Spanish: Chimajá. English: Spring parsley. Family: Apiaceae. Genus / Species: Cymopterus pupurescens.
One of my very favorite herbs is one that appears in the spring before most anything else begins to turn green. It also is one of the least known plants as far as local herbal medicines go. This wonderful little herb is called chimajá in Spanish and is a member of the Apiacea (Parsley family) of plants.
Here in the Southwest of what is now the United States the original native people survived in winter by eating dried foods such as meat, corn, dried plums and various seeds. Spring would bring the first new green things to eat and the first green food to appear would be this yummy little member of that parsley family. Growing out among the chamiso and escoba del vibora (sagebrush and snake broom) the aboveground part of the plant is a little pale green flat, ground-hugging herb, which is edible and looks like parsley. But the really surprising part of the plant is the root, which is huge by comparison to the leaves. The root can be up to 1-1/2 inches in diameter and up to a foot long! Once you have peeled off the thick nubby root-bark you find a bright white, tender flesh that tastes very much like the South American root vegetable called jicama (Calopogonium caeruleum.)
Chimajá is used to make a traditional beverage consumed at Christmas, weddings, funerals and quinceañeras called Mistela. Mistela is made by soaking the leaves and roots of chimajá in whiskey or tequila for at least 30 days or up to a year followed often by adding piloncillo (crude brown sugar) or miel virgen (virgin honey).
As a medicine chimajá is what we call a carminative, which soothes an upset stomach and alleviates gas and cramping. One of the most noted uses of Mistela was for the treatment of the nausea and stomach upset due to hangover.
Drop by Taos Herb Company if you would like to have a recipe for Mistela.
Rob Hawley co-owns Taos Herb Company. For information, call (575) 758-1991 or go to taosherb.com.
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