A Chile By Any Other Name….

Last week I was doing some research and stumbled across a study highlighting the health benefits of cayenne pepper. The study stated that eating cayenne peppers increase digestive fluid production and boost the stomach’s defense against infections. It occurred to me that I didn’t know how to say cayenne pepper in Mexican Spanish.

So I started with Google which reported that it was “pimiento de cayena.” The lady at the molino (spice grinding shop) just looked at me blankly when I used that. Then I tried Wikipedia which said chile morrón. However, chile morrón is a bell pepper in our area.

Next I polled my Facebook group, Women Surviving Rural Mexico. One lady said she’d heard the term cayene (pronounced kai-en-nay). Another said chile dulce, which can also be used for bell peppers. And still another woman said chile piquín. Chile piquín in my area refers to very small, very spicy orange chiles. 

So I asked my sister-in-law who took a poll among her pistoleras (the ladies that make tortillas with her). They came up with the name chiltecpín roja. Doing some research on that term, I don’t think it is correct either. The word chiltecpin in Nahuatl means ‘flea chili’ and is a small, extremely hot, red chile. Incidentally, this variety is thought to be the oldest of the Capsicum genus ever cultivated.

The name game gets even more complicated when you realize that dried and fresh chiles have different monikers. The jalapeno becomes chipotle, poblano changes to ancho, chilaca dries and is then pasilla. The Anaheim chile becomes colorado, mirasol changes to guajillo, serrano dries and is then chile seco. The bola chile dried is cascabel.  

None of this helped me find out the name for the cayenne pepper, unfortunately. If anyone can give me some insight on this, I’d appreciate it! 

On the other hand, a little more digging produced the fact that any of the chiles in the Capsicum annuum family will provide similar health benefits. These chiles have been used as a spice and medicinally in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived, the uses of some of which I’ve experienced myself. 

For example, chile cola de rata (Chile de árbol) toasted on the comal will certainly clear your nasal cavity. A generous bite of chile piquín will instantly banish a headache, after your eyes stop watering that is. Getting chile juice on your hands and touching another body part will stimulate circulation rapidly and painfully.

The chile has been acknowledged by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Evidence points to the chile being part of the indigenous diet as far back as 6500 BC and domesticated by 4100 BC. Excavations under the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan have uncovered fossilized remains of Capsicum chiles dating back to CE 150-250.

Chile continues to be a primary ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Chile seed shakers are on the table in the restaurants that serve birria. Bell peppers are mixed in the nopal servings. Every salsa, including guacamole, is spiced with this little fruit. Even the candy often has chile powder on it! 

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chile peppers. Capsaicin is what gives them medicinal properties and their spiciness. The more capsaicin in a pepper, the spicier it is.  Interestingly, you can develop an immunity to the effects of capsaicin over time. So those who consume chiles regularly don’t receive the same benefits as those that ingest them only on occasion. On the other hand, long-term consumption of capsaicin has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. 

Eating chiles increases energy expenditure and core body temperature which is lowered again through perspiration. Capsaicin reduces the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and reduces the risk of stomach ulcers

Capsaicin can also reduce pain when applied in a cream to the skin. It decreases the amount of a neuropeptide that travels to the brain to signal pain. Capsaicin cream is recommended for muscle, joint, lower back, and post-operative pain. It can also help lessen pain from nerve conditions like shingles. Capsaicin cream has been successful in the treatment of psoriasis as well. 

Capsaicin slows the growth of cancer cells and causes cell death for prostate, pancreatic and skin cancers. Chiles contain antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin which give them their red color. 

Capsaicin has antimicrobial and anti-virulent activity and is useful in combating Streptococcus pyogenes. Cayenne chile in particular has been shown to suppress the development of 16 different fungal strains. 

In Mexico, chile powder and olive oil are mixed for a liniment to treat joint and back pain. It can be sprinkled on food to improve digestion and circulation. Eaten whole, chiles are useful to promote sweating to break a fever. 

The seeds can be rubbed on hands or feet to warm the areas up. Be careful not to get any in your eyes. If that happens, use hair to rub them to reduce the burning. It works, amazingly enough. If you have long hair, don’t be offended if someone grabs a hunk over lunch to do just that.

So even though I still don’t know exactly what cayenne pepper is called in Mexico, chiles are a healthy addition to any diet!

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Would you like to read more about Mexican traditional remedies?

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Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Natural Healing

Natural Healing — Gordolobo

My son has had a dry cough most of the month of January. His aunt recommended an infusion made from gordolobo, ajo (garlic), limón (lime), canela (cinnamon) and sweetened with honey. Before I had him drink this concoction, I thought I’d investigate a little more about gordolobo.

According to my little Aztec medicine book, gordolobo (which translates to English as fat wolf) has the botanical name of verbascum thapsiforme sdahere and other common names of vervasco, Cirio de Nuestra Señora, and Flor de Gran Candelero. Gordolobo is often translated as common mullein which is Verbascum thapsus. However, based on the botanical names, it seems that gordolobo is a type of mullein but not common mullein, so the translation is not correct.

I went to this handy site called The Plant List for some verification. There I found that most likely verbascum thapsiforme sdahere is another name for Verbascum densiflorum Bertol, dense-flowered mullein. I can’t verify this is the same plant entirely because gordolobo is only sold dried at the market and I’ve never seen a flowering plant to compare it to photos of the dense-flowered mullein. Nor could The Plant List. It gave itself a rating of 2 out of 3 on identification confidence. 

The Verbascum or mullein family has 360 species in it and it seems safe to say that gordolobo is a subspecies within that plant family. One study found that there wasn’t much variation between species when their compounds were compared. Therefore, it’s probable that many of the medicinal uses of common mullein will be true for the verbascum thapsiforme sdahere plant sold at the Mexican market. 

Gordolobo has been used by the indigenous people of Mexico for centuries, long before the Spanish arrived. Besides being used for cough, sore throat, and respiratory issues, it is often used as a treatment for hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

Mullein contains triterpene saponins, volatile oil, mucilage, flavonoids and bitter glycosides. It’s been approved by the German Commission for the treatment of respiratory catarrh. It has anti-inflammatory properties and mullein tea, made from the flowers and leaves, has been shown to be beneficial for sore throats, hoarseness, bronchitis, tonsillitis and dry cough.

The flowers have sedative and bactericidal properties. Flower extracts have been shown to be effective when used as treatment against E-coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Some of the remedies I found in my Antigua Recetario Medicinal Azteca were:

For croup, gordolobo infusion is used as a gargle. 

For colds, make a tea from the flowers and leaves of three branches plus the branch of 1 malva (mallow) boiled in ¾ liters of water. This quantity makes three cups. 

Essential oil made from gordolobo is recommended for angina pain. It should be taken three times a day before meals. 

If gordolobo is used as an intestinal cleanse, fresh leaves should be boiled in milk rather than water. 

The leaves can be applied as a poultice for burns, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Five grams of gordolobo should be boiled in ¼ liter of water when making the poultice.

Another tea remedy for cough, lung infections, sore throat and bronchitis calls for two tablespoons of dried gordolobo in two cups of water boiled for five minutes. Cover and steep for five more minutes. The infusion is a yellow color, which isn’t surprising since the flowers are yellow. It doesn’t have any taste nor scent to speak of. 

Precautions:

Gordolobo is a soft, wooly plant. It has been known to cause dermatitis when handled regularly.

Although gordolobo is the term most commonly used for mullein, in Mexico this name is also used for several other varieties of plants including Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa), Plume Poppy (Bocconia frutescens), Tapered Cudweed (Gnaphalium attenuatum), Pseudognaphalium chartaceum, and Coltsfoot (Tussilago). Be sure you identify the plant being sold to you before using it as a medicine.

Since my husband had also developed a dry cough, I mixed up a batch of the Garlic tea cold buster (garlic, lime and honey) and added some gordolobo to the mix. They both seemed to sleep better that night. 

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Filed under Health, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

Playing Tourist in Mexico: A Collection of Adventures from Women Traveling in Mexico

Kindle Version

Last year, the ladies of the SOTB Blogging Group (Patty M. Vanegas, Susi Schuegraf, Lynne DeSantis, Karen Swanson, Jill Michelle Douglas, Emily Lee Garcia and me) combined our stories into one amazing travel book. I’m pleased to announce that Playing Tourist in Mexico: A Collection of Adventures from Women Traveling in Mexico is now available on Amazon as both a Kindle book and a full-color paperback

Paperback Version

Have you ever wondered what Mexico is really like? In Playing Tourist in Mexico: A Collection of Adventures from Women Traveling in Mexico you can share in the travels of seven women to 45 different locations throughout Mexico.

Not only are places like Mexico City and the beaches of Baja California included, but also remote but equally delightful places like Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato the birthplace of independence, and Paracho de Verduzco, Michoacan, a mountain town dedicated to handcrafting guitars.

You’ll see a different beauty in Mexico through the eyes of these women as they galavant hither and yon experiencing the sights, tastes, and sounds of this amazing country.

Amazon sets the prices for books published through them and well, in my opinion, the paperback version is quite pricey because of that. As my favorite readers, I have a previous version of this book that you can download if you are interested in reading the adventures we had without paying an arm and a leg!

Free Version

If you’ve already read this fun travel book, then we’d love if you would leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!

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Filed under Tourist Sites in Mexico