Mexico, cactus, rites and myths
Legend has it that the Aztecs, guided by their god Huitzilopochtli, departed from Aztlan in search of the promised land, the sign that the deity would show them upon arrival would be an eagle devouring a snake perched on a prickly pear cactus, signal they found when they reached the Valley of Mexico, where the capital of the country now sits. The myth has been so important that this image is what we can see today in its shield. Reality or not, what is clear is that the prickly pear cactus, besides being a national symbol, is next to other varieties of succulent plants and cactus, part of the most entrenched Mexican tradition.
There are many and varied uses that have been given to these plants that grow in arid and semi-arid areas. We can start with the most basic, feeding, as is the case with nopal It is consumed in multiple forms, whether in salads, jams, bread and as a side dish of meats. Its fruit is also edible, The tuna, sweet taste can be consumed naturally or in juices, ice cream or even as an alcoholic beverage called Colonche or prickly pear wine. It has many qualities to which it is attributed healing effectsThere is even a jocular saying that "politicians are like the prickly pear cactus: the more you investigate it, the more properties it has", that humor is not lacking if we talk about Mexico.
There are several kinds of drinks that can be obtained from another of these plantscalls succulent because its root, stem or leaves have thickened to allow water storage, we talk about agave or maguey. Without doubt the best known worldwide is the tequila, This liquor is made from the fermentation of Blue agave, and can only be produced from plants that have been grown in states that have a Denomination of Origin. Jalisco and border municipalities east of the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Tamaulipas and Nayarit.
The same plant also obtains mezcal, This alcoholic beverage differs from the tequila in that it can be produced based on many kinds of agave and depending on this and its distillation it can give rise to a wide variety. It is very typical of the states of Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, Durango and Guerrero. I had the pleasure of visiting the state of Oaxaca, I stayed at the Hotel Parador Crespo, located a few meters from the historic center of the city, we were offered a package that included the mezcal route and where we could also do a tasting. Do not rely on mezcal creams: they are delicious but powerful. We also take the opportunity to visit the archaeological ruins of Mitla and Monte Albán and see the Handicraft Market, I was amazed at the beauty and joy that this city conveyed to me, without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I have traveled to.
Prickly pear cactus in Baja California © Corbis
Henequen, is another variety of maguey, from which a fiber with which they are manufactured is obtained ropes and carpets, its cultivation became massive in the state of Yucatán, it was formerly known as green gold for having brought much prosperity to this region. At the end of the 19th century its plantation was very intense, now that its sown does not have the same magnitude the haciendas have been remodeled and converted into luxurious hotels.
Another succulent plant worth mentioning is the aloe vera or aloe as it is known in this country. Although its use is not as traditional as those mentioned above, it is important since Mexico is the country with the largest cultivation area worldwide, about 11,000 hectares, being very significant exports of live plants and cosmetics.
Not all uses of these plants had to be so mundane, and for sample the peyote. This cactus with psychoactive properties is endemic to Mexico and a small area in the southern United States. Its use dates back to the time when Mesoamerica had not been conquered by Europeans and the tribes that inhabited these used it during their rituals. Today it is in danger of extinction, due to its slow growth and over collection.
Mexico has been able to take advantage of these plants that adapt so well to their territory, we leave you some tips so you can try them in Madrid and Mexico. If you can, get to know them, even if it is not to keep the thorn:
Hotel Parador Crespo, Oaxaca
The Countess's Apothecary; La Palma Street, 2. 634 01 57 58 Madrid
The Apothecary; Mexico DF.
Visit the old factories of Henequen now converted into luxurious hotels. Find a fantastic report on this at our next issue for sale on September 21, 'Merida blooms'.
La Botica © La Botica