Leaf

Crataegus mexicana - Mexican hawthorn

Crategeus mexicana fruit

I encountered this Mexican hawthorn tree at the Gold Ridge Experimental Farm in Sebastopol, CA - Luther Burbank’s former laboratory. Although much of the acreage has long been converted to housing development and only a small tract of the former farm remains, there are some interesting trees surviving. One area I return to whenever I visit is the small group of Cratageus species in the back where a few species, including C. mexicana, are still thriving.

Compared to the Chinese Hawthorn, C. pinnatifida, the Mexican hawthorn tastes much better out of hand and has an interesting aroma, reminiscent of some obscure tropical fruit or synthetic bubblegum.

The fruit of Crategeus mexicana is eaten in Mexico cooked, raw, or canned. It resembles a crabapple, but it has three or sometimes more brown hard stones in the center. It is a main ingredient used in ponche, the traditional Mexican hot fruit punch that is served at Christmas time and on New Year's Eve. On Dia de los Muertos tejocote fruit as well as candy prepared from them are used as offerings to the dead, and rosaries made of the fruit are part of altar decorations. A mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, because it resembles a tiny train rail.

In some parts of Mexico, tejecote is taken for treating flu and cough, and also to prevent several cardiovascular diseases.

Due to its high pectin content, the fruit is industrially processed to extract pectin for the food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, textile and metal industries.

Other uses include food for livestock (for which the leaves and fruits are used) and traditional medicinal uses; a Mexican hawthorn root infusion is used as a diuretic and as a remedy for diarrhea and fruit-based preparations are a remedy for coughing and several heart conditions.

The Mexican hawthorn tree's wood is hard and compact, it is good for making tool handles as well as for firewood.

Justicia pectoralis - Tilo, piri piri (South America), Chapantye (Cuba)

Justicia pectoralis is a low growing, branching sprawling shrub, can grow up to 3 ft. It has small lanceolate leaves and violet flowers, similar in appearance to those of snapdragons.

In areas of the Central American Caribbean coast it is considered to have aphrodisiac properties. The entire plant is dried in the sun and made into a powder before being used. Notably, the powder is effective only when it is taken via the nasal membranes, (as snuff), or smoked (in conjunction with Cannabis sativa). In South America one variety, Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla, is used to produce psychedelic experiences or used as an additive in ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). The plant contains psychedelically active tryptamines. A “tilo tea” is commonly seen sold in supermarkets, it has anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

Justicia pectoralis leaf.jpg

Bignoniaceae, Mansoa alliacea, Wild Garlic, Ajo Sacha

Ajo Sacha is a climbing vine that has a distinctive garlic-like odor when crushed or cut. The young leaves and tendrils of Ajo Sacha taste like garlic and can be used, minced, in a variety of foods, raw or cooked. The bark of the wild garlic vine is mixed with water and used as a path for people with asthma or who smoke excessively. Bark raspings, taken orally with water or with cane rum, are used to treat asthma and arthritis, respectively. The most common form of usage seems to be an infusion of parts of the plant in water, which is used to bathe oneself and treat or protect against evil spirits, fever, influenza, and aches and pains, as well as nervousness, fatigue, and cramps.