Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guayusa herbal tea - health benefits of a silky herbal infusion from the Amazon

GUAYUSA (gwhy-you-sa) is a rare, naturally caffeinated herbal infusion produced from the leaves of a holly tree native to the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

Technically Guayusa is not tea.

It is produced from the leaves of a caffeinated Amazonian holly tree (Ilex guayusa) and is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) that produces green and black tea.

Guayusa (Ilex guayusa) is the Amazonian cousin of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) that is from the Atlantic Rainforest in and around Argentina.

Both are caffeinated rainforest holly trees; however, Yerba Mate has a strong bitter flavor while Guayusa has a smooth taste.

Health benefits of Guayusa

Guayusa has been part of Amazonian culture and cultivation for over 2000 years, treasured for its unique balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids, and its energizing effect that is similar to that of coffee and yerba mate.

The plant contains amino acids, antioxidants, and methylxantine alkaloids, including caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine.

Guayusa does have caffeine, but is also composed of other stimulating “methyl xanthine alkaloids,” theophylline, also found in green tea, and theobromine, the stimulant in dark chocolate that provides a soothing feeling.

Guayusa is a unique stimulant offering a balanced energy lift.

In studies of Guayusa, this tea has been found to contain 50% more anti-oxidants than green tea with the second highest ORAC score of any other food product tested.

Tests have also shown Guayusa to contain 90 mg of caffeine/ 8oz cup making it the second most caffeinated plant on earth next to coffee but with many more health benefits.

One of the most important findings of this study was the synergistic effects of Guayusa’s unique blend of Theobromine (also found in high quantities in dark chocolate), Theophyline, vitamins C and D, essential minerals Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc, Chormium, caffeine and all 15 essential amino acids (most importantly Leucine, which is not synthesized in our bodies and is needed to repair and build muscle tissue).

Many people find drinking Guayusa both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

This blend produces a smooth, sustained energy without the crash and jitters often associated with coffee.

Unlike coffee, Guayusa has been found to balance the body’s PH and sugar levels, detoxify the blood, and to improve the functioning of the kidneys and urinary tract.

It also improves the digestion and elimination while strengthening the lungs, removing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Guayusa is grown almost exclusively in the upper Amazonian region of Ecuador.

It grows where the Andes Mountains meet the Amazon Rainforest, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Guayusa is harvested from trees that grow under the shaded canopy of the rainforest setting, giving local farmers an economic incentive to conserve the rainforest.

Guayusa and the Amazonic Kichwa culture

Guayusa has been part of the Amazonian culture and cultivation for thousands of years.

Traditionally, indigenous families of Ecuador wake up at 3 a.m. daily to sit around the communal fire drinking gourds full of Guayusa tea until sunrise.

During this time, the village elders teach the youth about ancestral myths, hunting techniques and social values.

Community shamans will also play a traditional bamboo flute (known as kena) and a two-sided weasel-skin drum, and sing soft rhythmic songs during these early morning hours.

Several Amazonic Kichwa myths recount how the guayusa plant taught human beings how to dream.

The shamans interpret dreams from the previous night, and make recommendations to guide the community and help them live in harmony with the rain forest.

Hunters also drink Guayusa before nighttime hunting trips in order to heighten their senses of awareness and focus.

According to the traditions drinking Guayusa enables them to get more in touch with the surrounding environment, allowing them to hunt safely in the jungle.

For this reason the Guayusa is known as “The Night Watchman”.
Guayusa is grown on small family farms and hand-picked by local farmers from the rich soil under the canopy of the Amazon Rainforest.

It serves to not only make a difference in the lives of Ecuadorians through income generation, but also helps conserve the rainforest.

Guayusa is organically grown in the shade, protected from intense sun and rooted in the rich ecosystem of the rainforest; guayusa creates a profitable alternative to slash-and-burn and clear cutting agricultural methods.

It can also be grown with other food, fruit, timber and medicinal plants to create biodiverse and ecologically healthy agricultural plots that allow local farmers to thrive and generate a sustainable livelihood for the community. 

Local Kichwa tradition also says that Guayusa is excellent for because it can help you to get bregnant and for men because it gives you extra potency.

I personally have noticed that if I sleep Guayusa before going to bed, I won't sleep very well, so I prefer not drinking it after dinner.


Bring fresh, cold water to a rolling boil.

Don’t let it boil too long, as it will boil away the flavor releasing oxygen and result in a flat tasting cup of tea.

Pour boiling water on leaves and steep for 4-7 minutes, or longer for a darker brew.

Use 2 grams of loose leaf Guayusa per 8 oz of water.

Guayusa also makes a refreshing iced tea.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Butcher's Shop in Ecuador

Many things in Ecuador are very developed and modern.

In developing countries people often jump from step to another further away, totally overlooking something in between.
Insides of a refrigerator at the Butcher's Shop.

Like jumping from having no communications systems or mail, to internet and celular phones, forgetting the landlines in between.

Then there are others things that definitely are not developed or modern.
Weighting meat.

Modern times have mostly reached the cities and the bigger towns.

While the countryside remains still in another era.
Playing 40, a very popular card game, inside the shop.

Even the time seems to move differently.

In the cities it's fast and hurried.

At the little villages and in the countryside there is much more time, and no need to hurry.
A picture from the mainstreet. People like to gather outside the shop to discuss and be social, and to wait their turn on 40 game.

People, animals and plants move and grow with the seasons.

There is the rainy season and the dry season, and the moon to show when to plant and when to harvest.
Harvesting papayas.

Many things in the villages would not meet the safety restrictions or hygiene expectations that the city dwellers have.

But no worry, they are not meant for the fancy people, just for the common, ordinary and honest country folks.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Omelet with Helecho Yuyu or Fern Sprouts

Helecho yuyu or fern sprouts are very popular and delicious part of Amazonic Kichwa cuisine.

The sprouts are new growths at the end of the fern leaves that thick and green, without the actual leaves yet.

The Kichwas pick these sprouts when they find them and prepare food with them.

They are especially delicious cooked and served with traditional food but can be eaten also alone.

I was given a gift of few sprouts in a banana leaf as a form of gratitude from one special education student’s grandmother.

She advised me to cook them and serve them with maito, which is meat or fish cooked inside a leaf.

Since I wasn’t certain I could do a maito on my own, she told me to fry them with egg and eat them that way.

I was told that they especially delicious fried with some onion also.

The idea got my mouth watering and at home I decided to try to do a fern sprout omelet.

Fern Sprout Omelet

1 handful of fern sprouts
2 eggs
1 onion
Oil or butter

1. Chop the fern sprouts into even pieces.
2. Chop the onion into fine strings.
3. Mix the eggs until they form foam.
4. Heat a pan and add the oil or butter, I like to use rapeseed oil but it really depends on your preference.
5. Fry the fern sprouts together with onions until the onions are caramelized.
6. Mix the egg foam with salt and pepper and whisk it on the pan together with fern sprouts and onions.
7. Let it cook on both sides.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Iglesia La Balbanera - Relic - Photo Challenge

Iglesia La Balbanera is the oldest Catholic Church built in Ecuador.

It was built in August 15th in 1534 by the Spaniards, a one year before the Spanish foundation of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

This small and unpretentious temple is a relic of the Spanish Conquest.

It has a dramatical stone façade with a large arched doorway, supported by two columns with a mix of holy signs from Catholic and Pre-Colombian religions.

The church stands right next to the Pan-American Highway close to the town of Riobamba as a living testimony of those years and historic events. 

Originally La Balbanera was made of adobe and straw, and later “fortified” with the use of stone for the main structures. 

The temple was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1797, and it was reconstructed shortly after the Independence wars, keeping its architectonic design, style and integrity. 

In more recent years, Ecuador’s National Institute of Patrimony has done extensive restoration of the church, both on its façade and external structures, as well as on the interior, its walls, altars and ceilings.

The church is dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary of Nativity of Balbanera and it is still a place of pilgrimage to the local Kichwa people.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How to prepare garlic paste

Do you ever wonder what is the best way to prepare garlic paste?

There are many people who just whisk the garlic in the blender.

But there are traditional ways that are just as good and a lot cheaper and enviroment friendlier.

In Ecuador the garlic paste has been prepared for centuries, or even thousands of years, just using two stones.

It is necessary to find two stones, one flat one and another smaller and round.
Wash both stones well before starting.

Peel the garlic and wash it throughly.

Then, one clove at time, put it over the flat stone and grind it into paste with the round one.

It is not hard to do and the paste comes out very eaven and smooth.

You can add oil and salt, and any spices you might want to.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Queen With The Frozen Heart 18

Iluku landed next to the mountain and deposited the men to the ground.

The sky was full of dark clouds and she could hear the vultures screaming throughout the storm the boa people had called on them.

The electric storm lighted the sky briefly and she could see Amarun's hideous form and hear his roar through the rumble.

He screamed his hunger and need of destruction to the wold to hear.
The men shivered from fear and huddled closer together.

Iluku lead them further inside the jungle.

Away from the danger of the monster's claws and the smell of death from the jaguar men's cave.

She could see a large boulder with petroglyphs next to a waterfall.
Her memories told her of a cave behind the waterfall where the men could rest, hidden and protected by the magic in the figures in the stone.

One by one the men crawled in the cave and shivering from the cold and fright they tried to warm each other.

- Let me build a fire, the cacique said when he had warmed up a bit, no one can see the light from here and the foam from the waterfall will hide the smoke.

The men nodded happily and little by little they fell asleep with the cave warming up around them.
In the morning they found Iluku gone and the ground littered with dead vulture men and their offspring.

It was a sad morning, the sky hung low and the memory of the fear from the night before was close to the men.

They were afraid of Amarun and worried that he would swoop down on them on any moment.

Silently they hunted a sloth and returned to the cave where few men had caught catfish and were preparing them wrapped in a banana leaf over the fire.

The water was clear and cold to drink.
Satisfied their hunger the men lay in the ground telling jokes and stories.

It was time to rest and prepare themselves for the night when Iluku would be back.

The men competed telling their jokes and laughing out loud to the stories with sexual connotations.

The young men were hazed and given advice on how their prowess with women would me much greater after returning to home.
A warrior was a strong man and strong men had strong children.

Outside the river sang to the men and hid their voices from the jaguar men's sharp ears.

Their smell was washed away by the rain and hidden under the stink of the dead bodies of vultures.

The earth, the sky and the water converged to hide them until the night when Iluku would return.

To be continued...

This is the eighteenth part of the story.

If you want to read the first part of the story, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 1  

To read the second part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 2 

To read the third part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 3

To read the fourth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 4

To read the fifth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 5.

To read the sixth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 6

To read the seventh part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 7

 To read the eight part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 8

To read the ninth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 9

To read the tenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 10

To read the eleventh part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 11

To read the twelth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 12

To read the thirteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 13

To read the fourteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 14

To read the fifteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 15

To read the sixteenth part, go to The Queen With The Frozen Heart 16

If you want to read the seventeenth part, go to the The Queen With The Frozen Heart 17

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Santa Elena - The origin of Ecuadorian culture

Santa Elena in Ecuador is a Peninsula, a Province, a canton and a town.

The province of Santa Elena is located in the Peninsula of Santa Elena.

The canton of Santa Elena is located in the Province and town of Santa Elena is the capital of both the canton and the province.

Many know it for its fame for beautiful beaches and welcoming towns for tourists, filled with friendly people and delicious seafood.
View of one of the beaches in Santa Elena.

The province may be young but it has a long history.

Peninsula of Santa Elena was discovered August 18th of 1527 but the Province of Santa Elena was established as late as in November 7th 2007.

Before the Peninsula was part of the Province of Guayas and it still remains as the favorite vacations spot for the neighboring provinces inhabitants.

The canton of Santa Elena was founded in January 22nd 1839 and the town of Santa Elena was founded on August 18th 1531 by Francisco Pizarro.
San Pedro beach with the buildings of towns of Santa Elena and La Libertad at the far end (left side).

Francisco Pizarro was one of the original conquistadors sent from Spain and has a very cruel and bloody history.

But Santa Elena’s history is lot longer than Spanish conquest of South America.

Precolombian Santa Elena

The town of Santa Elena was originally called Sumpa and it is regarded as the location of the most important and best documented archaeological site in Ecuador.

The peninsula was first inhabited by Las Vegas culture between 8000 AD and 4600 AD which flourished along the Ecuadorian coast was the first Ecuadorian culture.
Modern work with ceremics in Ecuador, a pelican made with silver and mosaics.

The archaeologists have found numerous artifacts and remains of homes and a garbage dump, but the biggest discovery in Santa Elena has been a cemetery of about 200 people.

Among these remains are included the bodies of the Lovers of Sumpa, or Los Amantes de Sumpa.

They were found buried, and apparently embracing each other.

There is much speculation as to why they died, including being stoned to death, but the real reason is not known.
Cereamic and stone scuptures on sale.

Venus of Valdivia

After the Las Vegas culture Valdivia culture was developed between 3500 and 1800 AD in the Ecuadorian Pacific coast.

Valdivian culture was more widely spread and included the Peninsula of Santa Elena and also the estuary of Guayas River and parts of the Provinces of Los Ríos, Manabí and El Oro.

Later on Machalilla culture was developed from Valdivian culture developing many elements of their culture like the ceramic and spreading it to the neighboring areas.

In many parts of Ecuadorian Pacific Coast there can be found remains of these cultures, like female figures made of stone and later on from clay, called Venus of Valdivia.
Sculpture of Venus of Valdivia in the town of Valdivia.

There has even been a discovery of a ceramic public bathroom at the Ecuadorian Coast from this time period.

The Santa Elena archaeological site is considered a main attraction of the Ecuadorian coast.

Because Ecuador has no moral issues preventing the public display of remains, there are three burials on display, protected by glass.

There are various public, communal and private museums in the towns of Province of Santa Elena where you can visit and see the artifacts for yourself.