Tag Archives: natural remedies in Mexico

Natural Healing — Pitahayas

Pitahaya AKA Dragon Fruit

With things being what they are these days, we have to take our joys where we find them. This week our big highlight was our cactus produced pitahayas, one for each of us. We planted it two years ago from a cutting from the neighbor. I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of a long productive spell. 

Hylocereus polyrhizus cactus

The Hylocereus cactus that produced our pitahayas (as opposed to pitayas which come from the cactus stenocereus) is the Hylocereus polyrhizus. It produces fruit that has a pink covering with a reddish, seedy (and delicious) interior known as pitahaya roja. It’s native to Mexico but found in many tropical regions nowadays. In our region, this fruit is also called tuna tasajo. Tuna is the generic term for cactus fruit while I assume tasajo is from an indigenous source, possibly Purépecha, but I couldn’t find an English or Spanish translation for the word. Another term used generally for the fruit from the Hylocereus cactus is pitahaya orejona.

Hylocereus polyrhizus is a viney cactus. Ours has snaked its way up the wall, but I’ve also seen it locally wind itself around mesquite trees. It has a night-blooming flower, so it is dependent on night pollinators like moths or bats. The gorgeous white flower usually wilts within a day or two.  

The betalain that gives this yummy fruit its red color is also found in beets, Swiss chard, and amaranth. Betalain not only makes a natural food coloring but also is rich in antioxidants. The seeds contain linoleic acid which is a functional fatty acid.

This seedy fruit helps the digestive process through prebiotics. It has a preventative effect against breast and colon cancer. It has been shown to aid in reducing cholesterol levels. The lycopene content that gives the fruit its red color is effective in neutralizing heavy metals and toxins including MSG and herbicide ATZ. Furthermore, the antioxidant and fiber content of this fruit may be useful in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

Traditional Mexican remedies include a diet rich in pitahaya to stimulate appetite and improve digestion. The fruit can be eaten raw, juiced, or made into ice cream or syrup.

Two or three fruits eaten an hour before breakfast for two or three days are prescribed to help with constipation. To treat intestinal parasites, the seeds of several fruits can be separated out and chewed thoroughly before swallowing.  

The flowers can be cooked and eaten like vegetables. Dried flowers can be used to make tea which is used to treat nervous disorders and insomnia. An infusion made from the flowers is also used to treat gum pain and tooth infection. 

Dysentery was treated with a section of root boiled in a covered cup over a slow fire. The concoction was allowed to cool with the top still on and sweetened with honey, then left overnight to be drunk in the morning before breakfast. This process was repeated every day for seven days for maximum results.  

Pitahaya blanca from the Hylocereus undatus cactus.

There are several other varieties of sweet pitahaya available in Mexico. Hylocereus undatus has white fruit and pink skin. This is the type most grown commercially and known as pitahaya blanca. It originated in the southern part of Mexico. Pitahaya blanca is sweeter and has a higher sugar content than either the red or yellow varieties. 

The name reina de la noche (Night Queen) refers to the bloom of this variety. H. undatus has been shown to have wound healing properties when used topically and useful in treating oxidative stress and aortic stiffness in streptozotocin-induced diabetes. The peel has antibacterial properties effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella typhimurium among others.

Hylocereus megalanthus has a yellow fruit and white exterior which is called pitahaya amarilla. The seeds from H. megalanthus fruit have the largest amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids when compared to the other varieties. Hylocereus Purpusii produces fruit with purple skin and pulp. 

Hylocereus ocamponis is native to the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. It’s pinkish on the outside and a darker red inside.

Have you tasted pitahayas? Which color?

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Learn more about traditional herbal remedies in Mexico!

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Natural Healing– Bugambilia

I’ve already mentioned that the bugambilia morada  (Bougainvillea glabra) can be used medicinally along with eucalyptus and aloe vera for cough treatment. Most often an infusion is used to treat asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and other respiratory conditions.

This lovely, bright plant, known as camelina in some parts of Mexico, has several other traditional uses as well. It has been used to treat dysentery, stomach pain, and skin blemishes.

Bougainvillea glabra is also known as the lesser bougainvillea or paperflower. The plant that appears to be full of purplish flowers actually has very small white or yellow flowers which are surrounded by colorful papery bracts. The video above shows a close-up of the actual flower.  The flowers of Bougainvillea glabra are used to treat low blood pressure in Panama.

The Bougainvillea glabra has anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory properties. The leaves are effective in preventing dopamine-depleted neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease because of their antioxidant composition. The antioxidant component also has potential in the treatment of cancer.   

In addition, studies have shown that other varieties of the Bougainvillea species, mostly the Bougainvillea spectabilis, have antimicrobial, antidiabetic, antifertility, antihyperlipidemic, anti-atherogenic, antipyretic, anthelmintic, amylase inhibitors, thrombolytic, and analgesic properties, leading to the suggestion that the bougainvillea glabra be studied further in the future.

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I’ve found a few recipes that use bugambilia for cough remedies.

Recipe #1

Boil in one quart of water, reduce to simmer, then strain the herbs out.  Add limón and miel (honey) to taste. Sip as needed throughout the day.

Recipe #2

  • 2 parts gordolobo (common mullein) flowers
  • One part bugambilia bracts
  • One part manzanilla (German chamomile) flowers
  • One part jamaica (hibisucs) flowers
  • One part tomillo (thyme) leaves
  • Pinch of ground canela (cinnamon)

Boil the herbs together, strain, drink hot or cold with cinnamon for flavoring.

Recipe #3

Mix gordolobo (common mullein) and bugambilia bracts with tamarind juice, flavored with cinnamon and honey. Drink as needed.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate gordolobo in my area. I’m going to check with the herb seller at the tianguis in Uriangato next time I go. He’s got rattlesnake skin and armadillos shell, so the odds are in my favor he’ll have some.

I did prepare the simple infusion tea with just the bugambilia, however. It has a mild taste and a bright pink color.

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Natural healing–Hibiscus tea or agua de jamaica

jamaica image

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already, I decided to enroll in a 6-week online herbal course through Herbal Academy.  As the program’s aims included sustainability, stewardship, and affordability, I knew this was the place for me!

So I jumped right into the Herbal Materia Medica course. The lessons and a number of print-outs were free.  The herbs I would be studying were left up to my discretion.  I decided to learn more about plants that I had readily available here in Mexico.  So I chose cilantro (coriander), jamaica (hibiscus), sabila (aloe vera), feverfew and wandering jew.  It was more than I bargained for, probably because once I started researching herbs, I couldn’t stop.  I kept adding more and more herbs to my list of useful local and medicinal plants.  

herbal-academy-logo

Find more herbal courses here!

I’d like to share some of what I learned about the hibiscus flower today.  

Agua de flor de jamaica is one of my favorite aguas frescas here in Mexico. When this is an option, who would every choose a coke? Its deep red color reminds me of Kool-aid, although the flavor is a bit on the tart side. Making it is nearly as easy as Kool-aid as well.

calyx

The calyx (the sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud) are added to boiling water until thoroughly wet. Strain the mixture, getting all the juice out, add sugar to taste and stir.

Dried jamaica (hibiscus) calyx are easily obtainable at the market, so I went out and obtained some “for my class project.” I opted to add piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) and canela (cinnamon) to my tea. My son said it tasted more like ponche (fruit punch) but drank an enormous quantity of it. I only used a handful of flower petals, so I have plenty left to perfect my own agua de jamaica.

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Not only is it delicious, but it is good for you too.  Agua de jamaica has citric acid, malic acid (giving it its tart flavoring) used in treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome because of its energy increasing properties, tartaric acid which is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound useful in treating inflamed joints, pancreatitis and liver inflammation. Tartaric acid has also been shown to improve glucose tolerance and intestinal absorption of nutrients. The flower also contains polysaccharides which aid in reducing fatigue, regulating healthy blood pressure and blood sugar, encourage a positive mood, soothe irritation, support the immune system, and increase libido.  No wonder this is a drink recommended to reduce menopause symptoms! (See also  A Beautiful Transition In Life: Dealing With Menopause Naturally Without HRT and Health Benefits Of Hibiscus)  It’s been used to reduce pain from menstrual cramps, restore hormonal balance which reduces mood swings and depression.

Furthermore, jamaica has cyanidin and delphinidin, antioxidants found to have anti-carcinogenic properties found to be effective in skin, breast and colon cancer prevention.  

Studies have shown that extract of hibiscus (jamaica) is toxic to cancer cells. Why isn’t everybody drinking this?

As if that isn’t enough, flor de jamaica contains anthocyanins which have long been used to treat high blood pressure, colds and urinary tract infections.  As the drink is a natural diuretic, it’s easy to see how it could be just the thing for these all-too-common ailments.

Jamaica has been used to successfully treat obesity and head lice. Drinking agua de jamaica can reduce anxiety and depression.  This tea is low in calories and caffeine-free and can be enjoyed hot or cold. What more could anyone ask for?

hibicus-tea-life

So how much should you drink?  Superfoods Scientific Research recommends a typical adult should drink one cup of hibiscus tea twice daily.  Take 2 tsp of dried blossoms or 1 tsp of crumbled blossom with 1 cup of boiling water, steep for ten minutes.

There you have it, folks!  I would be lax if I failed to mention that there have been reported side effects from drinking this tea.  As mentioned above, it lowers hormone levels which is great for menopausal women but might not be what someone trying to get pregnant would want. So avoid this drink if you are undergoing fertility treatments or are in the first trimester of pregnancy.  As it lowers blood pressure, if your blood pressure is already low, don’t drink it.  As it reduces anxiety, you may feel utterly relaxed or drowsy after drinking it.  In fact, some people have reported hallucinations, although I have yet to experience that particular side effect myself.

Did you know you can make taquitos out of flor de jamaica too?  Check out this recipe!


Well, I have my packet of organic hibiscus seeds and am going to give it another go this year.  I made an attempt before, but the seeds didn’t sprout (See Failing at Container Gardening.)  Once I get my first batch, I’ll walk you through the drying process.  If you can’t wait until then check out the steps at HIBISCUS: A TASTY ADDITION TO YOUR EDIBLE LANDSCAPE OR GARDEN.

So, as you can see, I learned quite a bit as a result of my free course at Herbal Academy. Totally worth it!  Stay tuned for more informative herbal posts in the future!

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