FINCA TATIN, Izabel, Guatemala- “Es muy feo,” the owner of the Finca Tatin spoke decisively as he curled up the sides of his lips into a Manta Ray sort of grimace. He was peering into the mug of stewing green liquid that was sitting before me. He was not talking about its mucusy green appearance, but its taste. I was about to drink an herbal remedy from the jungles of Guatemala described as tasting nothing other than “very ugly.”
The Quiché Maya kitchen staff discovered that I was ill with stomach ailments and did not hesitate to inform me that the jungle has a cure for such problems. It is called Tres Puntas, a plant that grows wild in the forests along the Rio Dulce in eastern Guatemala. When the leaves from this plant are infused into a tea and consumed, this leaf is a mean cure-all for intestinal problems — “The stuff is magical,” I was told — one mug of this stuff and all stomach woes are dissipated, splayed, expelled. Apparently, it also tastes as mean as it acts, it tastes “very ugly.”
Tres Puntas Tea is made from simply boiling a bunch of leaves from the plant of the same name for three minutes in a small pot and then drinking the subsequent infusion. After consumption, I am told that you must wait fifteen minutes before eating, least you will automatically vomit. This herb is powerful.
I sat up on the sick couch in the Casa Grande, the finca’s residents gathered around to see my reaction to the taste. I looked into the mug that sat steaming before me, the cellulose fibers of the leaf formed a thin layer over the surface of the tea. I was not afraid.
I have taken herbs before, I am accustom to their bitter taste. I studied Chinese Medicine for a year in Hangzhou, I have consumed teas steeped from a cornucopia of insects, reptiles, honeycomb, cicada shucks, bark, figs, fungus, animal parts, miscellaneous bit and pieces of nature. I once even had to completely flush my intestines with herbs that were about as bitter as Chinese remedies can get. I am not a Nancy when it comes to facing ugly teas.
I looked down into the green tea that sat before me. The small group of onlookers thought that it was my nemesis, some of them dipped their fingers into the substance for a taste. This act immediately brought pucker faces and dry heaves. I acted with the cockiness of experience, I took a big drink.
I nearly vomited.
Very ugly is the proper adjective for describing Tres Puntas tea.
I sat back on the couch to re-strategize, I told my wife that the tea was too hot to drink — this bought me a few moments of looking cool. I needed a rest, the bitter shock of this tea was far more ravenous than any other herbal infusion that I have ever tried, in China or elsewhere.
Though there was no other option, with pride and bowels on the line I picked up the mug for a second round. I took a big sip, tried to recognize the taste as being just another sensation rather than being repulsive. Though it is difficult to usurp the body’s natural gag reflex — we instinctively know the tastes that we are suppose to consume and the tastes we are suppose to reject. Most medicinal herbs fall into the latter category, they often take a strong show of will to get down.
I finished the tea quickly. The Maya women applauded my effort.
My stomach gurgled, the stuff was working — my guts bubbled like a science fair beaker, maybe there was smoke.
On cue, I grew stronger throughout the day. My condition stabilized — I ate food, I kept it in, the night did not pass in agony. The next day I was in working order, not as good a new, but working none the less. Taking the infusion from the Tres Puntas leaf was the pivotal point in my illness, it was the climax of the event — it was all falling action from there as I regained health.
There seems to be a cure for most every minor local ailment in the jungle, you just need to find the people who still know what plant to pick, what root to roast, what flower to infuse. People who grow up in the forest often know how to live in the forest, with the forest. Humans are a part of the biological melee within the backdrop of the wild stretches of the planet — we are made from the same stuff as the trees, bugs, and birds, there are medicinal aids everywhere to keep us healthy, if we know where to look.
I will not balk and say that this is a particularly healthy region of the world — it is not, people die here from ailments easily cured by Allopathic medicine with appalling frequency — but for routine matters of daily health, there is no match for the mastery that the people here have for finding, identifying, and preparing the herbs that can help, nurture, and cure: the medicinal knowledge that allows people to live in this extreme environment.
“There’s a plant for that,” is the quick response to many bodily ailments out here. Using what the jungle provides is a normal part of life out here: you take fish from the river, fruits from the trees, make medicine from the plants. When they can, the people cure themselves in the jungles of Guatemala, a knowledge of the region’s herbal cornucopia is a part of the upbringing of the Quiché Maya — they walk through their jungle home and they seemingly do not see walls of green, but individual plants, trees, vines, and flowers that can be used, eaten, and made into medicine.
Tres Puntas Tea is not a novelty to try and make a pucker face at, but a real cure that works. Stomach ailments are common here in the jungle of Guatemala, when your bowels rumble you boil the Tres Puntas leaf for three minutes and drink.
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