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!

Aloe Vera

Aloe cluster by the library at Lower Dover.

Creole: sink-am-bible
Common: barbados aloe
Latin: aloe vera

Aloe grows very extremely well in the tropical climate of Belize. At Lower Dover Field Station it is found in a large cluster on top of the Mayan temple near the library. It has formed a dense thicket since the original plant was planted 10 years ago, and there are now over 200+ individual plants. We have transplanted some of the aloe to each cabana hoping to form additional clusters. It’s commonly known as a treatment for burn relief, especially used in lotions for sun protection. The pure aloe juice obtained directly from the plant is sticky and leaves a yellowish residue that will stain clothes if the skin is not properly cleaned after use.

Close Up of the Aloe cluster.

Description: from Plants and Health by A.C. SAS

“Aloe is a small fleshy herb that grows 30-60cm in height. It is short-stemmed, with narrow white-green leaves. Each leaf is juicy and contains a strong smell. It has red-purple flowers which grow from a long raceme growing from the middle of the plant. It propagates by seed, showing up as young leaf clusters near the base of the plant.”

Parts used: Leaves, pulp, and sap.

Flower of the Aloe plant.

Traditional Mayan use: from Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arviga

“The juice has been used as a purgative since Biblical times. For this purpose, 1 leaf (15 cm), is mashed and soaked in a cup of water for 20 minutes, then strained and drunk. This also serves as a tonic for the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach. WARNING: Aloe juice might be harmful when taken internally in excessive doses.
Aloe juice is considered an excellent external remedy for burns, sunburns, rashes, bed sores, diaper rash, hemorrhoids, boils, fungus, and to reduce scarring by liberally applying the juice to affected areas.
To prevent hair loss, a fresh leaf is mashed and applied to the scalp for 7 to 10 days.
For black skin spots, fresh leaf juice is applied daily until the condition improves.”

Aloe Cluster


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