Opuntia ficus-indica) and the leaves from albahaca (Ocimum basilicum), tomatillo, estafiate (Artemisia ludoviciana), yerba buena (Mentha spicata), and orégano de monte (Lippia graveolens). Simmer the ingredients for 10 minutes. Strain. Drink one cup a day on an empty stomach for 9 days.

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Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.

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Natural Healing — Orégano de Monte

Photo credit: Consultaplantas

Mexican oregano is not oregano (Origanum vulgare) at all. Rather it is part of the lippia genus. More specifically it is Lippia graveolens. It has a similar smell and taste to oregano though its medicinal properties are unique to this species. Orégano de monte is a plant native to Mexico. In Nahuatl, this spice is called ahuiyac-xihuitl which translates to “fragrant savory herb.” In Maya, the plant is xaak-il-ché or xak’il-ché. In the Huasteca language it’s known as ananté. It is also known as orégano cimarrón  or orégano del país.

There are some local names that also refer to other plants in different regions, so care should be taken when identifying the plant. For example, in Puebla, Lippia graveolens is known as salvia. In Coahuila, the same plant is epazote. In certain parts of Oaxaca, this herb is romerillo de monte. Hierba dulce is another common name for this plant which also refers to several other species. Additionally, there are more than 40 species of plants that are called orégano in Mexico. 

Traditionally, orégano de monte is used for indigestion caused by gastrointestinal infections, respiratory issues, intestinal parasites, toothache, diabetes management, and to bring on delayed menstruation. It should not be used during pregnancy. In high doses, it can provoke vomiting. It is also to season meat, pozole, salsa, fish, menudo, and other savory dishes

Lippia graveolens has antioxidant, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antibiotic, and anti-glycemic properties. It is useful in the treatment of dyspepsia. It also is effective in reducing anxiety. Orégano de monte has a high concentration of monoterpenes supporting its use in the treatment of respiratory issues. Several studies have shown it is an effective agent against ticks and diseases caused by protozoans such as malaria, trypanosomiasis, and giardiasis.

To eliminate intestinal parasites, add a spoonful of epazote leaves (Dysphania ambrosioides), and a sprig of orégano de monte (Lippia graveolens), tomillo (Thymus), and yerba buena (Mentha spicata) to a cup of boiling water. Drink 3 cups a day on an empty stomach. 

For toothache, moisten a cotton ball in the essential oil and place it on the problem tooth for relief. Make an infusion from the leaves to make a compress for bruises, soreness, and swelling. Simmer a sprig of orégano de monte (Lippia graveolens) and romero (Salvia rosmarinus) in a cup of water. Strain and drink for a gasy stomach. 

Treatment for bilis (liver buildup as a result of anger, hence an anxiety issue) boil one liter of water. Add equal parts albahaca (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon), estafiate (Artemisia ludoviciana), yerba buena (Mentha spicata), and orégano de monte (Lippia graveolens). Simmer the herbs for 10 minutes. Strain. Drink one cup a day on an empty stomach for nine days. 

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Want to learn a new way to look at plants? Discover common traditional medicine practiced in Mexico today in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.

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Natural Healing — Laurel Silvestre

 Photo credit: Ernestolapeña 

I discovered another herbal treasure nugget that brought me pure bliss the other day. I picked up a packaged tea that contained laurel, canela (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), and limón (Citrus aurantifolia) but it didn’t have any information on what it could be used for. Since I’ve already done research on limón and canela, there was nothing to it but take a look at laurel. 

I started off wrong-footed in my research. I mistakenly assumed that laurel was Laurus nobilis, bay laurel, and had come with the Spanish conquerors to Mexico. Nope. While the term “laurel” did come from Europe, the leaves most often used in culinary delights and remedies are from a native Mexican tree Litsea glaucescens. Those Spanish priests that were interested in herbology superimposed the name “laurel” on this plant because it resembled the laurel that they were familiar with. 

I wasn’t done with my discovery quite yet. I had noticed previously that the laurel I purchased from different sources tended to be just a little bit different from place to place. That made more sense when I found out there were seven, yes 7, different varieties of Litsea glaucescens in Mexico. 

My next trail of investigation was on discovering the proper name for “laurel.” Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is properly known as lauro or laurel de castilla. Litsea glaucescens is Mexican Bay or False Laurel in English. In Nahuatl, it’s ecapatli or expatli de Chietla. It was used in remedies for wounds on the feet, as a digestive aid, to treat respiratory issues, and nervous disorders. Loosely translated, the term ecapatli means “wind or air medicine.”  Laurel continues to be used as a medicine and in religious festivals in Mexico particularly in the Doming de Ramos (Palm Sunday) ceremonies. Unfortunately, over-collection has pushed the species to the endangered classification. 

Different native language speakers refer to to the Mexican bay with different names. Among the Raramuri, it is known as aureli. Other groups use the names canelillo, sufricalla or sufracago, izitzuch in Tseltal, laurelillo, laurel chico, laurel de la sierra or laurel silvestre. Yet other names include cu-ju-e or lipa-cujue-e in Chontal and arrayán. In Mixteco, this tree is known as wixi tika´a,  tu Káa, or yucú ñesachoetiaá and in Mazahua, sanshiño.

It’s often used to treat cold and flu symptoms including congestion, cough, and sore throat. It’s also a digestive aid and prescribed for irregular periods. As a food flavoring, it is often combined with tomillo (Thymus vulgaris), mejorana (Origanum majorana), and oregano. The leaves are almost always used dried. Fresh leaves tend to be somewhat bitter. When burnt, it makes an aromatic smoke. It’s used in several rituals for postpartum cleansing along with other herbs. Manteca de laurel, the essential oil, is harvested by simmering crushed leaves and fruit for 30 minutes. Allow it to cool and skim the oil off the top. It is used as a rub for sore muscles or to relieve rheumatism.  

For digestive issues, laurel silvestre leaves are brewed for a tea in Chiapas and added to a licor de caña in Oaxaca. Laurel (Litsea glaucescens) has antidepressant properties supporting its use for nervous disorders. It has proven antioxidant, antiproliferative, and antimicrobial activities. It also has antihypertensive potential.

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Interested in discovering a path to wellness through traditional medicine? Discover Mexican herbalism with common remedies used today in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.

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