One of the many wonderful things about Playa Viva is that you don’t have to venture far to explore the best that Mexico’s native wildlife has to offer. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your secluded, sustainably-built casita!
Since being here, I’ve spotted humpback whales and dolphins close to shore, three different types of pelican, geckos, hummingbirds, eagles, plus a whole host of flora and fauna species – from aloe vera to moringa to banana plants – all by simply peering out lazily from my balcony.
But for those willing to make just a teeny bit more effort, the Playa Viva Horticultural Hike – a loop of about 2 hours, which winds its way through the site’s 170-acre private reserve, passing lagoons, mangroves and plant nurseries along the way – begins right on your doorstep too.
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be guided around this loop by Alok, the current Playa Viva host/yoga teacher/miracle masseur. Not only does Alok benefit from having worked as a naturalist in California for 10 years, but his constant enthusiasm for learning more about unfamiliar ecosystems is infectious – a distinct bonus for me, who being a city-girl born and bred, still finds it hard to tell the difference between a weed and a vegetable!
Indeed, after only 5 minutes in the company of Alok, I was already nodding enthusiastically and trying desperately to retain even a fraction of the awesome wealth of knowledge he imparted.
Did you know for example that the leaves of the Palma Real are used to thatch the common ‘palapa’ roofing found in the region (including a third of the casitas at Playa Viva)? Or that the ancient Mayans believed that a great Ceiba (Kapok) tree stood at the centre of the earth – connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world above?
What was so impressive to me however, was just how naturally rich this area of Mexico is in herbal medicines and highly-nutritional plants.
Here are just a few of the fantastical facts that I managed to absorb about Playa Viva’s sustainable superfood pharmacy – ‘eat local’ has never seemed so enticing!
Moringa: The new plant ‘superfood.’ It contains four times the vitamin A found in carrots, six times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of cow’s milk, and three times the potassium of bananas.
Kapok (Ceiba): Bark decoctions from this tree are used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac and in the treatment of diabetes.
Tamarind: High in vitamin B, calcium, and used as a natural laxative.
Nopal (Prickly Pear): Rich in vitamins A, C, K, riboflavin, and B6, plus the minerals magnesium, potassium, iron and copper.
Copal: Used against influenza, rheumatism and fever.
Gourd Tree: Cure for sunburn, chapped skin and wounds.
Hibiscus: Used to treat abscess, furuncles, mosquito bites and burns. It also has digestive, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. (Playa Viva happens to make a particularly delicious fresh hibiscus juice!)
Neem: Known as the ‘one tree pharmacy’ in Indian Ayuverdic medicine, it is used to treat a whole host of skin disorders and as an effective insect repellent.
Aloe Vera: Highly nutritional, containing over 200 active components – from vitamins and minerals, to amino acids and digestive aids. It also helps to boost the immune system and detoxify the body, inside and out.
Piedra de Medicina: Ok, not technically a plant, but this rock was used by ancient indigenous tribes to grind and mix plants for medicinal use. (Funny to think that we’re only just starting to rediscover the knowledge and practices that were common-place – and more-so, common-sense – thousands of years ago.)
Want to learn more? Set on 200 acres, Playa Viva is of course home to too many wonder-species to mention here. Why not visit us in person and see how many varieties you can identify!
Guest author: Liz Sutcliffe. Liz, a freelance editor from London, is currently volunteering at Playa Viva as part of our work exchange program