What if what we eat on a regular basis actually helps us keep a doctor’s visit at bay? Further, what if we could treat our own ailments, including the pesky common cold, with herbs grown right in our backyard and foods we can pick up at any corner store?
For thousands of years humans relied on foods and herbs for medicine. In Costa Rica, it turns out that plenty of easy-to-find familiar foods are actually just what the doctor ordered.
Here are 10 top medicinal foods and a list of herbs commonly found in Costa Rica. (Most information is taken from the book Medicinal Plants of Costa Rica by Ed Bernhardt.)
Pineapple: Pineapple is nutritious and full of antibacterial properties. This tropical fruit contains bromelain, which is effective against certain throat and mouth infections. It is high in Vitamins A, B and C.Papaya: Papaya thrives in Costa Rica and is the most common fruit next to pineapple, especially at breakfast. Papaya is effective at treating digestive problems – indigestion and constipation – as well as liver problems, as a diuretic for the kidneys, and to lower high blood pressure.
Coconut: Coconut palms are everywhere along Costa Rica’s beaches. People here drink the young coconut water, called “Pipa”, which helps revive you after too much sun, too much drink, being seasick, or when you are low in energy. Both the coconut meat and water are used for digestion problems, gastritis, ulcers and liver ailments.
Star Fruit (Carambola): Called “carambola” in Costa Rica, Star Fruit hails from Malaysia and is a powerful antioxidant with large quantities of C and B-complex vitamins. The tart fruit is served as a natural juice in Costa Rica, or to decorate plates.
Cilantro: Cilantro, or coriander, was brought to the Neotropics from Europe and is one of the most nutritious edible herbs. It is used as preventative medicine as an antioxidant and natural cleanser, but also can be used to treat an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Wild spiny coriander, called “culantro coyote” in Costa Rica, is native to the Neotropics and has the same properties as regular cilantro. My husband always finds this herb growing wild along trails we hike, and we have it in our garden.
Ginger: Ginger has been used for centuries in Asia as a spice and medicine. In India it is known as a universal medicine. Ginger is antibacterial and antiviral and can help prevent infections. Use it to treat colds and flu, sore throats, morning and motion sickness, and circulatory, digestive, kidney, and bladder problems. Ginger is a natural stimulant and good substitute for coffee. Easiest way to use ginger is to boil it into a tea or cook with it as a spice. Sucking on a small piece of ginger will relieve a sore throat and help ease motion sickness.
Turmeric: In the ginger family, bright orange turmeric has been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine for some 6,000 years. It is an antioxidant and has been used to purify the blood, relieve stomach problems, indigestion, liver and gallbladder diseases, arthritis and rheumatism, and for colds and flu. Raw turmeric applied to the skin is effective in treating inflammations, infections, bruises and sprains.
Lemongrass: Originally from India, lemongrass grows easily in Costa Rica. Lemongrass tea (made by simply boiling fresh leaves) is used to treat colds and flu, gastrointestinal disorders, nervous conditions, pain and inflammation. Add ginger and honey to your tea to really knock a cold on its head.
Honey: Honey is one of the most well-known antibacterial foods in the world. It has been used for centuries in many different cultures as a medicinal food. Honey was used as an antibacterial treatment long before synthetic antibiotics were developed for wounds and illness. Studies have documented honey's effectiveness in treating cuts, burns, insect bites, yeast infections, various skin conditions, and fungal infections. Honey also is nature’s natural booster for your energy and immune system.
Chan: I’m including this one because it is still served in many Costa Rican “sodas,” or local diners, and most people don’t know what it is. Native to Central America, the seeds of this roadside plant have been used to relieve indigestion, gastritis and constipation. The drink – made by mixing dry black Chan seeds in water with honey for sweetener – looks like a glass of frog’s eggs. However, Chan is very healthy … and it doesn’t taste like frog’s eggs!
Herbs: There is a long list of beneficial herbs, which are not only a great way to flavor meals but an excellent way to prevent disease. Here is a list of herbs with antibacterial properties you can find easily in Costa Rica:
- Bay leaf
- Chili peppers (Cayenne)
- Cilantro (Coriander)
- Mints – spearmint and peppermint
The open-air Buddha Eyes Restaurant at Pranamar Oceanfront Villas & Yoga Retreat, at internationally-renowned Santa Teresa Beach, serves all of these medicinal foods in their healthy gourmet cuisine. The luxury Costa Rica beachfront hotel fronts the spectacular Playa Santa Teresa on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. A TripAdvisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence award winner, Pranamar Villas features daily yoga classes, yoga retreats and workshops, all-inclusive yoga vacations, surfing and yoga holidays, and has a beachfront spa.
Article by Shannon Farley