mercredi 30 décembre 2009

Elqui Valley "Paihuano"

We are now 200 km's or so north of La Serena, in a geographic zone known as "The Mattoral Estepario", which is infact a semi-arid sector of Chile's coastal mountain zone. The valley is green and cultivated with vineyards, orchards and gardens. Running along both sides of the fertile valley are either completely desertic mountains or mountains covered uniquely with a very typical Chilean cactus known locally as Quisco (Echinopsis chiloensis). (see photo above)

This cactus has numerus , upright, cylindrical stems, single hermaphrodite, white flowers measuring 20 cm's wide (we unfortunately arrived after the floweing period, which is between October-November) The cactus, which grows on arid hillsides, gives an edible fruit called "Guillaves" (that is what we are waiting for!). The dried skeleton of the plant is used to make rainsticks or "palo d'aqua" which are a sort of musical instrument made by filling the interieur traditionally with the thorns that grow on the plant but often nowadays with nails, rice, beans or gravel.

Another plant that I have found growing here in sandy, dry land between the valley and arid mountains is another Solanum, a new challenge for those of you who like searching for things, (see photo above). The photo shows the flower well but unfortunately not the foliage, which is white-grey in colour with a thorny stem and thorns on the nerves of the leaves, these thorns are brown and look like a smaller version of rose thorns. The leaves are inserted opposite each other. The stem and the back of the leaves are covered with a dense covering of short white hairs. The flower as you can see by the photo is a typical Solanum with 5 white petals, undulated at the edges with a yellow stripe in the centre. The ovary is superieur, there are 5 white-grey, furry sepales like the back of the leaves. There are 5 long, separate yellow anthers, the formed fruit is round and the size of a cherry tomatoe, grey, green in colour with deeper coloured stripes, inside there are many flat round seeds. I have broused the net and it looks very like one of the nightshades, especially the Solanum marginatum ( White-edged nighshade) which is native to Ethiopia......can anyone confirm this for me??
The photo of the woman above is the owner of the cabanas where we are staying, she has inherited a knowledge of local medicinal plants from her mother and one evening she showed me the herbs she had growing in her garden. The first plant she talked about was the avocado, no surprise that they use them medicinally as the Chileans love them, eat loads of them and grow them on a large scale. Apparently the leaves and grated avocado stones are used in a tradtional herbal mix for calming coughs.
The second fruit she mentioned is the papaya, she uses the seeds for helping in cases of kidney stones....I have used papaya seeds myself when travelling in India but for digestive problems and intestinal worms....not too sure of their use with kidney stones.
Poleo popped up again, the faithful (Mentha pulegium for helping the digestion of a large meal.
Melisse she explained was used for calming the heart and its general calming properties.
Ajenjo, (Artemisia absinthium) or common wormwood in English, is used for stomach ailments and digestion as it is in France and England.
She uses pumpkin seeds for their anti-worming properties.
Her lemon grass, a tall tropical, lemon scented grass (Cymbopogon citratus) was alot bushier and healthier looking than mine which suffers from the cold French winters- once again a plant used for it's digestive attributes.
In France it is the marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) that is used to sooth teething babies gums and give them something to bite on, here it is iris root.
At the end of the visit she showed me some of the dried herbs she had in reserve, she gave me their local name and what she used them for;
Chachacoma (Senecio eriophyton), this plant grows in the high Andes and is used for stomach complaints such as colic.
Javillas (I cannot find the latin name, need to do a fuller search on the internet) -another plant from the high Andes, used in a herbal mix for the articulatory system amd variscose veins.
She believes that the plants that come form the Andes are more effective for medicinal uses as they receive alot of energy from the sun and the sky.
I myself felt full of energy after this visit, although her explanatons of the plants therapeutic qualities were basic, it was a real privilege to share a local woman's patch of herbal wisdom.

jeudi 24 décembre 2009

Chloraea longipetala

On the road that leads inland from Pelluhue to Cauquenes, I found an area of about half a mile where this orchid was growing. A white flower with 6 tepales, yellow on the inside of lower labellum with green protruding lines....a really beautiful plant except for the fragrance, which was a bit farmyard like. The inflorescence has between 3 and 30 flowers depending on its age.

mercredi 23 décembre 2009

Honey producer in Cauquenes

Today we headed off inland to Cauquenes to see a fellow wine-maker, I took the opportunity to ask about herbalists in the area. The only person they knew of who may know something about local herbs was the honey producer. Straight away the neighbour Didier took me down to his stand at the Christmas market in the town centre. I asked him to name a handful of local plants that people used medicinally.
The first he referred to as Perrico, which turned out to be Saint-John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which they use for mild depression as we do and burns, skin complaints etc and much more..stomach acidity, chronique diarrhea, intestinal gas, arthritis, menstrual difficultues, nervous headaches and much more, the list is endless as it is held in great esteem in Chile....!

The second plant he mentioned is known locally as Poleo, which is actually Pennyroyal Mint (Mentha polegium), (see photo in previous message), used for digestive problems especially after fatty foods, expectorant, soothes coughs, kills worms, aids stomach ache, stimulates transpiration and finally also acts as an insect repellent.

Next comes the Boldo, it was bound to be mentioned sooner or later, Peumus boldos, (see photo above left )everyone here knows it and its uses, native to Chile, its alcaloide boldina stimulates gastric juices and bile production aiding digestion, the gall bladder and liver function. The locals drink a great deal of Boldo leaves in herbal tea form, 30g per litre.

Aloe vera came as no surprise either it's name comes from a few probable sources, in Arab "Alloeh" means bitter substance and in Greek it means sea. Whatever the case there are no doubts for its efficiency in healing and scar tissue. It is also used here in Chile to rehydrate, help blood coagulation, prevent allergies, disinfect, act as an astringent, combat inflammation, stimulate bile production and help wonder it has become so popular in Europe recently. The honey man told me that local people eat it in yoghurt. ( see photo above right taken in santa Lucia park in Santiago)

Everyone has now heard of rosa Mosqueta oil or Chilean Musk rose oil made from pressing the tiny seeds found inside the rose-hips of a wild rose called Rosa affines-rubiginosa in latin. The oil contains 80% essential fatty acids, of which 44% is Linoleic acid (Omega 3) and 36% alpha-linolenic (omega 6), these are both indispensable for cellulaire regeneration and epidermal suppleness making this oil extremely effective in combatting the signs of ageing and healing scarred skin tissue. The fact that it greatly diminishes and in some cases can completely attenuate burns or scars is also due to its content of Vitamin A which in synergy with the omega oils works on a deep cellular level to heal damaged skin.

The locals however cannot pay the high price for the oil and use the plant in its natural form, the petals are instringent and the seeds are used to combat fevers and urinary tract inflammations. The hips as in Europe are appreciated for their high Vitamin C content.

I also asked if he had any experience with bee venom therapy, which is the healing of certain diseases and ailments throught the use of live bee venom, he told me that he didn't have the necessary qualifications to heal using this method BUT he had it used it on his family and recently had very good results on an articulation problem on his wife's shoulder. This form of therapy is relatively new, could be very dangerous and demands an experience and trained practioner. The adrenal glands are stimulated after a bee sting and produce cotisol, a natural, human hormone with anti-inflamatory properties. the hypothalamus, pituary and adrenal glands are activated causing the immune system to produce endomorphines, the body's natural pain-killers.

I tasted his propolis, which I am used to buying back home in France and was surprised by the difference in taste, aspect and colour, it seemed richer and more honey like, he put it on my skin it wasn't sticky, a good buy for my travelling first aid kit.

A thankyou to the honeyman, Mario Abello Fuentes and his family for their time and welcome!

Chilean Palm (Jubaea chilensis)

The Chilean palm, .
found throughout Chile: It is an imposing palm due to it's height, which can reach 25 metres and 1.3metres in width. The bark is smooth and the tree is often larger from the middle to the higher part of the trunk. Its natural habitat is along the steep slopes of ravines and ridges in the mixed woodlands of Central Chile.
The trees sap is used to make a fermented drink, known as palm wine. The sugary sap is also used to make what is known as palm honey (miel de palma). The so-called honey is made from a traditional recipe consisting of palm sap, coconut milk and cane or corn sugar, these ingredients are boiled down into a treacle-like consistency. The problem with the fabrication of both these products is that the palm has to be felled to extract its sap, this has resulted in the diminuition of wild palms in the Central chile region.

dimanche 20 décembre 2009

Coastal route central Chile

It is not possible to follow the coast all the time when heading south from Santiago, there are patches of road along the coast but at other times the road takes one off through dirt tracks up and down steep hillsides. We are travelling with 5 kids in the back of the car, things are animated to say the least!

The coast itself is dramatic with black volcanic sand, ragged outcrops of rocks forming creeks and violent waves ideal for experienced surfers.

I enjoyed myself getting to know some of the intrepid flowers and plants that grow on the rocks in full exposition of the sea winds. Ionly have the name of one of the following plants so any help is much appreciated.

This plant is very elegant and stuck out from far, it was growing perched high on the cliffs facing the sea, it has a rosette of succelent leaves at it's base and long petiole with a bunch of intense purple flowers at the end of each petiole. The flowers have 5 separate petals, slightly "enchancree", sorry my botany terms are all in French, 1 style and many stamens. The calice is "gammo" but in 2 parts, light green with nearly black lines and a nearly black base to it. The ovary is superieur forming a capsule full of small black akenes.

This is another succulent plant that grows in the rocks with no soil at all. The petiole looks like a minature palm (the plant is very small, no higher than 5 cm's) with browny scales, the leaves are composed of three folioles, similar to that of an oxalis but succulent. The calice is leave-like in three parts flattened against the flower's tube. The yellow flowers are solitary with 5 separate petals and 10 etamines.

This little blue flower was the only one of its type around, growing on the sand itself. It features in the wildlife book I have of Chile , it's name is Nolana paradoxa.

vendredi 18 décembre 2009

Central Chile

Finally I left Valparaiso behind me sooner than preview and so didn't have time to visit the Mapuche pharmacy, we have rented a car and are now spending a week exploring the coastal region of Central Chile. There are loads of plants, many of which are familiar others that have familiar characteristics but that I have not seen before. Central Chile is far enough south to have a moderate climate, we are not in the tropics here and so the flora looks much like a luxuriant version of what we have in Europe, making the transition a rather gentle one. If I had known I would have bought along my identification books but as I didn't, I am taking photos and detailed notes of the different plants so that I will have a good chance of identifying them with the help of books and Internet when I get back to France.
Here is a small leaved mint, which I am sure is mentha pulegium (Penny-Royal mint), it was growing all alone in the large pebbles next to a river 300 kms south of Santiago.
This dog-rose was found growing in the first foothills before the climb up into the Andes about 400kms south of Santiago. I have taken down all its botanic criteria in the hope that its a famous Rosa affinis-rubiginosa or commonly known musk rose, in which the seeds are pressed to make rose musk oil (huile de rose musquee), a lovely oil for the skin and now very popular in Europe for its nourishing properties.
Looking at its leaves, flowers and form, this looks to me like a Chilean version of our Verbena officinalis, known in Europe as a witches sacred herb for spells and healing all ills, in European herbal medicine its properties concentrate on the liver, digestion and migraines. The Chilean version seen in the photo is Verbena litoralis and is used to help in cases of diarrhea, stomach ulcers and liver complaints.

Can anyone help? I am sure this flower belongs to the Solanacea family due to its characteristic form, however what it is I couldn't say, a single flower on the top of a long petiole, no leaves present, found a small colony on dry roadside in the same area of Central Chile.

samedi 12 décembre 2009

Mapucha pharmacy

I had read on the internet about a pharmacy run by a certain Dr Taborga, of Mapuche origin (native Indian), after having studied conventional medicine, he decided to go back to his roots and healing with herbs. He has several pharmacies in Chile and whilst in Santiago I decided to visit his Pharmacy Makelwan to try and find out more.
The pharmacy is in the centre of busy Santiago, Sn Antiono 228, Santiago.
Rather disapointingly, the actual shop is like any other, selling Weleda products and other such like articles that one does not expect to see in a Mapucha Indian herbalist shop in central Chile.
The saleswoman was also a diapointment as she answered our questions in monosyllables and stated that she was just there to sell so basically couldn't tell is anything about the fabrication and origin of the herbal medicines.
We did however gleen that the plants are collected in the Temuro region in the south of Chile and transformed into teintures using mainly fresh plant material. She gave me a list of these teintures and their actions. The only plants in evidence were some rather faded sachets including faded lavender flowers and calendula flowers.
I haven't given up hope of finding out some more about Mapuche plants, I am now in Valpairiso and there is one of Dr Taborga's chemists here, I plan a visit tomorrow and will keep you posted.

vendredi 11 décembre 2009

Saffron Walden Labyrinth

I know this may appear disconnected to the main topic but this labyrinth really does deserve a mention. Our trip to South-America begins in England, our flights leave from London and as I am English, this provides a good excuse to spend a couple of nights in my childhood town....Saffron Walden , Essex.

The ancient turf labyrinth is situated on the common in Saffron Walden, the first records mentioning it date back to 1699. It is officially not a maze as you cannot get lost, in fact it is a geometric form of brick paths 1.5kms long. It is on the same ley line as the large church , which itself links up with other churches and power points in the Essex countryside.

I have always done this labyrinth on each return visit to Saffron Walden. I do it as a meditation concentrating on any questions I may have and the people I want to call protection for, once I have spiralled myself and the earth energy into the middle of the labyrinth, I take a few minutes to align myself by focusing in the direction of the church. I then begin the journey back (it is not advised to do follow the labyrinth in just one direction, as the energy is activated but needs to be bought back at the end). I empty any thoughts from my mind and then in a meditative silent state I listen to any advise or information that might arise from my subconscious.

jeudi 10 décembre 2009


I am a French herbalist of English origin currently in my third year as a student at Lyon`s school of medicinal planta (elpm = Ecole Lyonnais de plantes medicinales).

The aim of this blog is to accompany a three month trip to South America (Chile, Perou, Bolivia, Paraguay) and then future trips to England in order to create cross-cultural relationships between ELPM and herbalists in the two countries mentioned. Other ex and current students will hopefully be making similar connections with herbalists in other parts of the world. In this way a worldwide herbalist network can be created where experiences, traditions, methods, plant knowledge can be shared.
This is just the begining , the form in which these connections will develop is not yet determined and will depend very much on the people involved, their level of implication etc.