Tag Archives: mexican remedies

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 — Albahaca

When basil was first used in Mexico, medicinally is a little unclear. The plant ocimum basilicum is most often referred to as albahaca or alhábega in Mexico. The origin of those words implies that basil was yet another herb that came with the Spaniards since herbs with the prefix al- were Moorish derivatives. So in Mexico, you’ll find albahaca blanca (white basil), albahaca corriente (wild basil), albahaca de castilla (Castile basil), albahaca de la tierra (ground-growing basil), albahaca morada (purple basil), and albahaca arribeño varieties among others. 

However, some believe that at least one variety, Ocimum campechianum (Cinnamon basil), known as albahaca de monte (mountain basil), is native to Mexico. The fact that there are terms in Nahua (talachía) and Maya (Kha-kal-tun) for Ocimum basilicum seem to support that theory, as do some of the traditional medicinal uses. 

Albahaca is used to treat bilis, a Mexican infirmity that is believed to be caused by sudden rage (coraje). Bilis is the Spanish word for bile. The Aztecs believed that the liver was one of the three centers of energy. Strong emotions were centered in the liver, which would then become enlarged when there was an excess of emotion. It was thought that after this extreme emotional outburst, the person would show symptoms of bilis, including intestinal inflammation, gas, constipation, vomiting. 

One remedy for bilis included leaves from albahaca, tomato, estafiate (white sagebrush), yerba buena (spearmint), orégano de monte, and a piece of nopal root from the Opuntia cactus. The herbs and root are simmered for 10 minutes, then strained. One cup is drunk daily for 9 days before breakfast.

Albahaca is generally used for digestive issues, which may or may not be caused by bilis. Twenty grams of basil and 200 grams of water are drunk three times daily to stimulate digestion.  Ocimum basilicum is an effective remedy for preventing colitis, gastric ulcers, and diarrhea.

If your upset stomach or attack of coraje is caused by parasites, albahaca has you covered there too. Intestinal parasites are treated with 10 grams of albahaca and 100 grams of water drunk on an empty stomach. Another remedy for expelling parasites calls for fresh basil simmered for 15 minutes and strained. One or two drops of anise oil are added to the tea and drunk as needed. 

Caída de mollera (sunken fontanel) is another Mexican ailment that is often treated with albahaca. This condition occurs when the soft spot on a baby’s head seems to be concave. Newborn babies are not held upright in the belief that this will cause caída de mollera. 

In addition to a sunken soft spot, other symptoms include vomiting or diarrhea. A sunken fontanel is often a sign of dehydration. Traditional treatment for caída de mollera includes giving the baby weak infusions of albahaca or manzanilla (chamomile), which soothe the digestive system and provide some of the needed liquids as the baby recovers.

Isihuayo is a term used to describe the displacement of a woman’s uterus after she has given birth. Talachía (AKA albahaca) is used to help settle her organs back into place. The woman squats over a steaming infusion of Ocimum basilicum as part of after-birth cleansing rituals. As albahaca has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antidepressant properties, this may be an excellent way to get a new mother back on her feet. 

In many areas, it is believed that brujas (witches) can not tolerate the smell of basil. So you’ll sometimes find a basil plant along with an aloe vera plant (which witches reportedly fear) at the entrance of a business as a ward against evil. Although I can’t attest to the anti-bruja effectiveness of albahaca, it is a reasonably efficient insect repellant

Albahaca is also used in Mexico to help with breathing issues. One remedy calls for boiling 6 leaves in ¼ liter of water for five minutes and then allowed to cool. This is drunk morning and night without added sugar for five days. Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties found in basil are indeed useful in the treatment of asthma and lung inflammation

If you have canker sores, try gargling with 40 grams of albahaca and 200 grams of water. Remember, basil is anti-bacterial, and it just might bring you some relief. If you have an earache or are experiencing ringing in the ears, ground leaves on a cotton ball placed in the ear might help.

For rheumatism, a rub can be made with one liter of alcohol and equal parts of albahaca, ruda (rue), and romero (rosemary). Use this linament on affected areas for 8 days. Basil has is an analgesic which would explain why this treatment is so effective. Migraines are also reduced in frequency and severity after basil essential oil is applied to the temples every eight hours. 

Regulation of menstruation is another condition that albahaca is called upon to remedy. One method is to drink 4 cups of 100 grams of basil per liter of water. Another technique consists of a spoonful each of dried ruda (rue) albahaca, and yerba buena (spearmint) steeped in a cup of boiled water. 

Ocimum basilicum has other known health benefits. It helps kidney function. It also aids memory and is classified as an anti-amnesic substance. It has anti-fungal properties and is effective in treating the Zika virus

There’s certainly more to this herb than a tasty culinary additive!

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