This article that I wrote originally appeared in Zero Magazine on June 11, 2015.
Many of you may have heard of Agua de Frescos or Fresh Water in English, but you may not know exactly how amazing this drink actually is.
The first time I heard of it was about three years ago when I was in a restaurant eating an almuerzo. The ‘juice’ was an amazing refreshing reddish drink, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the exact flavors. I asked what it was, and I was told ‘flores’ or flowers. This got me scratching my head because now I wanted to know exactly what ‘flower’ or flowers made up this drink. The answer to my next question perplexed me even more. I asked if it was a ‘jugo’ or juice. I was told that it was water.
The last time I turned on my faucet, the water wasn’t red, and it certainly didn’t taste like flowers.
Now, I was intrigued. For me, it doesn’t take much. When there is a mystery to solve, I’m on the case. I knew I wasn’t looking for a red Fountain of Youth, but the idea of it being water mystified me. I started asking around to my new Ecuadorian friends in my limited Spanish. “Is it a juice or a tea?” I got the same answer over and over again, ‘It’s water’.
So, I was in the market with one of my Ecuadorian friends, and I asked her about Agua de Frescos. She brought me over to a vendor that sold plants and herbs and pointed out a bunch of neatly wrapped flowers for fifty cents. I bought it and brought it home.
Once I got it home, I realized I didn’t know what to do with it or exactly what flowers and plants I was dealing with. I love natural products and home remedies, but I really like to know what my ingredients are since I am allergy prone. The first bunch I bought I put in water on my counter, and didn’t touch it.
Here’s where the true detective work began. I felt like a real sleuth, Inspector Gadget, without the gadgets, or the Pink Panther without the accent. Every person I asked, either didn’t know the names of the flowers, didn’t want to write them down for me, or gave me completely different names than the previous person. I looked online, examining pictures and comparing them to the actual flowers. I did learn that the ingredients do vary slightly depending on who put the bunches together.
So, finally, I brought along a friend to Feria Libre and asked her if she could take notes while I asked my questions. The vendor, Fabiola, very patiently named each of the plants and their uses, as my friend wrote down the information.
So, I had a huge part of the mystery solved. Now it was time for my favorite part, the research; but first, I needed all the plants translated in English. Google was mostly helpful with that and a friend helped me with the rest.
Now, I’m not a doctor and I don’t claim to be; in fact, I’ve been known to faint at the sight of blood or be a supportive puke buddy. but what I found out about these plants astounded me. Each ingredient helps a variety of problems. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Fennel- Ladies, remember in the 50’s and 60’s we used to do exercises for breast enhancements. Remember: “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” Well, fennel helps to stimulate the natural estrogen in your body which can enlarge breast tissue for a natural enhancement.
Do you have excess gas or fart a lot at inopportune times? Do you have bad breath after brushing your teeth only a few hours before? Fennel is a plant that helps with both of these problems.
So, if you don’t want to do breast exercises, get a breast augmentation, not have bad breath, or if you have excessive flatulence; just brew fennel!
- Amaranth- This is one of my favorite plants. I use it as a natural dye. It is also the plant that gives the Agua de Frescos the rich red tones. It also has claims to some fascinating health benefits such as an amino acid that stimulates hair growth and combats the problem of male baldness. It also strengthens capillary walls, eliminating varicose veins.
These plants can help with a number of illnesses including depression, fatigue, IBS, heartburn, menstrual problems, cancer, migraines, arthritis, gout, infections, kidney stones, memory loss, and bone density. For a full list of claims, see the list below.
Now, here’s the million dollar question: How do you brew the tea, or, water?
First Step: You fill a stock pot half way up with water.
Second Step: Cut the bunch across about 4 inches from the top, so you have an equal amount of plants in the water, and you have half left over for another batch. If you want to cook the entire bunch of flowers you’ll need to add more water; otherwise, the ‘tea’ will be very strong.
Third Step: Let the water boil for 15 to 20 minutes. The longer you boil, the stronger the ‘tea’. Boil until you get a nice reddish-brown color to the water. Mine was on the brown side because I had less Ataco in my bunch, which brings out the red tones.
Forth Step: Strain the leaves out of the water and pour into jars. Mine made about 2 liters.
Here is my good friend Fabiola at Feria Libre, who I buy all my herbs from. She and her daughter are a good source of herbal information. The other picture is me, buying from her very busy stand.
So, what did I learn from my adventure? I learned that people have been using plants for centuries to remedy their ailments. Some of the side effects of medications are worse than the disease itself. Maybe, I’ll tell you about my experiences with that at a later date, but for myself, I want to use as many natural remedies as I can. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time and a place for medicine, but if some non-life threatening illnesses can be helped with a tea or water, that would be my first choice. As always, check with your doctor before you start any herbal remedies.
|Spanish Name||English Name||Health and Skin Care Uses|
|Clavel||Carnation||Brewed whole, the flower has been used to reduce nervousness, stress, seasickness and some coronary diseases. Carnations are also believed to help hormonal imbalances in women and reduce inflammation.
Dried and brewed, the flower has been used for mild forms of depression and fatigue.
In Skin Care, the flower is frequently used in massage oils and lotions to give a softer feel to the skin.
|Menta||Mint||Mint promotes digestion and soothes the stomach from nausea and motion sickness. It is very effective in clearing congestion and nasal passageways.
Mint oil, when rubbed on the head, alleviates headaches.
The oil, tea, whole mint leaves, or a balm applied to the skin, can help alleviate depression by giving an energy boost when inhaled.
Mint is a great antiseptic, especially for skin care. It can help reduce acne, infections, and itchiness. It can also help reduce inflammation from insect bites. It is great for oral care as it kills bacteria, and also acts as a stimulant to promote weight loss.
Recent studies have shown that certain enzymes in mint may help prevent and treat cancer.
|Ataco||Amaranth||It has a very high protein count, and is eaten like a grain in indigenous communities. It is very high in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation caused by arthritis and gout.
The leaves contain a high calcium concentration and are high in fiber. The fiber helps balance the body and reduces the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body.
Amaranth contains numerous flavonoids, including rutin, which has been connected to eliminating varicose veins by strengthening capillary walls. Amaranth also has a high concentration of vitamin C which helps to produce collagen, that helps repair and strengthen blood vessel walls.
It contains a rare amino acid called lysine which the body cannot naturally produce. This amino acid helps with hair growth and male baldness.
I use this as a natural red colorant for candles, hair, and other skin products.
|Manzanilla||Chamomile||Chamomile has muscle relaxing properties. It can help reduce spasms, including menstrual cramps. It helps maintain blood glucose levels for Diabetics.
It helps reduce gas formation from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Heartburn. It helps with migraines and has sedation properties, so it is great to take an hour before bedtime to help you sleep.
For Skin Care, take brewed tea bags and place them over your eyes to reduce dark circles. The brewed tea is a great hair rinse for blond hair as it will help lighten the hair. It is also effective in reducing dandruff.
|Mortiño||Andean blueberry leaves||Not a lot is known about the leaves of this plant. It is currently being studied at the National University of Colombia. So far they have linked this plant to have properties that “help to prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s”.*|
|Borraja||Borage or Starflower||This herb contains a host of vitamins and minerals. The young leaves can be used as salad greens. It contains vitamins A, B, C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and Omega 6-fatty acid.
Borage Oil is great for dry skin and cradle cap on babies.
|Malva Blanca||Marshmallow Root||It can ease a sore throat, suppress a cough, or help with the urinary track. It helps to increase immunity. It also had been found to help skin cell regeneration. I use this in an anti-wrinkle face cream.|
|Yerbo Luisa||Lemongrass||It contains many vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and calcium. It has been found to detoxify the liver and kidneys and reduce cholesterol. Lemongrass has shown that it reduces skin cancer cells and also breast cancer cells. It helps prevent gastrointestinal disorders like colitis, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.
It helps with insomnia as it calms the muscles and nerves to promote sleep. It helps respiratory disorders and is a good fever reducer. It is also a great antiseptic that helps infections from athlete’s foot, ringworm, sores, and yeast infections. It helps to relieve pain from backaches to injuries.
For Skin Care, it is a great toner and an astringent for oily and acne prone skin. It is also a great insect repellent. The benefits from this herb are endless.
|Cola de Caballo||Horsetail||There are many benefits to this plant. It helps with inflammation and strengthens brittle nails. Inhaling vapors can help with bronchitis and other respiratory coughs. It helps treat foot conditions like Athlete’s Foot, tired and cracked heels, frostbite, dryness, itchiness, blisters and inflammation. It helps to significantly lower glucose in Diabetic patients. It helps reduce excessive bleeding even with heavy flow menstruations. It can be used as a mouthwash for Gingivitis and Tonsillitis.
It helps people with Kidney Stones to flush the Kidneys and increase urine production.
It helps with bad memory to strengthen the brain tissue. It relieves Rheumatoid Arthritis and increases bone density.
Hair Care- It helps to strengthen hair and reduce split ends. It decreases dandruff and increases circulation of the scalp and hair follicle.
Skin Care- It’s used in many anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle, and acne products. It can be used as a face toner.
|Hinojo||Fennel Plant||It is a great anti-flatulence drug as it reduces excess gas. It’s good for digestion and helps eliminate bad breath.
It can be used as a laxative for constipation. It’s a good cancer preventative. It’s an electrolyte which helps electrical connections in the body and in the brain. It also helps oxygen flow to the brain for maximum brain function. Fennel is a good immunity booster, and it also helps with menstrual disorders. It is a stimulant, and increases the natural estrogen in your body, enlarging breast tissues for a natural enhancement.
It strengthens the hair, helps prevent hair loss, memory loss, and relaxes the body.