Category Archives: Natural Healing

Book Review–Infusions of Healing

While the Botany & Wildcrafting Course from Herbal Academy Courses that I completed in May was spectacular and I have more confidence in using my plant identification skills, I still run into the problem of not being able to transfer the identification from Mexican Spanish to English. This has been frustrating to me since my little Aztec Remedy books say use such and such a plant, but I have no idea what the botanical name is.

My previous Mexican plant authorities!

One of my friends (Sarah from Owl Valley) recommended Infusions of Healing–A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies by Joie Davidow. I ordered it from Amazon and finished it in a week. In it, hundreds of herbal remedies are included as well as a chart that gives the English name, Spanish name, Botanical name and other names it might be called. Fabulous!

Recipes were included that used plants that I can identify in La Yacata, like mesquite, sábila, and huizache and I can’t wait to investigate more about their medicinal properties.

Furthermore, more 1/3 of the book talked about indigenous healing traditions. Thousands of years of medicinal tradition were lost when the Catholic church ordered the codices to be burnt, only a handful of others were preserved.  Spanish priests and naturalists compiled various tomes about the conquered peoples that were sent to Europe and lost for hundreds of years, only having been recently rediscovered.

These rediscovered accounts helped me to put the curandero tradition still alive and flourishing into perspective. Not only were curanderos skilled with herbs but they were also doctors of the soul. Some of those long-ago spiritual beliefs about health still exist in Mexico today.

Let me give you an example. It was an extremely hot month, hotter than I can remember since moving to Mexico. So now that we have electricity, albeit limited, we bought a fan. I had my husband install it so that we would get a nice breeze while we slept. My sister-in-law, who has also been suffering from the heat, asked to see our fan since it doesn’t use too much power. She thought it was good but said she’d never have the fan blowing on her in the night because she’d wake up “chueca” (wry-necked).

So what does this have to do with ancient Aztec beliefs? Well, the Aztecs believed that body ailments were either “hot” or “cold”, “wet” or “dry”. Therefore, a cramp would be an ailment caused by a “cold” source, the fan which cooled the tonalli (energy center also connected to the heat of the sun) of a person that is centered in the head.

Other things suddenly became clear as well. The sacred novena (9-day prayer session for the deceased) is 9 days because there are 9 levels to Mictlan, the underworld and 9 levels in the celestial kingdom above. Bilis, an illness caused by excessive coraje (rage) occurs when there is something wrong in the ihiyotl, another energy center located in the liver. The belief that not only must the physical body be treated, but the God who sent the infirmity must also be appeased continues with pilgrimages, prayer, candles, and offering found throughout Mexico.

While the book didn’t specifically mention going barefoot in the house as a potential cause of sickness, I bet the reason is mentioned in one of those lost books that I’d love to get my hands on.

So if you are at all interested in herbal uses of plants found in Mexico, this is the book I would recommend to you to start with. Having read it through once, I feel that I have finally entered the pre-school level in my local plant study.

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Herbal Academy’s Botany and Wildcrafting Course

Botany & Wildcrafting Course by Herbal Academy

I love wildcrafting. I’ve shared some of the local medicinal plant information here before. (See Natural Healing) However, I’m extremely limited in what I wildcraft.  So as not to poison anyone (especially myself) I have only made concoctions from plants that I can positively identify. Then I go further and double check my identification with locals. And I triple check any possible uses and side effects via med pub. Then, and only then, do I make something from these wild plants.

So when Herbal Academy said they had a new class specifically about wildcrafting, I was so excited!  I signed up a full month ahead of time so that I would be able to start the very first day the course was available.  Let me tell you, Botany and Wildcrafting was an amazing course!  I learned so much!

I was a little concerned before the course that there wouldn’t be much information I could use since Herbal Academy is found in the northeastern US and well, I’m not.  Delightfully, that wasn’t the case at all. The course was divided into 3 units and each unit was jam-packed with useful tidbits.

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The first section focused on plants as living beings, highlighting the many ways plants reproduce and examining how each plant is an essential part of the larger ecological system. While I was already familiar with the basics, there was so much I didn’t know.

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Since I’m in a completely foreign ecosystem, not at all like the quiet river valley I grew up in, plant identification here is frustrating to me. The second section of the course walked me through plant identification methods, plant morphology, taxonomy and using a dichotomous key.  Since I obviously won’t be at my computer doing any identifying, the printouts were a wonderful tool to use on my explorations! I don’t have a field guide specifically for Mexico, mostly because there isn’t one, but I have ordered a book about Mexican-American herbal remedies that I hope will aid in my local plant wildcrafting. Herbal Academy offers an illustrated botanical workbook to complement the course, but as the majority of the plants included aren’t found in my area, I opted not to purchase it. It is lovely though.

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The final section covered ethical and sustainable wildcrafting, drying herbs, and making tinctures, decoctions, and poultices. I had to think about the sustainable wildcrafting section and my role as wildcrafter for a bit. Up until now, I was the live and let live wildcrafting variety. My collections weren’t pressed flowers but pictures (which you can see on Instagram). But now, as the steward of the earth that I envision myself becoming, I believe it’s time to become more proactive in my defense of the wild plants in La Yacata. As a case in point, when we first moved here, the upper area was covered in rainy season wildflowers. Then came the chicken feather guy and the entire section has been utterly devastated ecologically. I could just kick myself for not gathering at least a few of the bulbs and transplanting them in a more protected area (like my backyard). No more! If that makes me the crazy plant lady wandering around La Yacata, floppy garden hat on my head and trowel in my hand, well, so be it!  I am on a mission!

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Hopefully, with these plant identification skills I’ve learned in the course, I’ll have some new natural remedies to share in the very near future.  Botany & Wildcrafting Course by Herbal Academy

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Natural Healing–Nispero leaf tea — Loquat leaf tea

I have long enjoyed the nispero fruit which is known as míspero locally.  Mama Sofia had several full-grown trees and when in season would always give us a bucketful to take home.  My husband has been trying for years to grow our own nispero tree. One time Miss Piggy broke loose and ate it.  Another time, a hoard of ants stripped the sapling bare overnight and it dried out. A third planting was destroyed by the chickens.  However we currently have not one, but two, healthy nisperos out back. They aren’t mature enough to produce fruit yet, but I have made nispero leaf tea.  It’s delicious! It has a fruity flavor all its own.

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The nispero (Eriobotrya japonica) otherwise known as loquat is not native to Mexico or Japan, but China.  I wasn’t able to trace its migration to Mexico, although I imagine it came with the Spanish.  Regardless how it arrived, it is a healthy addition to your Mexican diet whether eaten as a fruit or enjoyed as a tea.  It’s long been used to treat skin inflammation and respiratory problems in China. Here are some other health benefits:

Loquat has been found to be Anti-acne, Anti-aging, Anti-allergy, Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory  and provide beneficial immunomodulatory effects (Read more here and here and here.) It reduces body weight through control of lipid metabolism and reduces fat deposits in the liver. The loquat flower has a protective effect on acute alcohol-induced liver injury. Loquat also reduces total cholesterol and triglycerides (Read more here.) and prevent skeletal muscle atrophy. (Read more here.) It is useful in treating diabetes (Read more here.), useful in treating cancer (Read more here and here and here and here.), useful in fighting bacterial infections, and useful in the treatment of respiratory disorders. Loquat leaf tea is known to relieve cough and reduce phlegm. as well as aiding in the treatment of chronic bronchitis.  Finally, Loquat suppresses ovariectomy-induced bone mineral density deterioration.  

Here’s how to make nispero leaf tea:

Pick a handful of leaves, preferably young leaves.  Scrape off the furry underside. Wash and let dry.

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Cut the leaves lengthwise in long stripes to reduce oxidation.  

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Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Let the leaves steep for 10 minutes. Strain and serve. Flavor with honey if desired.  It really doesn’t need it. The flavor is lightly fruity.

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I found one recipe that suggested the tea can be served as a hot toddy, with a splash of whiskey or bourbon and lemon on the side.  I suppose it could. Maybe I’ll try it this way during the rainy season on one of my days off.

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Natural Healing–Guayaba Leaf Tea

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At the first sign of an upset stomach, my husband is out back plucking leaves off of our guayaba tree to make a tea.  I thought I’d do a little investigation on whether or not there was any validity to these stomach ailment treatment claims and here’s what I found out.

Psidium guajava, known as guayaba or guava, is native to Mexico and its fruit ranges from white or yellow to dark pink.  We have two different varieties growing in our backyard, the yellow and the light pink.  Both the fruit and the leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat diabetes, hypertension, cavities, diarrhea, rheumatism, lung disease, fever, and inflammation.

Digging a bit deeper into scientific studies, I found that the fruit (either eaten raw or made into juice) has antitumor and anti-cancer properties, is useful in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, and effective in lowering blood sugar, serum total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDLc while increasing HDLc levels.  Guava is also a natural antibacterial agent and antioxidant and beneficial in the treatment of cholera.

The guayaba leaf also has medicinal properties. It is cytotoxic, thus effective in the treatment of a variety of cancers. It protects against mercury toxicity, one of the causes of Alzheimer’s. Regular ingestion improves vascular function and regulates blood-glucose levels. It is effective in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery as well as infections caused by the Candida fungi and  Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

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My husband makes his stomachache tea from freshly picked young whole leaves.  He washes then boils them for about 10 minutes and that’s it. He drinks it without any sweetener, but you could add honey if you like.  The tea has an earthy taste to it.

I saw on another site, that you could make tea from dried and crushed leaves.  However, that takes 3-4 weeks and there seems to be no additional benefit to drying them.  Since we have a fresh source right outside our back door, we’ll stick with that.  Have you tried guayaba leaf tea?

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