Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Eating Leaves and Finger Painting: An Ethnobiology Lesson

While we were at La Selva I saw so many animals and insects and plants on dozens of hikes and ventures out into the forest. We learned more species of medicinal plants than I can remember, but I think my favorite part of this time at La Selva was when Jaime lectured to us about these many many natural medicines. Jaime is really funny and an excellent speaker. He jokes about everything and understands what his audience wants to hear. We listened attentively while he showed us leaves that he and his niece and nephew gathered from the land around them. He told us how one leaf when steeped into tea can help you sleep. Another was good for digestion, though to be fair half of the leaves seemed to be good for digestion. He showed us this lipstick plant, a spiky red seed pod that has highly pigmented red seeds inside. We painted our arms with the seeds and then Jaime taught us how to use a fern to make a temporary tattoo on the red. We all were beyond thrilled with that.

Jaime also showed us raw ginger and had us taste it. It was incredibly spicy and most of us could barely let it sit on our tongue for more than a few seconds. Nearly every leaf he gave us he made us try. He would say before we bit into each one “Arriba! Abajo! A centro! Adentro” while we all repeated his chant. Some of the leaves tasted like, well, leaves. Others tasted oddly sweet. And still others were incredibly bitter. Jaime laughed at us when we nearly spit the bitter leaves out.

We ended our lecture when Jaime sliced up coconuts for us and had us drink them. The entire afternoon was spent learning traditional medicinal methods. It was fascinating to learn how these natural resources lent themselves to being more effective treatments than even modern pills can be. I think this experience was an excellent example of how this program expands your mind. I had always known that many medicines were originally derived from plants but never before had I realized that these were not only methods used by shamen, but also by everyday people who understood their inherent value. It was an excellent lesson by an excellent teacher, one of my favorite times at La Selva.

Marcela Zegarra-Ballon

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