Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mardi: Herbal-Wise

The pepper tree, also known as the California pepper tree and Jesuit's Balsam, has a long history of use for healing and purification. This is true in Central America but particularly in Mexico and among Mexican-Americans.

In traditional Mexican medicine, some of which was handed down from Mayan and Aztec traditions, healers known as curanderos or curanderas use branches of the pepper tree in ritual healing. A sick person is brushed, starting at the head and working down to the feet, with the branches, which are believed to absorb the malady. The branches are then buried, or in some traditions burned, to destroy the sickness.

These rituals might involve other herbs as well, including cilantro, rue and/or rosemary. Curanderos may also use Catholic symbols and instruments, including crucifixes, statues of saints, candles and holy water. Much like hoodoo, which calls on both pagan and Christian articles and gestures, the traditions from Mexico and other places in the Americas mix their metaphors, so to speak.

The leaves of the pepper tree are used in purifying baths as well. Rumor has it that brujas, Mexican witches, cleanse themselves in water steeped with pepper tree leaves after performing jinxes.

I lived in Southern California through high school, college and into my adult work life and I've met more than one person who would advise me to carry the red, waxy berries of the pepper tree to protect me from crossed conditions. Anything that helps during a bumpy patch can't be bad and, given how easy it is to trip over a pepper tree in Cali, getting the berries was no trouble at all. Bonne chance ~

Header: An illustration from the 16th century Florentine Codex showing a Nahua healer treating smallpox patients via Wikipedia (read some of the accompanying text here)


Timmy! said...

They are a little harder to find here in Alaska, though...

Pauline said...

So true; gotta call on my curandera friend if I want any part of the pepper tree.