Medicinal Garden Tour

I’ve wound my way through the medicinal garden a number of times, passing piper plants, lemongrass, and angel’s trumpets, and sharing my findings with you. Just when I thought I had crossed everything off of the garden to-do list, like observing the oddest plant, tasting the sweetest leaf, and guessing correctly between lemongrass and citronella, I turned a verdantly opaque corner and nearly shish-kabobbed myself on this:

Would you believe me if I told you this plant isn’t dangerous?

Hint: You probably shouldn’t.

The Sandbox Tree, Hura crepitans, its bark in particular, has toxic properties. Stay away, right? Wrong. The kicker is that Costa Ricans once used the tree to harvest food. Here’s how it worked: because the tree is typically found in riparian environments, fishermen used to slice up and grind the bark of the tree, activating and releasing the toxic sap. They would toss the bark into streams to poison fish by way of stunning. The paralyzed fish were then easier to catch, and were killed after regaining consciousness in a bucket and supposedly detoxing, therefore becoming “safe food” for Ticos.

This practice of fishing is now banned in Costa Rica, not only because of a direct threat to human health (contact of sap with eyes can cause temporary blindness), but also because the toxic sap is enough to kill other organisms in the streams.

Two points, Costa Rica for taking steps to keep your streams clean!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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