Simply put, Costa Rica is a plant paradise. Michael and I were lucky enough to travel there a couple of weeks ago, and we were astonished by the botanical diversity there.

So many regularly used herbs can be found in this forest wonderland. For starters, many of our kitchen spices come from Costa Rica. Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, galangal, vanilla – all of these and more grow wild in their forests. Turn a bend in the path and find the spiked pochoti trees, so loved as wood for furniture that the Japanese import it.

And what about your house plants such as coleus, scheffelaria (we didn’t know it till there, but it’s used in Chinese medicine as a powerful anti-inflammatory!), and phellodendron? They abound everywhere. All may be easily spotted growing wild or in cultivated farm fields.

And the wild yams! We found three species growing together in one space. We dug up the local Dioscorea alata and took it back to the kitchen where it was made into chips and later yam mash – better than mashed potatoes. And we barely made a dent into the root with these, it is so huge.

How about acai berry, bamboo, turkey tail mushrooms, and cat’s claw (uña de gato). All may be seen on the same walk as well as cacao (ever eat the sweet juicy fruit surrounding its seed? – yum!), lychee fruit, patchouli, ipecac, bitter orange, vervain, pau d’arco, bacopa, and ylang ylang – the last being the secret ingredient in Channel No. 5. These herbs and many more may easily be found in lush Costa Rica.

There’s even the “shampoo ginger,” which when you pour out the water collected in its petals makes a wonderful shampoo! Plus the Guazuma ulmifolia tree (West Indian Elm or bay cedar) is a tropical elm from which its macerated seed tea helps hair grow. I could go on and on.

Michael and I reveled in this plant extravaganza – so much so that we plan to return with students probably next June-July. Stay tuned for details!

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