Harvesting Medicinal Herbs in the Wild: Our Magical Trip to Amaceyes

11 Jan


Knowing that Renzo is studying herbal medicine and all about our project, Renzo’s cousin Luz kept suggesting we take a trip to Amaceyes.  Amaceyes is a town in the mountains about 45 minutes northeast of Santiago.  She told us they would have plenty of medicinal herbs and plants there.  Our interest was peaked.  For the record,  I was picturing an agricultural town with lots of nurseries and markets selling plants.

Jajaja…boy was I in for a surprise.

Eight of us packed into two cars- our borrowed SUV (Dominicans call them “jeeps”) and Robert’s pickup truck, and headed up into the mountains.  As we snaked our way there slowly ascending upwards, the climate transitioned from temperate to cool, wet, and rainy.  The black city streets peppered with brightly colored storefronts began to morph into the lush wild greenery of the mountainside.

Upon our arrival, we parked the cars and followed Robert and Luz’s lead.  (I had no idea where we were going.  I honestly thought we were going to walk to some type of garden supply center.)  We followed them down the road and along the way, to our surprise, Renzo’s Tia Rosa started gathering various plants growing here and there, telling us all about their healing properties.  With a little questioning we came to find out she spent her childhood helping her curandera/partera (healer/midwife) grandmother grow and gather medicinal plants.  WHOA.  Wait…whoa!  Why didn’t we know this until now?  Incredible!

Before we knew it Luz and Robert were leading us into a humble dwelling, which we quickly found out belonged to family.  Rosa looked around and said “Es la cuna de la familia”, or “It’s the cradle of the family”, meaning this place is where much of their family originated.  The lovely family we met there greeted us with a warm welcome of coffee, rice, beans, and bread.  The rice and beans were cooked in a traditional outdoor kitchen and tasted like it!  The smoky flavor of the rice was divine.

Traditional outdoor Dominican kitchen.

After spending some time with newly discovered family members, we thanked them for their hospitality and continued following our unofficial tour guides Robert and Luz.  On the way, we all continued the medicinal plant foraging led by Tia Rosa:

Rue is beautiful to look at but has a very pungent (some may say very unpleasant) odor.


The two herbalists: Renzo & Tia Rosa

Gathering cerassie.

We forgot the name of this plant, but Tia Rosa said it's medicinal. We are going to ask her, but in the meantime if you know what it is, please post it in the comments section!

Our foraging crew.

After much foraging on the road, Luz and Robert led us into another home where we met yet more family members.  In the typical Dominican fashion of giving friends and family what you grow, they toured us around their property and starting gathering plants for us to take home.  In the meantime I was enamored of the cutest little gang of goats feeding by a bubbling brooke, while Renzo spied none other than the beautifully dangerous (not to mention illegal) angel’s trumpet plant.  For more on the controversial history of angel’s trumpet, click here.

Angel's Trumpet...beautiful but lethal.


We couldn’t resist getting a closer look:

Angel's trumpet smells heavenly but is highly toxic.

Vista at Amaceyes

Just around the time we were gathering trumpet flowers and oranges, it started raining pretty hard.  We were ushered onto the covered porch of an old wooden house where we took refuge and relaxed in rocking chairs while we chatted and watched the rain come down.  The more it rained, the more I kept wondering how we would be able to get back up the steep dirt road we had carefully walked down to get there.  After some time, Porfidrio, the Don de la casa, (elder man of the house) showed up.  Taty and Rosa almost wept seeing how much he looked like their dad who had passed several years ago.  They were so excited to pose for pictures with him.  When someone asked about rosemary, he dashed off into the rain with the speed of a spry sixteen year old and returned with a huge bunch of the fragrant herb.  He gave Renzo an avocado from his tree which he told us is the type that is indigenous to the island:

prodigrio & renzo con aguacate

Porfidrio & Renzo con aguacate criollo.

Taty found an antique pilon (mortar & pestle)! The mortar is made of wood and the pestle is a stone. Dominican use of the pilon came from the Taino.

waiting out the rain on porfidrio's porch

Waiting out the rain in a rocking chair on Porfidrio's porch.

At some point after what seemed like hours, the rain started to let up and we said goodbye to Porfidrio and his son and geared up to brave a muddy climb back up the hill.  Once up the hill, we were greeted by another friendly family member and led into the town club/pool hall/bar for a little fiesta.

How cool is the color scheme in this place? (this picture was taken before the proprietor cranked up the music and people started dancing merengue & drinkin'...ice cold Presidentes, what else?)

Finally it was time to go so we gathered up their things, said goodbye to our new friends, and promised we’d be back soon.  Then, after a trip back to the first house for a bathroom break, and a couple of trips to the Colmado for refrescos and snacks, we were finally read to head home.

Heading home with our goodies!

All in all we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day with more lovely people.  We left exhausted but blissful from all the beauty and excited to transplant some of the plants we found!

***(Today we did end up transplanting many of the plants we found up in Amaceyes, as well as many of the seedlings we germinated ourselves.  I thought I would get that post up tonight, but honestly I’m sooo tired!  I think gardening in the sun must do that.  In any case, we’ll be away for a week without internet access, but I promise to post pictures of our transplanting on the land as soon as we return!)

Adios para ahora!



8 Responses to “Harvesting Medicinal Herbs in the Wild: Our Magical Trip to Amaceyes”

  1. Kristi January 11, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    I love reading your posts. Thanks for the time and work it takes you. I am drinking in the sights and sounds. How wonderful to forage in such an area. I hope the transplants do well.

  2. Anne cavallaro January 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    It seems like you had an eventful day learning so many new things When i saw the second picture and before I saw the name of the plant i thought this looks like fennel frawns and then i saw it was anise. i guess that has medicinal properties So good to hear from you
    Love Gram

  3. Bobbie January 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    What beautiful countryside. And Annie you look radiant!

  4. ANA January 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    you are the best of the best!!!!!you made go back to my country:) thank you again!!!!! good job!!!

  5. Anne cavallaro January 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    wishing ou a Happy Birthday again because don’t know if you got the other one
    Love Gram

  6. Sharon February 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Lovely pictures. It’s so refreshing to see the real things ( El campo) As always Anne and Renzo’s, smile bright up my heart!!

  7. kendranorton February 4, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    I am an herbalist from Washington state. We will be vacationing in punta cana in May and would love to meet (and possibly harvest) some dominican medicinal plants. Do you have any idea how I might find a local herbalist to take us on a plant walk?

  8. Natali John November 19, 2016 at 7:24 am #

    The plant you asked about is called ‘euphorbia hirta’ hope this is helpful. Bless the work you are doing.

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