Jungle Remedies

Fresh of the heels of my Belizean vaca, I’m hitting Spring running with more blog posts about what I’ve learned on my travels. For the past month or so, I’ve had a scratch piece of paper with Mommy Janice’s recipes tucked under a beautiful little slate carving of a medicine woman, kneeling with a flower. I love these little tokens, they remind me of the plant Shamans I met on my trip, Mommy Janice to be exact:

We were both hungry and eager to stroll through the lively and abundant farmers market, so we pulled over and parked. The first stall we came across was a table brimming with different barks, leaves, branches, and clear bags and bottles with cut up medicinal herbs. The woman behind the table, I later came to find out, was Mommy Janice, a bush woman from Belmopan with a wealth of knowledge regarding anything jungle. We spent a while talking about “jungle remedies” and common ailments that can be relieved or cured by her carefully selected herbs and bark. Janice was enthusiastic and excited – the type of person who is more excited about you than you are. She started her herbal lecture as a conversation between friends, rather than someone who you just randomly met. I felt like I was learning something new, but like I was being let in on a secret, too.

“My number one selling herb, Palo de hombre or Quesa amora – for the male gem”, Janice said. I turned to Matt smiling and whispered, “Boner juice! Awesome!” We chatted with her a while and bought tropical cedar (Cedrela odorata L.) and periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). She wrote the directions for how to use the unlabeled bags of herbs on a slightly crumpled, scratch piece of paper. I had told her how many times I fell on my ass in the caves and she suggested cedar tea, for bruised blood.”


Once I got home, I bought about 72 hundred books on Belize and jungle remedies. My favorite has been Rainforest Remedies, by Rosita Arvigo, D.N. and Michael Balick, Ph. D. This book is an awesome tool to find jungle teas, compress recipes and traditional info on plant healing. My favorite has been the ginger tea recipe, which I use in the evening before bed or if I feel a cold coming on:

Traditional Uses: A household remedy that offers great relief for stomach ache, gas pains, indigestion and colds.

Recipe: Grate 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger root in 1 cup of water. Boil for 5 minutes and drink freely.




This is Begonia popenoei (below), a lovely little begonia that often grows wild in Belize and Guatemala. I found it growing along the Caves Branch river, among wild ginger, Ylang Ylang, clover and banana. It’s a medium to large Begonia, with signature tuberous stems and a fine layer of hairs on the under side of the broad leaf. I learned you can pluck a stem, suck the bottom and taste a light, sweet nectar – similar to honeysuckle. From then on I made sure to scan the ground on our jungle hikes for this sugary pick-me-up. When you’re hot, exhausted and need more than just water and Planter’s Peanuts to satisfy you – Begonia popenoei does the trick.

(To read the whole book, click here)

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