There is magic in the trees. Or if not strictly magic, than certainly wonder, when one is talking about the ubiquitous Gumbo Limbo, a tree so robust that its cut branches will easily sprout when stuck in the ground. Because of its rapid growth – an almost fairy tale quality – the Gumbo Limbo is often used by Costa Rican farmers as a quickly erected “living fence” to corral livestock or simply mark off property.
Growing upwards of 50 or 60 feet, this canopy tree is an excellent source of shade during the long, dry months, and though its bark is soft, it is singularly resistant to the high winds and heavy rains of the winter season. Its tolerance for salt water makes the Gumbo Limbo an ideal resident of the Guanacaste coastline.
Native to Central America as well as Southern Mexico and parts of Florida, the Gumbo Limbo is nicknamed the “Tourist Tree” because of its red, peeling bark, like the skin of an unwitting gringo. The tree is a member of the same botanical species as frankincense and myrrh, both representatives of the world’s oldest medicines. So it’s no surprise that our Gumbo Limbo has long been used by locals as an important ingredient for treating a variety of ailments.
As the first in a series on the natural remedies of Costa Rica, here are a few recipes for the Gumbo Limbo. Thanks to our talented gardener Victor Rodriguez Hernandez for suggesting this theme; we’ll be hearing more from Victor in the weeks to come.
From Rainforest Home Remedies by Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein:
Gumbo Limbo and Wild Yam Tea for Psoriasis and Eczema
Boil a quarter cup of dried Gumbo Limbo bark and a quarter cup of dried wild yam in on quart of water for 20 minutes. Steep for 20 minutes. Strain and sip tea all day.
Victor’s Remedy for Lower Back Pain
Cut a piece of Gumbo-Limbo bard to approximately 5 x 30 cm and add to one gallon of water. Boil until the water is densely red, like the color of beet juice. Drink!
For Other Ailments
Follow Victor’s recipe and use topically for skin infections, rashes, bug bites, and pain. Drinking it is also reputed to cure colds, the flu, sun stroke, fever and urinary tract infections. The sap can be applied directly to skin rashes to reduce pain, swelling and itching.
Many claim the tree bark increases the libido; it’s a key ingredient in the aphrodisiac Bush Tea 21 Gun Salute.
Viva the Gumbo Limbo!