Important Costa Rican medicinal plants – Hidden Garden workshops
Back in May 2014 during my last weeks of stay in Costa Rica, my second favorite country in the world, I revisited Puerto Viejo area once again. I got there again on a Caribe Shuttle bus from Bocas del Toro islands like I did the first time.
In Puerto Viejo, I had a chance to experience the so called Hidden Garden for 2 weeks. Together with my Czech friend we shared a room and were able to participate in the workshops that take place there at the open terrace.
The Latino Digestive Therapies wokshop was done by Rachel, the owner herself and it was there where I learned the most about the Costa Rican medicinal plants. We sat around a table with water bottles, laptops or notepads and started off with some anatomy to get an idea about how our body works.
What we learned about anatomy:
- Mucous membranes are inside the digestive system just their quality is different in different organs.
- The whole digestion starts already in the mouth – taste buds send a signal to the rest of the body and brain telling what they should prepare for and what kind of enzymes to release.
- Conscious eating with talking to our brain before every meal is the key to good digestion.
- The nervous system is related to the digestive track, too. Messages go back and forth about information.
- When our body is shut in a way, the nervous system is over working and our digestive process is shut down, too. So it is not recommended to eat when you are stressed, running or doing other busy activities at the same time.
- Mental health is also related to digestion. There’s an eco-system in the brain like in other parts of the body, thus the connection about what we eat and our mental health is bigger than we think.
- The blood is related to digestion too as it absorbs and excrets. The liver is an extretory organ as well.
- The lymphatic system is protecting us from what is in our food. It is the least understood system in our body.
- If there’s some bacteria in the food which goes into the stomach, and is not broken down properly – that is exactly how it goes to the intestines.
- There’s 1 trillion of microorganisms in our body mostly found in the digestive organs. If the immune system is blocked or stress level is high, you can get sick easier as the food is not processed well and thus the nutrients do not go into your blood and wherever else needed.
Later on, we proceed to the Latino Digestive Therapies and learned more about the herbs used in Costa Rica, what they serve for and how to prevent/cure some ilnesses. The words in black are names of plants themselves.
What we learned about Latino Digestive Therapies:
- Botanical medicine works in a different way with different people.
- Herbs maintain the healthy micro flora. It’s an eco-system we are talking about.
- Food poisoning – 2 number 1 plants for that – they are culinary botanical medicine such as black pepper (black pepper in plastic container is very old). In this case the helping strong thing is in the aromatic essential oil smell. The other one is lemon – very anti-microbio and also very astringent.
- Diarrhea comes almost always with food poisoning as there’s too much contaminated food. As the body wants to get rid of whatever is in there, the immune system does it via diarrhea. Every piece of material that might content the food poison is supposed to get out of our body.
- Flour, eggs and gluten cover the tissue of intestines inside so the space where the food goes through is smaller. It’s like an action of panic. Lemon juice with black pepper in it, the lemon juice is killing stuff as it goes, breaks down the contaminated material in there, and it’s also astringent that the body wants to open up and let the material go out of the body but the lemon closes up the colons in a healthy way.
- Sornia is a worm killer. Eaten by goats, too. Local traditions recommend to take it as tea 3 mornings a month.
- Sorosi is a bitter so encourages the liver function and blood cleansing. It’s also anti-amoeba capacity but don’t take too much of it. Some plants have limits.
- Basil, thyme, oregano, turmeric, garlic, onion and celery are all anti-bacterial plants. In Latin America you always cook your food with these culinary medicinal plants. In Costa Rica it’s red pepper, culantro, celery, garlic, onion, thyme.
- Culantro helps with the immune system and with overall digestive process. The medicine is there in the aroma. Very special thing about it is that it takes gas out of digestive system. It’s a nutritive herb – high in minerals, especially a lot of iron. Normally, people have too many meals but not too many minerals. Culantro works if you need to get more minerals. Culantro is similar to cilantro but looks a bit different and is widely grown around Costa Rica.
- Ortiga nettle is a nutritive and tonic bitter so works with liver but it’s cold and dry and has a strong impact on the body. Comparing to other bitter plants, you can use ortiga every day to slowly build liver function and blood. Ortiga tea with a vegetarian meal is like having a piece of meat in your meal. Ortiga balances the digestive and nervous system, it is great to eat during the time of chronic stress or other mental issues that prevent the digestion to work properly. It also helps with the electrical body sending messages through the body. People exposed to a lot of electromagnetism (e.g. working at the airport), should take ortiga.
- A lot of greens encourage better mental health.
- Tilo is helping the nervous system.
Favorite Costa Rican tea for relaxing, such as chamomile, helps a bit with the digestion too as it relaxes the nervous system first so the proper digestion can take place. It is also good for hyperactivity and low energy so it balances the body.
- The bitters energize the body but not like ginseng or ginger – vs. bitters are not stimulating. All bitter plants encourage the immune function and clean the blood.
- The liver is responsible for setting the speed in which the body works. For most of us our digestion works for 24/7. The speed is not the same, though. Different organs are more active at different part of the day. If we are depressed or stressed out (connected to nervous system), our digestion is slow, so we need bitters to stimulate the body. So every daywe should take tonic bitters. Stronger bitters are recomenned only sometimes – extremely bitter taste of hombre grande or gavilana (jackass bitter.)
- Some plants release their power through the smell, some via alkaloids. E.g. bitters through alkaloids, not their smell.
- If our colon and small intestine are full of old food, it’s a very contaminated area. The immune system is working constantly, it’s exhausted so the good stuff cannot go through properly. If we take bitters, our immune system is relieved.
Diarrhea can happen when you are stressed out, so you can take melisa lemon balm – similar to lemon hierbabuena plant, even the smell is similar, like lemon which is soothing.
Juanilama is like mint, it has mentol aroma in it, so it appears to us like mint. Mints are cooling and soothing, so it’s allowing digestive system to chill out, for example if there’s burning sensation or ulcers. Juanilama is definitely one of the most used Costa Rican medicinal plants.
Cinnamon is nice for digestion, but slightly warming. Very astringent so used for diarrhea as it closes the digestive system.
Any mint plants and cinnamon can be put together to balance.
Guayaba in English and guava in Spanish is used for diarrhea and food poisoning – as tea.
Too many acids or ulcers – you can use cuculmeca to rebuild the blood tissue, heal the ulcers and internal wounds.
Papaya leaf is a bitter but has enzymes too, so it’s anti-viral. Also basil is anti-viral and a spiritual medicine.
Talking about acids – the pH level is different in different areas of the digestive system. Candida, dampness or other problems are because the body cannot build the right pH. The candida (yeast) thrive in acidic environment.
Lots of meat and sugar encourages the body to make more acid, so the rotten meat and fermented sugar make great food for the bad bacteria in the digestive track. The complete opposite of this is raw food which feeds only the good bacteria.
We have to think of the mucosal quality of the digestive track too – it absorbs, it stores and it can excret, too. The body would like to keep mucous membranes clean and healthy – the nutrients can be taken in and other things can be expelled, water can pass through and the immune function can take place. If the tissue is blocked, all of these functions are blocked too. However, we can use herbs to help the mucus get healthy.
The egg whites form a sort of glue but cayenne pepper breaks it down so if you are not vegan (although I do recommend you to be), then always use cayenne peppers with meals made of eggs.
A lot of allergens (e.g. dust, pollen) in the air cause producing more mucus in the membranes to protect the lungs. The allergens then get stuck in the mucus inside the body. So we use the mucilaginous herbs make a new mucous membrane nice and fresh and the contaminated mucous membrane can be released. Mucilaginous herbs in Central America cool down and soothe. Licorice is warming mucilaginous. Mozote and ocra are cooling mucilaginous herbs in Costa Rica.
Aloe vera is mucilaginous, chia seeds, hibiscus flower, ocra, chan (similar to flax seeds that are used for drinks in Costa Rica).
It is recommended to use mucilaginous herbs in the day, vs. digestive first thing in the morning and last at the day.
Cucumber, watermelon and mint cool down very well.
Afterwards, my head was already exploding with information but we still had a lot to learn.
- Oils are laxative.
- Olive oil – it is good to add a spoon of it to meals such as hummus, or salads. Olive oil does something similar to the mucilaginous herbs in the results, so it cleans you out, but it does it in a very physical way, drawing the toxins and the stuck material to get out of the body.
- Plants with a lot of water hydrate correct the body hydration system that is connected to digestive body. Pipa (this is how fresh young coconut water is called in Costa Rica), melons or cucumber can be used for hydration.
- Apple cider vinegar helps with pH and candida. In Costa Rica there’s also banana vinegar.
- Charcoal from eucalyptus wood is used for internal cleansing, it absorbs all the gases and everything else that is not supposed to be there. Used as a drink for food poisoning and hangovers, too. You only take it when you need it as it also absorbs the nutrients. The best thing is to take it before the bad meal
Energetic digestive blockage – empacho in Spanish
- The point on the hand is the principle point which is called the great gate corresponds to large intestine number 4 in Chinese Medicine. It opens up and releases what is needed to be released. With diarrhea it helps to press it. Also with the energy that is used for digestion, it helps to get more energy.
- Also the point above the elbow is related to large intestine number 10 and 11.
- Always massage away from the heart. Ideally done with NO food in the stomach. With children it’s supposed to be massaged softer.
- After the masage, castor oil is good to flush it all out, then a tea (e.g. nettle or mint).
- Reasons of diarrhea can be fear, rejection, running off from something. So mantra ”I am in peace with life.” is recommended.
- Constipation means you are stuck in the past. So mantra ”I release the past.” can be used.
- Food poisoning means you are allowing others to take control. So use a mantra like ”I have the skill and power to digest whatever comes to my life.” (the last 3 mantras are the affirmations from Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body)
For more information, visit Hidden Garden website. Many thanks to Rachel for teaching us SO much about the most important Costa Rican medicinal plants!