By Sofía González
In Costa Rica, there are a wide variety of plants that grow in backyards or odd places and most people are not aware of their uses. These plants are usually underused, as people do not know their medicinal uses.
Plants have been consumed for decades, and even centuries, by local communities. Their uses vary: from adding flavor to meals to curing mild ailments. Such knowledge, however, has had some difficulty in making itself available to everyone.
But wouldn't it be wonderful to just grab some herbs from your own backyard and make some tea? We've created a short manual, featuring just a couple of Costa Rican plants, that you can learn to extract their full potential. We've created this manual from "Plantas al servicio de la salud: Plantas medicinales de Costa Rica y Centroamérica" (Plants helping health: Medicinal plants from Costa Rica and Central America).
All teas from Blue Zones Nicoya Herbal Teas collection contain herbs commonly used for medicinal purposes.
How to consume medicinal plants
The best-known way is by making an infusion. Just pour boiling water over some leaves or flowers in a container and let it sit for 10 minutes. Another way of extracting the benefits is through a decoction, which consists of boiling roots, stems or rinds of a plant for 15 to 30 minutes.
Maceration is a useful method to extract all the nutrients and benefits from plants. It consists of soaking the herbs in water, wine or alcohol, for a period of time. If it's water, it shouldn't be more than 8 hours whereas macerations in alcohol can be left for up to 24 hours.
Juices are obtained by grinding herbs or fruits, and then straining the mixture to extract the liquid. Another way you can consume herbs is by adding them raw to your salads or favorite dishes.
You can also use medicinal plants and herbs in the form of gargles, which is usually done by creating a strong infusion. Vapors from such infusions can be inhaled, which works wonders for any respiratory diseases.
You can also take a look at this useful guide on how to prepare different types of teas and infusions.
Spearmint is a very versatile plant.
Teas and Infusions with Bitter Orange
Also known as "naranjo agrio" in Spanish, bitter orange trees are relatively small, and provide a very sweet fruit with a bitter aftertaste - hence its name! Its flowers are white with a pink to purple tinge.
When infused, bitter orange helps relieve pain from stomach parasites and reduce gases. It's great for headaches and nerves, especially for people who are prone to health problems related to stress.
Teas and Infusions with Culantro Coyote
Culantro coyote is a variant of cilantro, with longer leaves that reach almost 30 cms in length. This aromatic herb grows in tropical climates, mainly America and the Antilles, in low-altitude and fertile terrains.
As an infusion, it helps relieve mild flu symptoms such as chest pain and fever. It is also known to reduce vomit and stomach pain. Culantro coyote is not recomended for pregnant women, children under 5 years of age or adults over 65.
Cilantro’s cousin has an even stronger smell and taste.
Teas and Infusions with Guava
The guava plant is known for its globe-like sweet fruit, which is very common in Costa Rican cuisine. It's consumed both raw and cooked - and it makes an amazing marmalade! The leaves are coarse and relatively small (no more than 12 cm in length).
Guava leaves are usually decocted and help with digestive ailments, specifically by reducing vomit, gases and diarrhea. Such decoction is also great for curing ulcers and works as a mild laxative. It's not recommended for pregnant women, children under 5 or elderly adults.
Teas and Infusions with Spearmint
This aromatic herb with purple stems and bright green, slightly crumpled leaves, is usually available in sub-tropical climates. However, you can also find some varieties in humid places and it's known to grow easily.
Spearmint helps treat a wide range of mild symptoms. As a decoction, it helps stop diarrhea and reduce vomit, reduce menstrual pain and headaches and even reduce swollen mammary glands, for women who've just given birth.
Despite their medicinal use, some herbs can be enjoyed regularly.
Teas and infusions with Lippia Alba
This bush can grow up to 2 meters in height and contains small, fuzzy looking leaves with a razor-like border. Lippia alba, or Oaxacan verbena, is a very aromatic plant that grows easily in low-altitude areas.
As an infusion, it's a great natural antispasmodic and gastrointestinal sedative, as it reduces pain from gastritis. However, if it's macerated, lippia alba helps alleviate flu symptoms. Again, it's not recommended for pregnant women, children under 5 or elderly adults.Local Keeps is the best online shop for those in search of flavors, scents and stories from Costa Rica. Navigate our categories or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!