Saturday, January 10, 2015

Learning the hard way to listen carefully during plant walks

Last Saturday evening, my new friend Ivan took me on a short plant walk and introduced maybe 12-15 plants pretty rapidly and in colloquial Spanish. Being new to plant-based medicine, he used a lot of terms I probably wouldn't have understood even in English without a dictionary. Still, I thought I followed along pretty well, but apparently I screwed up at one point and paid the price later.

Each blob at the end of a twig holds 3 nuts. I thought they were edible, but they were not - they're medicinal!
Here are a few pictures of plants we discussed.

These flowers are apparently used in aroma therapies to treat all manner of issues. The smell is quite strong and pleasant. Ivan forgot the name of the plant, so I call it the bouquet plant since each group of flowers contains a multitude of colors.
This is agave, which is common in the US southwest and is all over Quito. Processed properly, this plant can produce food, clothing, and a famous alcoholic beverage called pulque in Mexico. It looks like the plant is attacking passers-by with its sharp leaves (see below). But given that it's good food, it looks more like it's aggressively offering itself to anyone who appreciates it!

A close-up of the agave plant above. Those spines are as sharp as they look.

On to the story of Saturday night.

I had thought the nuts (first picture) were edible, as Ivan had eaten one and I'd eaten a few with him. After leaving Ivan for the night, I kept eating nuts for another 20 minutes - I guess I probably ate 30 or so before I got distracted by dinner.

About 2 hours later, I started to feel something like motion sickness. Drinking water didn't help, so I went to bed early hoping the illness would dissipate before the next morning's events with Ivan. I didn't know what to blame for the feeling - drinking bad water? Eating unwashed fruit?

I went to bed, and the feeling grew worse and worse until I had to vomit. I rushed to the bathroom, vomited 4-5 times, and then felt totally fine, as if nothing had happened. There was no residual sense of nausea at all. I went back to bed hoping it had passed.

It hadn't.

The same process repeated perhaps 5-7 times over the next 3 hours: I got increasingly nauseous, ran to the bathroom, vomited several times, and then felt perfectly fine. I estimate I vomited maybe 30 times. The next morning I had diarrhea once, and the whole affair was over. I not only felt fine, I had enough energy to tromp up and down steep hills for several hours on my plant walk with Ivan.

It turns out the nuts I thought were edible were actually medicinal - purgatives, specifically, used to 'clean the body out' through vomiting and diarrhea. You're supposed to take 3-5 for the desired effect, and I learned what happens when you take 10x that amount. Interestingly, there weren't any side effects at all: the main effect, vomiting, merely scaled up in proportion with the number of nuts I ate, and I still only had diarrhea once.

All in all, it was a pretty small price to pay for the reminder to be careful with these new plants, especially learning them in a foreign language. With experience they're as safe as any food or medicine can be, but until I've got that experience, I'll have to tread with more caution.