Cuzco’s fertile earth grows many plants that are widely used in its culinary and medicinal traditions. Some find their way into soups and main courses, but others are especially used after eating, as teas.
There is a wide variety of herbs used to season foods. Of course these are the secrets of each cook. There are also a range of herbs used for tea to aid in digestion. In Cuzco people say this is to “bajar la comida”, “to make the food go down.” What can be better than herb teas, since they also have curative properties.
The herbs that are most used in Cuzco as teas are: chamomile (called manzanilla), mint (yerba buena), lemon verbena (yerba luisa), a wild relative of mint called muña, lemon balm (toronjil), celery (apio), coca, and aniseed (anís).
One of the customs of Cuzco much practiced by mothers and grandmothers and which goes all the way back into the ancient past, when there were not formal medicines—is to use teas to cure stomach aches, colics, poor digestion, and much more. They use herbs like muña. It grows at high altitudes and withstands the Andean cold. It has a delicious flavor and smells like mint. It is widely used in Cuzco for teas to treat those ills.
There are people who are dedicated to gathering these herbs, some from gardens and some from the wilds, like muña). They bring them to markets, such as the wholesale market of Vino Canchón, San Pedro, and others. Along with other fresh herbs, these are sold in small bundles combining a variety of herbs.
People generally drink these teas after having eaten a heavy meal, such as one featuring chicharron, lechón—both of pork, of guinea pig, or other. They also give herb tea to children before bed to help them digest their food, as well as sleep more.
Besides buying herbs for these teas int eh market, people also buy packages of dried and prepared teas. Many companies produce these. They are sold all over Cuzco and are never lacking in our stores. People also rely on them to aid their digestion, theoufh the fresh herbs, which still have all their properties, are the best.
When I was young my mother would make me these teas after we ate and before i went to bed. She would also rpepare them when I had a stomach ache or over ate. Mostly she made celery tea or mint tea, especialy from the mint from our garden. She would use some six or seven fresh and washed leaves for a cup of hot water.
Nothing has changed, even though I am older now. My mother still prepares these teas and now teaches my sister-in-law how to help her little son with the daily problems of eating.