This weekend I spent 4 Neuvo Soles on a bottle of “Nectar de Sabila” at the local market here in Wanchaq. This concoction is some type of cactus juice that, according to its producers, has both nutritional and healing properties. The label states:
“Nectar de Sabila presenta caracteristicas nutricionales ademas se puede recomendar con propositos curativos: ejerce una funcion analgesica antiinflamatoria cicatrizante y antibiotica.”
The part I find most interesting is the claimed anti-biotic properties. The nectar is produced here in Cusco “por la asociacion de productores y transformadores agro industriales Kay Pachapi Llank’ay“. Anyone who speaks Quechua please tell us in the comments if that name has any meaning.
Nectar de Sabila by Natunec, Productos Ecologicos
The recommended use is a half a glass before or after breakfast, so I’ve been faithfully sipping my cactus juice every morning. It doesn’t taste quite like fruit juice, but not medicinal either, it actually tastes pretty good.
Natural medicine is popular in Peru. Hotels and chamans offer ayahuasca sessions and many typical Andean or Amazon plants are believed to have healing powers, the most famous of these is, of course, the coca leaf.
I’m honestly not a huge fan of the so-called natural medicine here in Cusco, because it is very commercialized for the tourists, just like anything else here in the city. Once you leave the main tourist area in Cusco behind, I do find it fascinating to learn about the healing powers believed to exist in the culture and nature of the Andes.
Nectar de Sabila
I recently read that Evo Morales, the populist president of Bolivia, is having some success at convincing farmers to grow other crops beside coca leaves. While Morales remains president of a powerful coca growers union, he is providing incentives for farmers to grow other crops as well to better deal with the recent increase in world food prices.
As I’m writing this I’m sipping a cup of “mate de coca”, green tea made of coca leaves. When I’m in the US often get asked about coca tea, since the coca leaf is also the base ingredient of cocaine. As the title of this post says: “The coca leaf is not a drug”, and there are no stimulating effects when you drink coca tea.
The coca leaf has historically had many uses here in the Andes region, it is practically worshiped for the natural healing qualities it is believed to hold. Native people chew the coca leaf, similar to chewing tobacco, and us gringos are offered coca tea when we first arrive to Cusco to help deal with the effects of the altitude. When I was ill earlier this year Tio Miguel (that’s Patricia’s uncle Miguel) gave us some healing lotions, which felt really good when I had pneumonia.
The US government has financed coca eradication programs from Columbia to Bolivia for decades, in an attempt to stop the flow of cocaine into the US. Since I moved to Peru I’ve become convinced those programs are akin to the Prime Minister of India coming down to Texas and telling the ranchers to stop raising cattle because it’s sacreligious.
The problems with the US programs are that they don’t recognize the value of the coca leaf here in the Andean cultures. In addition, they involve methods like spraying pesticide from airplanes. Not even my old pilot buddy Ralph Feather – who could barrel roll a loaded Convair 240 – is good enough to spray fields at night and not hit any people as well.
I wouldn’t pretend to have an easy solution to the drug problem, but it seems like Evo Morales is on to something not half bad in this case.
Update: read about our trip to Bolivia.
'Evo SI' billboard in La Paz, Bolivia
Typical Peruvian countryside
Patricia and I both got sick as the proverbial dog in the last 2 weeks. Nothing serious, just a bad flu. Patricia’s uncle knows many of the natural healing techniques people here in Peru use. Much of it is based on the ancient Inca culture, and some has its roots in the cultures of the Amazon jungle. So we drank lots of herbal tea and tried some of the natural remedies as well as our doctor-prescribed medicines.
We’re finally both feeling better now. I do like what I’ve learned so far about natural medicine. Perhaps one day we will help Patricia’s uncle open a health spa in the Sacred Valley. For sure the people here in Cusco have to be quite strong to deal with the altitude (nearly 11,000ft) and the climate (temperatures are really nice during the day, around 80 degrees in the sun, but near freezing at night).
The Incas believed when taking this pose on this rock at Machu Picchu, you will receive energy and healing powers from the sun.