Spices and Herbs: Natural Healing Traditions of Mexico
by Elaine K. Harriss
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Spices and Herbs
Some of the world's greatest healing agents have been derived from simple, native
herbs and spices. Mexico offers generations of traditional natural medicines handed from
grandmother to mother to daughter. With this heritage and the rich variety of
cultures and landscapes, Latin American families have managed to continue their
use of herbs for medication without controversial mandates that we experience in
the United States.
True that in most families these traditional medicines are from lack of
accessibility of over-the-counter drugs and prescribed medications, but who is to
say that this is not of more benefit than loss? Studies have shown that the lack
of side-effects with natural herbal medicines offers an easier healing process
for most people. A few examples of Mexico's common healing herbs are:
The widespread use of herbs in alternative medicine is proof that traditional
family methods for treating illness are becoming not only popular once again, but
the resurgence of teaching and practice have shown that these traditional beliefs
are a vital treasure necessary to ensure the wholeness of our culture. When
visiting Mexico, you will find these herbs in most pueblos at the local yerberia
or la casa de la curandera.
- Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), used primarily as a spice in Mexican dishes, is also valuable as a medicinal tea used for calming anxious children, for stomach cramps, and as a mouth wash for inflamed gums.
- Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) because of its tenacity and ability to grow in less than ideal conditions is used throughout southern and central Mexico where mothers steep it in milk and sugar and give the resulting "tea" to their children to help rid them of intestinal parasites. It is also known to prevent flatulence when added to your beans ten to fifteen minutes before cooking is complete.
- Estafiate (Artemisia ludoviciana, frigida), or Wormwood, is used primarily to treat stomach ailments, but may also serve as a deterrent for diarrhea and for menstrual cramps. Additionally it may be used as a bath for rheumatism or to reduce swelling from sprains or as a steam inhalation for sore throat.
- Yerbanis (Tagetes lucida), or Mexican Marigold Mint, is primarily used as a medicinal tea to calm stomachs and nerves, cure colds, and to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover. It grows throughout central and southern Mexico and is popular with the Tarahumara Indians of Chihuahua and the Huichol Indians of Jalisco and Nayarit who use it in their religious rituals.
- Yerba Buena (Mentha spicata) or Spearmint, works well as a simple, soothing tea to ease stomachaches, headaches, and childbirth. It is also brewed with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg to cure a hangover and is a well-known remedy for flatulence.
- Oregano de la Sierra (Lippia graveolens) or Mexican oregano, a native to rocky slopes, arroyos, and the arid conditions of Mexico and Central America, is good used as a hot tea for coughs and also for indigestion and gas in the stomach.
As an avid lifetime home botanist, Elaine K. Harriss has studied and grown medicinal herbs for approximately fifteen years. She lives in Central Texas and participates in the Farmer's Market in Austin.
She can be contacted via email
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