December 20, 2013
Mexican Poleo Tea
(From CityFood Away)
Say "tea producing countries" and one automatically thinks 'China', 'Japan', 'India' .... but what about Meso-America?
Lately native herb tisanes from Latin countries have been making their way into North American tea pots ... such as wild chamomile flower (manzanilla) from Spain, mountain-grown mint from Patagonia, or Chipilín (a leaf that tastes like a cross between watercress and spinach) from Guatemala.
Their rise is all part of the deepening interest in uniquely regional products; health considerations for our own bodies, as well as the planet; not to mention the sustainable ideal of finding commercial use for an inexpensive foodstuff that grows ... well, like a weed.
In Oaxaca, a traditional digestive tea is made from the leaves of the local poléo plant (related to the plant known as "pennyroyal" in Britain and Canada). The Mexican term comes from the latin (pulegium pulex) or "flea" due to the ancient custom of burning poléo leaves in one's home to repel insects. (Alas, if only it worked for bed bugs.)
Unpleasant as its smoke may be for los cucarachas, taking it as an infusion has benefits for humans. Apparently poléo helps to expel gas from the intestines -- something that can be useful if you have suddenly upped your intake of re-fried beans. It's also reputed to aid menstral irregularity, act as a bronchial expectorant and combat halitosis, among other folkloric cures.
We just think it tastes good -- minty, herbal and refreshing when served either hot or cold. The local method of brewing is a charming one. The dried leaves are bound up into a small bundle, twigs and all, then dunked into a clay cup of hot water (with the option of an additional twist of lime zest on the side) and left to steep.
You can buy the green leaves, still attached to their branches at the local Oxacan produce markets, or look for large glass jars filled with dried leaves that have been gathered in the mountains by entrepreneurial local foragers and sold in city coffee shops.