Tag Archives: calabaza

Natural Healing — Calabaza

Calabaza was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied squash).

In addition to a delightful culinary treat, calabaza has been used medicinally to treat intestinal parasites, gastric disorders, obesity, diabetes, and nervios (nerves). 

Cooked squash of any variety is good anytime to calm the nerves. If you’d like to find a way to incorporate more squash in your diet, horchata de semillas de calabaza is a refreshing beverage. Take 100 grams of squash seeds (pepitos) and 5 grams of hierbabuena fresca (fresh spearmint leaves). Add ¼ liter of milk and piloncillo (cone brown sugar) to taste. If you are using it medicinally, drink for three days in a row for stomach ailments. 

Domesticated Calabaza

There are five varieties of calabaza cultivated in Mexico today. 

Cucurbita moschata (including butternut squash) is referred to by a variety of other names including calabaza de Castilla, calabaza de casco, calabaza de pellejo, calabaza cuaresmeña, calabaza caliente, calabaza de pepita menuda, támala, calabaza de camote, calabaza torpe, ayote, Xnuk kuum, Nujuch kuum, and Xmejen kuum (Maya). The seeds, roots, flowers, and squash from the cucurbita moschata variety are used to treat urinary tract infections and skin ailments. The extracted oil has antioxidant properties. 

For parasites, one remedy calls for a concoction of 30 grams of aceite de ricino (castor oil) and a pinch of salt. This is paired with calabaza en tacha made from C. moschata without the skin served in ½ cup of milk. 

Another parasite treatment consists of a handful of toasted or raw seeds known as pepitas also from the cucurbita moschata variety of calabaza (pumpkins) and a few hierbabuena (spearmint) leaves eaten on an empty stomach. 

The flowers of the cucurbita pepo are eaten seasonally with blue or yellow corn tortillas, most often in quesadillas. To prepare the flowers, they are boiled and the water is discarded so that any toxins are eliminated. The flowers are also served as part of salads or stuffed with cheese. The roots, leaves, squash, and seeds of this variety are used to stimulate the appetite. 

Cucurbita pepo is also known as calabaza de comer, calabaza de manteca, calabaza de carrizo, calabaza mediana, Tsol, Tsool, Tzol (Maya) tempranilla, and mensejo. The grated raw peel from the cucurbita pepo is applied to burns and hemorrhoids as it is effective in wound healing. This variety, from root to fruit, is used in several areas of Mexico to improve health in general. It has a pancreatic lipase inhibition effect.

Cucurbita argyrosperma is also known as calabaza caliente, calabaza de las aguas, calabaza pinta, calabaza de casco, calabaza criolla, calabaza pipiana, calabaza tapona, calabaza rayada, pipián, or calabaza guajolota. The seeds, flowers, young stems, and tender squash are eaten. The squash is made into a pulp and applied externally to treat skin ailments. 

Cucurbita ficifolia is known as chilacayote, chilacayo, or chilaca. In Nahuatl, this variety was chilicayotli from the word tzilacayotli originally which translates to “smooth squash”. The young stems are eaten as a vegetable. When this squash is fully mature, it is fibrous and is used to make the sweet cabellos de ángel (angel’s hair) treat. Other candied squash made from this variety are dulce de alcayota, cayote en hebras, mermelada de calabaza, mazamorra de calabaza. 

In Chiapas, the seeds are toasted and set in honey to make palanquetas (a candy bar). C. ficifolia has a marked hypoglycemic effect. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Extract from C. ficifolia has been shown to be promising in the treatment of obesity. 

Cucurbita maxima is also known as zapallo. Its seeds are the snack pepita rusa (Russian pumpkin seeds), eaten salted and toasted. This variety includes the red or orange pumpkin most people associate with Halloween. It is native to South America. In Chiapas, this variety is called malayota because it resembles tamale dough when pulped.

C. maxima has been shown to quickly decrease high blood glucose levels. C. maxima seed oil is useful in treating an overactive bladder. Ayo-nelhuatl (cucurbita maxima) root is mentioned in Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis as part of a concoction used as an after-birth vaginal wash. 

Wild Calabaza

These five are the most commonly cultivated calabazas found in Mexico. However, there are other wild calabazas that are used medicinally as well. 

Cucurbita foetidissima (Buffalo Gourd) is a wild calabaza whose sour fruit is used medicinally after being cooked. The seed sprouts and roots are toxic and should never be ingested. The leaves and roots are used medicinally in Chihuahua.  In other states, the roots are used to make soap because of its saponin content. 

This variety is also known as calabacilla amarga, cohombro, hierba de la víbora, calabaza amargosa, calabacilla loca, calabacilla silvestre, calabaza de burro, chili coyote, calabaza hedionda, calabaza silvestre, calabaza del diablo, calabacilla de burro, Cua-cua (Chontal), chichic-amole and guelto-lana (Zapotec).

Apodanthera undulata (AKA calabaza hedionda or melon loco) is made into a pulp and used topically in the state of Guanajuato. The seeds are used to stimulate appetite in Jalisco and Zacatecas where it is known as calabaza amarga or calabaza loca.

In addition to the medicinal applications already mentioned, all calabazas varieties have antifungal and antibacterial properties. One more interesting cucurbita is the Cayaponia tayuya. The roots of this squash, native to the Amazon, have been useful in treating rheumatoid arthritis and also been proven helpful in the treatment of Epstein-Barr and skin tumors

It just goes to show that a plant we may overlook may be full of beneficial properties.

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Fruits and Vegetables

Did you know that in addition to corn and chocolate being native to Mexico, avocados, peanuts, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and papaya are all Prehispanic delights?

avocado pictograph

Aztec pictograph indicating “the place where avocados grow.”

Avocado is thought to have originated in the state of Puebla. The oldest evidence of avocado use dates to about 10,000 BC, found in a cave located in the town of Coxcatlan. The word avocado comes from the Spanish aguacate which comes from the Nahuatl word āhuacatl which goes back to the proto-Aztecan word *pa:wa. The Nahuatl word also can be translated as testicle.  Since this fruit was considered an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its similarity to male reproductive organs, young girls were kept indoors during the annual avocado harvest.

Aguacate maduro, pedo seguro.  Ripe avocados–farts for sure!  

Without the avocado, there would be no Guacamole! The name Guacamole comes from the Nahuatl work āhuacamolli which translates as avocado sauce (see Mole).

The tomato also comes from Mexico. The name comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl which translates as “fat water.” The Aztecs cultivated the tomatl and came up with a new species they called xitomatl which translates as “plump thing with a navel.”

A la mejor cocinera se le va un tomate entero.   A whole tomato can escape the best cook. Meaning everyone makes mistakes.

And what would salsa be without the tomato?

The papaya was also a common domesticated fruit in Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish. It was called chichihualtzapotl in Nahuatl which meant zapote nodriza (mothering or nursing zapote.) The papaya had medicinal value to the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The Aztecs applied papaya fruit to their skin for relief from insects bites. Asthma was treated with boiled papaya leaves applied to the chest.

cacahuate

Nine flowers of Mexico

The modern day name for the zapote fruit, papaya, comes from the Mayan word páapay-ya which means zapote jaspeado (marbled or spotted zapote).

Peanuts may have been domesticated in Argentina or Bolivia. However, its cultivation in Mexico was well-established before the arrival of the Spanish. Peanuts were called tlalcacahuatl or tlalli auh cacahuatl in Nahuatl which gives us the Mexican Spanish word cacahuate that is used today.

peanut seller

One of our local peanut vendors in Moroleon, GTO

Me vale un reverendo cacahuate.  It’s as important to me as a holy peanut. Meaning it’s not important to me at all.

The oldest pumpkin seed found was in the Guila Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca and dates as far back as 7000 BC.  Squash has been cultivated in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys and in Tamaulipas since 6000-5000 BC. Its cultivation predates the domestication of maize and beans by about 4,000 years. (See Las Tres Hermanas)

Squash was a ritual offering presented in honor of the dead during the month of Miccailhuitontli by the Aztecs and is still considered an appropriate addition to the altar during El Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico in the form of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin).

Sweet potatoes are native plants that are found from the Yucatan on down south to Venezuela. The Maya domesticated the plant at least 5,000 years ago.  In Mexico, sweet potatoes are known as camotes which comes from the Nahuatl word camotli. Camotes enmielados (honeyed sweet potatoes) are yet another specialty food traditionally made and served for El Dia de Los Muertos.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little week-long foray into traditional eats in Mexico as much as I have!  And remember–La vida es un camote agárrese de donde pueda.  Life is a sweet potato.  Hold on to it where you can.

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