Corozo aka Cohune Palm – Multi-Purpose Maya Tree

Cohune Palm
ARECACEAE, Attalea cohune

One of the most prevalent trees found on Lower Dover Jungle Lodge’s 100 acre property is the Cohune Palm. Local Maya researchers observed that Cohunes are abundant where Maya ruins are found. Many believe the Maya had many practical uses for the tree (oil, roofing material, and even salt). Local guides go a step further and describe Maya shamans using the palms as proof of their spirit connections. When the wind would blow through the palms located around their settlement, shamans would say…”I told you the Gods were listening!” Visit the Maya site at Lower Dover for proof of this phenomenon.

Maya Ruins at Lower Dover with Cohune Palms with dead leaves (left) and new growth (right).

Cohune Palms found at Maya site of Xunantunich (Right Front)

Another reason Cohune Palms are found in abundance is that the tree trunk is resistant to the common slash and burn agriculture practice used throughout Belize. On your trip to Belize, you will likely see many Cohune Palms still standing in farm pastures for that reason. When hiking the trails at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, it is possible to see all the Cohune’s stages of growth, from seed bunches to well established trees. Along the Maya ruins of Lower Dover, the remains of past Cohune stumps are long gone, but perfectly round stump holes remain.

100's of Cohune Palms in all stages of growth can be seen at Lower Dover

Young Corozo Palms on medicinal plant trail at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

“Heart of Palm” or “Palmito” is a rare but well known local delicacy that is delicious in salads and commonly enjoyed over the Easter holiday.  Unfortunately, to obtain the palm heart, the tree must be cut down, which is why they are so rare and usually carry a high cost.

Corozo Palm trunk growing mushrooms after palmito harvest

The nut is a favorite food of the gibnut, and is also eaten by people, despite the difficulty in cracking the shell. Cohune has a high oil content, yet it requires extensive extraction processing, so it’s not very economically viable for biofuels.  Many have tried to mechanize the process, but the Maya version of cracking the outer shell on stones, mashing the nuts by hand tool, and boiling the oil out in water remains the most effective way of extraction.

Cohune Palm Seed Cluster. Uniform in size and shape.

Cahoon Palm nuts scattered on the ground. Gibnuts love to eat them!

The British used the nut shell during World War I for charcoal filters in gas masks. Today, it’s not as commonly used, as the nut can explode once the fire reaches the internal oily sections! The Brits used the Cohune nuts because the mature nut is uniform size, perfect for mass production.

Quash on Cohunn Palm Leaf at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Today, the durable nut shells are polished & made into lovely brown jewelry. Rings, earrings, and bracelets are found throughout Belize made from the Cohune nuts. Purchase one of these lovely gifts for your friends from one of the many traditional Maya artisans outside of Xunantunich or in San Ignacio.

Lastly, much is being discovered about the actual benefits of palm oil. For the longest time consumers were misinformed about the many positives this oil provides. One such study is ongoing that shows the remarkable strides made in Alzheimer’s Disease patients when they consume a regular intake of palm oil versus taking prescription drugs. Learn more about this fascinating discovery here.

Ixcanan aka Polly Red Head : Medicinal Jungle Plant

Poly Red Head
RUBIACEAE – Hamelia patens
Common names: Red Head (E), Sanalo-todo (S), Ix-canan, Sac-te-much, Klaush-pim (M)

The Maya named this plant after the Goddess of the Forest and Healing, Ix-canan, likely due to the abundant anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties used in treating a large variety of skin ailments. Everything from sores, ulcers, fungus, rashes, burns, insect bites, burns, and bee stings can be treated effectively with this natural plant remedy.

Polly Red Head - Part of the Medicinal Plant Trail at Lower Dover Belize Jungle Lodge

Treatment for most skin rashes and fungus use 3 ingredients:  common table salt, lime juice and young, mashed Poly Red Head leaves.

First the problem skin is scrubbed with a mixture of whole leaves, lime juice, and salt for 2-3 minutes.  Then the freshly picked Poly Red Head leaves are smashed and rubbed into the newly scrubbed skin and left to dry.  The procedure is repeated 2 or 3 times a day and within a day or two, the skin problem is usually cured.

Don’t be alarmed if your skin becomes temporarily darkened as some people’s skin changes color when in contact with lime juice.

Lower Dover’s watchman and resident bush healer Dan Rivera would say, “a little salt and lime and everything is fine.” You might have to ask him to say it 3 times though because his creole is a little tough to understand ;)

Flowers of Ixcanan Plant - Belize Natural Plant Remedies

Ixcanan (Polly Red Head) is a favorite flower for the many hummingbirds that call Lower Dover Jungle Lodge home. The plant grows everywhere there is sun, almost like a weed. Great news for those with sensitive skin and a camera!

Finally, if you are trying to be a Maya MacGyver, it is apparently possible to make household “iodine” from the stems of the Ixcanan plant. According to Rainforest Remedies by Dr. Rosita Arvigo, three 25 cm long stems are boiled in 3 cups of water for 10 minutes; a rusty nail is then added for 15 minutes; this mixture is then strained and bottled.

Who would have thought?!? We did not know the Mayans had nails! This could help to explain their awesome construction abilities seen throughout Belize and in Lower Dover’s own backyard!

Medicinal Plants of Lower Dover : Nopal aka Scoggineal

Nopal Tree at Lower Dover

In the lodge area of Lower Dover, we have a mature Nopal tree that has been a favorite among guests. Although not native to Belize, it grows well in the tropical conditions, and  has many medicinal uses, including a treatment for hair loss, bladder infections, and high blood pressure.

Nopal Flower

The following information is taken from Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arvigo, D.N. and Michael Balick, PH.d

“Creole Name: Scoggineal

Spanish Name: Nopal, Tuna

Mopan Maya: Pa’kam

Scientific Name: Opuntia cochenillfera

Plant Family: Cactaceae

Traditional Uses: A fresh Opuntia pad is peeled, sliced and tied around the head to relieve headaches and fever. High blood pressure fever, and malaise are treated by boiling 1 pad in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes and drinking 1 cup of the decoction before each meal. Crushing and soaking 5 fresh pads in 1 gallon of water makes a rinse that is used to prevent falling hair and a tea to drink for bladder conditions. Drinking 1 cup of juice from a fresh pad at onset of childbirth is said to ease delivery. Peeled, steamed, and chilled pads are eaten in salads to alleviate arthritis. For skin ulcers, the pad is sliced in half and applied over the sores until they heal. To alleviate pain in the internal organs, the sufferer cuts out a mold of his or her foot on one of the skinned leaf pads and hangs this over the fire hearth, when the foot mold is dry, the pain will go away.

Pads of the Nopal tree.

Scoggineal fruit is used as a hair conditioner, producing soft, lustrous results. A peeled, mashed fruit is spread on the hair; after being covered with plastic wrap for an hour, the hair is then rinsed thoroughly.

The fruit is edible and highly esteemed- the spiny, outer portion is peeled off and the red or yellowish seedy center is consumed. Caution must be taken to avoid eating the small hair-like spines on the outside of the fruit.”

Previous experience at Lower Dover: Thanks to our friend and local guide Edgar, we found out the pads of the Nopal can also be used to treat bruises and sprains. When one of our workers, sprained his foot, we skinned a pad, and wrapped it around the bruised area over night. The next morning, the bruising was gone, and so was his limp, amazing stuff!

Pads of the Nopal- so many uses!

Papaya

There are over 20 varieties of mature fruits trees located around the manicured grounds of the lodge area at Lower Dover. At any given time, there is fresh fruit to be eaten or squeezed, and the fruits help attract the birds for our new found birding enthusiasm.

Papaya trees can be found through out the property, and are best picked before the birds peck them.  You may have eaten the fruit before, but did you know that the papaya tree has many medicinal uses?

We keep a few medicinal plant, botany, and traditional mayan healing books as reference; and according to Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arvigo D.N. and Michael Balick Ph.D., papayas can rid one of intestinal parasites when eaten as a regular part of a daily diet. Ripe fruit can beaten for the aid in high blood pressure,  indigestion, constipation, sluggish liver, and as a diuretic.

Additionally, the seeds can be used for a contraceptive for women. 3 ounces of seeds are roasted and ground, and one teaspoon of powder is taken in half a glass of warm water once a day 3 days before menstruation. Taken consecutively for 2 and a half years leads to permanent sterility.

Our personal favorite from Rainforest Remedies, “The Maya believe that panting a papaya tree too close to the house or bedroom will cause the man of the household to become lazy”.

Use caution when picking Papaya, because the stem contains a latex that can irritate the skin.

Next time you eat a papaya, try the seed, it tastes like pepper, and is safe to eat raw.

A ripe Papaya