Calling all alternative medicine enthusiasts! Journey into Belize’s verdant jungle on a Medicinal Trail Tour to learn about the plants and herbs which have been used to cure various ailments for centuries. While modern medicine has come a long way in the past 100 years, there are many who swear by these age old remedies which can easily be found throughout Belize. Take a hike through the jungle and you’ll find that there is a use for pretty much everything you see.
But first things first, what do you bring? Well, make sure you’re wearing comfortable attire. Chances are you’ll probably break a sweat and might get a little dirty. Most tours will take place under the jungle canopy, but a hat and sunscreen are good to bring along regardless. Since the trails wind through the jungle, it’s safe to assume that you’ll encounter a few bugs. Bug repellant, long pants, and closed shoes will go a long way in averting their unwanted attention. Last, but not least, bring along water to avoid dehydration.
Banana Spider (creepy but harmless)
Now that you’re all packed and ready to go, let’s talk about what to expect on the Belize jungle tour. You’re going to be surrounded by luscious greens, whistling birds, buzzing bugs, and perhaps some curious (but harmless) wildlife. Look around for birds fluttering about; watch out for ants marching in a single file line across the trail; listen to rustling in nearby brush as an Agouti or a squirrel scurries away. But above all, expect to be amazed and prepared to learn about Belize’s flora and how the ancient Maya relied on bush medicine in almost every aspect of their lives.
Take for example, the Hamelia patens (scientific) aka Polly Redhead or Fire Bush (local), aka Ix-Canan (Mayan for the Goddess of Forest and Healing). This plant is referred to as the guardian of the jungle and was likely named as such because it’s abundant and has antifungal and anti-bacterial properties used to aid in an assortment of skin issues.
(Hamelia paten / Poly Redhead / Ix-Canan)
Another interesting plant you’re likely to encounter is the Allspice Tree. Best known for its small peppercorn-like seeds, this plants gives off a mixed aroma and taste akin to cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (hence the name Allspice). These small seeds are used as a spice common in Belizean dishes such as Escabeche and our Holiday Sweet Braided Bread. Its leaves can be boiled to make a tea which is used to calm an upset stomach, raise energy levels, and help with menstrual cramps. Additionally, oil can be extracted from the tree and used as a fragrance, an antifungal, and to cure meats. You can also chew the leaves before or after a dentist appointment to help with any discomfort since the leaves have numbing properties. That’s a lot of uses for one tree!
One plant you want to make sure to avoid is the Che-Chem Tree, aka Black Poisonwood. This tree releases a thick, sticky, black sap that causes an intense rash and blistering on the skin. Those unfortunate enough to have come into contact with this tree know that it’s one you want to avoid at all costs; in fact, it was used as a form of torture by the Maya. Don’t be discouraged though, the cure is right around the corner, literally. Growing in close proximity to the Che-Chem is always a Gumbo Limbo Tree, affectionately referred to as the “Tourist Tree” because of its red peeling bark that resembles a peeling sunburn. The Gumbo Limbo is used for various skin afflictions such as a rash, sunburn, insect bites, and Black Poisonwood. So wherever you find a Che-Chem Tree, you will find a Gumbo Limbo somewhere close by. Nature’s way of saying sorry, perhaps?
(Black Poisonwood Tree with a Gumbo Limbo in the background)
These plants are just a fraction of what you can expect to see, hear, and learn on a Belize Medicinal Trail Tour. No matter your age or where you’re from, there’s something for everyone! And if you’re lucky, and feeling extra adventurous, you may be presented the opportunity to try a termite! (They taste like carrots and mint, and are full of protein.)