I recently gave a workshop about how to assemble an herbal remedy book. I learned how to do it from Doña Vicenta in Amatlán, Morelos, more than ten years ago. As I browsed through my own herbal remedy books in preparation for my workshop, I found a gem of a recipe in one of the back pages:
Cólicos menstruales: tamalito de hoja santa, epazote, y hierbabuena. Calendar en el tlecuil. Poner en el vientre.
It is a short and lovely recipe for a poultice for menstrual cramp relief. Very often, while instructing us on an herbal medicine recipe, Doña Vicenta went on marvelous tangents about plants or remedies. I began to keep a working list of miscellaneous notes in the back of my herbal remedy book where I would quickly scribble the information. It was in one of these lists of miscellaneous notes that I found the poultice recipe.
A poultice is one of many ways herbs can be used as medicine. It involves the external application of warm fresh or dried herbs either directly to the skin or wrapped in cloth. This poultice calls on the healing properties of hoja santa, epazote, and hierbabuena. The English translation is as follows:
Menstrual cramps: tamalito (bundle) of hoja santa, wormwood, and peppermint. Heat in the tlecuil (fireplace/stove/skillet). Place over the womb.
I couldn’t help but do a little bit of research to see why this poultice might help relieve menstrual cramps. Hoja santa is traditionally used as a culinary plant, valued for its licorice- and pepper-like taste. Medicinally, it boasts analgesic and antiseptic properties. In English, epazote is known as wormwood. It is a bitter herb traditionally used in culinary doses (e.g., a few sprigs in a pot of black beans for flavor and to reduce flatulence) and in medicinal doses as a de-wormer or to encourage menstruation. When used externally, epazote’s anti-inflammatory properties shine through. Peppermint is an antispasmodic (eases spasms or cramps in the body), anti-emetic (eases nausea), nervine (‘stimulates the body’s innate vitality’) and can also ease psychological tension (Hoffman, 1989).
I’m excited about the opportunity to try this remedy. Because I don’t have access to hoja santa where I currently live, I will only use epazote and peppermint.
Do you have access to hoja santa where you live? (If you live in California, you probably do!) What is your experience with these plants? Feel free to share your own knowledge or recipes in the comments section below.
Hoffman, D. (1989). A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont.