Category Archives: Natural Healing

Natural Healing — Canela

Although there are several types of cinnamon available commercially, Mexican recipes and remedies call for cinnamomum zeylanicum otherwise known as Ceylon cinnamon. These light brown sticks are made up of many thin layers and are easily ground with a metate (grinding stone). 

This spice was brought to Mexico in 1690 by Juan de Esteyneffer, a Jesuit physician from Germany. He combined remedies and treatments he learned in New Spain (Mexico) with the European knowledge he had as a pharmacist in his work Florilegio Medicinal, published in 1712. Juan de Esteyneffer had a powerful belief in the healing properties of cinnamon or rather canela from the Latin word cannella meaning “little tube” referring to the way the bark curls as it dries. He prescribed it as a cure for sudden blindness and deafness indicating that the physician should chew on a stick and then blow the pieces into the eyes or ears of the afflicted. 

While that particular remedy didn’t catch on, canela is used to treat stomach issues, fever, cough, colds, rheumatism, regulate menstruation, teething issues, motion sickness, and hangovers in Mexico. It also is considered an aphrodisiac. 

Canela essential oil is used as a rub for rheumatism. Cinnamomum zeylanicum has wound healing properties, being both anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (reducing the sensation of pain). 

For cough, 1 section of canela, gordolobo (mullein), ajo (garlic), is boiled in ¼ liter of water and drunk as needed, sweetened with honey and flavored with limón (lime). Cinnamomum zeylanicum is an effective fungicide and can be used to treat a variety of fungi that cause respiratory infections. 

It has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiparasitic properties as well as anti-gastric ulcer and anti-secretagogue effects, supporting its use as a stomach ailment remedy. It has also shown to be effective against Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacteria found in the upper gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract and the colon. Both rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease have been associated with this periodontal infection. 

Motion sickness calls for canela tea. Teething issues are treated with a decoction of canela, mejorana (marjoram), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), menta (peppermint) and cempasuchil (marigold) is administered. 

Cinnamomum zeylanicum has hepato-protective effects, making it a beneficial addition to those that drink just a bit too much alcohol by reducing the effects on the liver. It also lowers the serum cholesterol levels. 

Studies have shown that canela is useful in the treatment of PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) and helps regulate menstrual cycles among women with this condition. It has also shown to be effective in reducing menopausal symptoms. For cramps, a decoction made with the flowers from la barra de San Jose (Joseph’s staff) and cinnamon is the recommended remedy. A postpartum treatment calls for ajo (garlic), ruda (rue), laurel, romero (rosemary), orange peel, clavo (clove), canela, and alum is added to a small brazier of coals and burned. The new mother stands over the brazier as it smokes. This treatment is done every other day until the 40-day postpartum period is over. 

Canela has anti-cancer properties and has been useful in treating leukemia. It has been shown to have antioxidant properties and be useful in reducing damage to the pancreas often experienced by those with diabetes as well as being antidiabetic in nature. Studies suggest that regular ingestion may halt or delay Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been shown to be effective in reducing the progression of multiple sclerosis. The combination of cinnamon bark extract and honey has potential activity against acne-causing bacteria.

Although tea is the typical method of preparation as an herbal remedy, canela is also a staple in many other traditional beverages. Mexican chocolate, horchata (rice milk) and cafe de olla (coffee) are always made with a dash of canela. Mole, the thick chocolate sauce served with meat and rice, also uses canela, both when it is in broth form and then added again when ground. Tepache, an alcoholic beverage made from pineapple is seasoned with cinnamon. One of the most common atole (a thick corn drink) flavors is canela. And finally Ponche Navideño (Christmas punch) would not taste the same without this little twig. 

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Natural Healing — Yerba de Sapo

Yerba de Sapo / Eryngium carlinae

One day, I was out foraging for wildflowers and came across the unique blue-tinged beauty above. I took a picture of it, but for the longest time couldn’t find anyone who could identify it. Several weeks later, the indigenous herb seller at the local tianguis (flea market) had a basket of these flowers dried. Delighted, I asked what the name of it was and what it was used for. He gave me the name “yerba de sapo” and with that, I was off on my investigations. 

Yerba de sapo translates as toad’s herb in English. The particular variety I encountered is Eryngium carlinae but there are more than 200 varieties in this species around the world. Some sources say this plant is blue thistle, others record it as button snakeroot or sea holly, and yet another source lists it name as Eryngo

The name in Spanish isn’t any less confusing. Yerba de sapo can also be spelled hierba de sapo, however, this is also the term used for Eryngium heterophyllum, another variety of the Eryngium genus with similar health uses. Other names include cabezona and cardón. 

It has been used since the time of the Aztecs as a restorative tonic, remedy for kidney problems, and weight loss aid. The mashed leaves were used to make a poultice for sore eyes. It was also used to regulate menstruation. 

For kidney ailments, a handful of yerba de sapo is boiled in a quart of water. Then one small glass is taken before breakfast. The herb guy recommended a handful of the herb should be boiled along with a bit of palo de brasil (Haematoxylum brasiletto) and palo azul (Eysenhardtia texana) in a tea drunk daily, to lower cholesterol levels and reduce weight.

A tea made from just the leaves is used to treat cough and whooping cough. The roots are edible and sometimes eaten toasted for urinary tract infections. The juiced roots are prescribed as an aphrodisiac, to improve urinary function or induce contractions. Combined with other herbs, it is used in a gonorrhea treatment. It is also used to treat kidney stones and as a cancer remedy. Yerba de sapo is often prescribed to allieviate angina pain and reduce arteriosclerosis.

Few scientific studies have been done on eryngium carlinae. However, those that have been conducted show promising results for its medicinal use. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of diabetes. It has a hypocholesterolemic effect, meaning that yes indeed, it will lower your cholesterol. It reduces lipid peroxidation in the brain, kidney, and liver while increasing the catalase activity having antioxidant properties. It is antibacterial and has been approved as a beverage with renoprotective effects, thus good for the kidneys. 

Eryngium carlinae grows in chalky or limestone soil and higher elevations. In fact, the specimen I came across during my foraging trip was in the mountains near El Cerro de Los Amoles in what had been a limestone evacuation area. The plant does not like to be moved, but it can be propagated with root cuttings. 

Precautions:

Because it can stimulate uterine contractions, yerba de sapo should never be taken during pregnancy. It should not be ingested for more than eight weeks so as not to cause kidney damage. Those that are allergic to fennel, dill, or celery may experience an allergic reaction. 

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Natural Healing — Peyote

Peyote / Lophophora williamsii

Peyote (mescal button) is best known for its hallucinogenic properties. This small, spineless cactus has a large quantity of mescaline which can cause euphoria, hallucinations, depersonalization, and psychoses. It is not physically addictive and does not produce life-threatening symptoms unless there are preexisting conditions that its ingesting aggravates. It does contain hordenine which increases blood pressure. The hallucinogenic tea made from peyote is bitter and causes nausea. 

It has traditionally only been ingested as part of religious ceremonies and therefore hasn’t developed into a recreational drug in Mexico. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is known as hikuri in Huichol, the language indigenous people in the state of Nayarit. Other names for the Lophophora williamsii include kamaba by the Tepehuán in Durango. The Tarahumara in Chihuahua use the term honanamé. The Cora call this plant houatari. The Nahuatl word peyotl which is the word peyote is derived from roughly translates as “silk cocoon” or “caterpillar’s silk” referring to the white wooly strands found on the top of the plant.

Among the Huicholes, Cora, and Tarahumara, the plant is sacred. Yearly pilgrimages are taken by the Huicholes by devotees to the desert area in San Luis Potosi where the peyote grows.  

Peyote has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Mexico, possibly as far back as 5,700 years ago. Peyote remnants have been found in a burial cave that dates back to 810 to 1070 CE in Coahuila, Mexico

Peyote was used prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Bernardino de Sahagún described the hallucinogenic effects of peyote in his work Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España in 1558. He wrote “There is a plant that recalls the truffle; it is called peyotl, it is white in color and is produced in the northernmost regions of the country. Those who eat it see surprising and laughing things. This drunkenness lasts two or three days, and then it goes away. This plant is commonly consumed by the Chichimeca; It supports them and gives them courage for combat, sheltering them from fear, thirst, and hunger. The use of this drug was in the hands of the fortune-tellers and witches, and especially of the wearers of charms.“

As its use was tied so closely to religion, the Catholic priests sent to convert the native Mexicans were determined to stop its use completely lest the souls of the new Christians be contaminated. The Spanish Inquisition prohibited peyote use in Mexico in 1620. A confessional from 1760 contains the questions “Have you killed anyone? How many have you killed? Have you eaten the flesh of man? Have you eaten peyote?” implying that murder, cannibalism, and peyote use were on the same grievous sin level. 

Traditionally, peyote is also used in rural areas of Mexico to treat fever and as a general cleansing of both body and soul. Thin slices of the cactus are soaked in water, but not boiled, which is then drunk by the person with a fever. Sunstroke is also treated with sliced pieces soaked in water. However, in this case, the water and slices are placed in a glass and then poured over the person’s head. 

There’s more to this little cactus then hallucinations. Peyocactin is an antibiotic derived from the peyote cactus effective against 18 different penicillin-resistant bacteria. Extracts from the Lophophora williamsii have also been shown to stimulate the immune system. Hopefully, further research will be done on this medicinal plant in the future.

Note: Although peyote is not illegal in Canada nor in Mexico, it is limited in use in the United States to religious ceremonies. In the U.S. it is considered a controlled substance. Lophophora williamsii is an endangered species and should not be harvested in the wild. 

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