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!



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