Wandering Herbalist: Mamon (Rambutan)
Medicinal plants, fruit: Mamon
The fruit stacked high on the table at the market looks almost alien. Spiky, with little barbs radiating outward, bright red and about the size of a ping-pong ball; here in Costa Rica, this fruit is known as mammon, though in Asia it is better known as rambutan. Don’t be fooled by its’ strange appearance – it is delicious. And at this time of year when it is in season, it is ridiculously cheap and can be found everywhere. There was a lady selling bags on the side of the highway out of the back of her truck today; one kilo for one mil colones (just over $2 USD).
Mamon has a history of use in traditional medicine for diabetes and hypertension. It is a vermafuge, meaning that it helps to expel parasites, but more importantly for most tourists here (though not polite to discuss) it can help stop diarrhea. Just saying.
It is fairly nutritious, containing a significant amount of vitamin C, as well as a host of flavonoids and small amounts of manganese, calcium, phosphorus and copper. It is high in fibre and water, so it contributes to a score of healthy functions within the body; everything from heart health to intestinal well-being, to beautiful skin. Nutritionally however, what I find the most interesting is the iron content. Usually, iron-rich foods are dark in colour, but these are translucent white on the inside, sweet and juicy. If I can keep my anemia-prone bloodstream ticking along eating these tasty little morsels, then I am going to be a happy girl. The seeds are supposed to be useful for weight loss and can be eaten raw or fried (though I suspect that frying them in bacon grease, like we do with so many things here, is less helpful for the weight-loss thing). I have read that the leaves of the tree can be made into a paste and applied to the forehead to help relieve headache. I’m really not sure if this is because of any medicinal properties, or if it’s just that people tend to leave you along in peace and quiet when you have leaf paste smeared across your face, but I might try it sometime.
If you’re a health-and-nutrition-geek like me, then trying exotic foods and learning new herbal remedies is not only really fun, but is a huge part of visiting another culture. As the fruit on our tree is ripening, I’m looking forward to trying more and more of these out!