Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feeling and eating our way through ethnobiology by Lucy Sullivan

At La Selva Biological Field Station we participated in an ethnobiology activity at Jaime Alvarado’s farm in Chilamate. This activity was especially enriching because we learned about how to use plants in a cultural context by someone who grew up using these plants. When we arrived, we all received an Achiote plant, which we promptly cracked open. To our surprise, there were juicy seeds inside which, once crushed, could be used as body paint. The red paint is used by Indigenous communities throughout the Americas.
After all of the medicinal explanations of the different plants that our host showed us, we were all able to hold each plant to further examine the effects ourselves. My favorite effect was from the papaya leaf.  When we held the papaya leaf to our heads, the heat from our bodies went into the leaf. I loved being able to hear about Jaime’s grandmother who used the papaya leaf whenever her grandchildren had fevers. Learning about Costa Rican traditional uses of plants by a Costa Rican was an impactful way to learn, because I felt connected to the history of these plants and more connected to the power of the plants. Back when the host’s grandmother was young, she delivered all the babies of the town. She relied on plants for medicine because her town was too far away from a pharmacy with modern medicine.
This activity opened my eyes to the many plants I have access to, but never use. For example, I never eat any of the coconuts outside my house, though there are always a ton. After we were all handed a coconut, we discussed the many uses of the coconut, which include a source of water, help with digestion, a source of sugar, and fiber. It was easy to see how people would rely on the coconut for nutrients and as a source of hydration. The coconut was also completely delicious, especially on such a hot day. I am planning on collecting the hundreds of coconuts outside my house and in my neighborhood to eat and use for cooking.

Other plants that we interacted with that are in my backyard include ginger and basil. Both are great for digestion and adding flavor to foods. Basil also helps with anxiety, which is great to know because it is delicious and easy to make teas with. We also learned that the tomato can be useful for reducing fevers as it attracts heat.  I am tempted to try placing a tomato above my head next time I have a fever so I do not have to rely so heavily on store-bought medicine. I am very pleased with this activity and I am happy we had this opportunity.

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