In Yucatán, we are fortunate enough to have a natural abundance of fruits and vegetables. We have included these into our daily diet, and along with a few choice ingredients from other parts of México and the world, we have developed a unique (not to mention tasty) regional cuisine.

When peeking into your neighbors’ gardens, you may have noticed beautiful, big trees that are full of juicy oranges or figs, or bright plants with green habanero chiles and lush chaya bushes…all of this might have you wondering: “What am I doing wrong?” “Why won’t my plants respect me?” Well, I’m here to spill all the secrets on caring for a Yucatecan garden.

When I was a girl, we had a garden with a few fruit trees, which were always full of plums, limes, avocados, and sour oranges. However, at first our orange tree just wasn’t bearing any fruit; this went on until a friend of the family came to visit and advised us to hit our orange tree with a “chancla” (a sandal, that is). Well, although this suggestion seemed strange, we also had a desire to grow our very own oranges, and so one day, my dad walked out to the garden and hit the tree. If you think this sounds nuts, well get ready, because the tree is still bearing perfect oranges today. I have been told that this method is equally effective for “huaya” and lime trees, particularly if you perform the ritual on Saint John’s Eve (which is June 23, in case you’d like to write it down).

Perhaps our methods to coerce plants are unconventional, but they’re equally effective. A friend of mine tells me that habanero chiles (which are used extensively to accompany different Yucatecan specialties) don’t just have a fiery taste, but an equally hot temper. His advice is that if your plant’s chiles aren’t spicy enough, you have to scold the plant. He assures me that this method has been tested and works 100% of the time.

But not all plants appreciate being mistreated. In Yucatán, it is common knowledge that fig trees love gossip, and in order for one to produce good fruit, it has to receive the latest news. That’s why the best place to put a fig tree is next to the kitchen window, where it can hear all the latest gossip and be in good company.

As for the chaya, this leaf is similar to spinach and is used widely in traditional Yucatecan cuisine (in scrambled eggs, “Brazo de Reina,” “Empanadas,” fresh juices, and more); certain medicinal properties are also attributed to the chaya. However, this plant has thorns and produces a very irritating resin that burns whoever tries to take a few precious leaves. As a solution, Yucatecans say that one must ask the plant for permission before taking a cutting. It is said that if you do this, the plant won’t sting you.

Aloe plants are used often to soothe burns and rashes and aloe is also generally known as an excellent moisturizer. But did you know that it is also a good luck charm? If you have ever seen an aloe plant with little, red bows tied to its tips, you should know that this isn’t done for esthetic purposes, but rather it is said to attract good fortune. A coin is often put in the soil as well, to promote abundance.

And so our advice can go from curious, to downright strange. A friend of mine once told me how her grandmother, Mamina, had complained that her papaya plant wouldn’t produce fruit. A gardener heard this grievance and suggested the following: she had to go outside when the moon was full, take off her clothes and jump around the plant nine times forwards, and then nine times backwards. Unfortunately, Mamina found this suggestion so undignified that she never reported her findings back to us, so I am unsure if this method is effective or not.

Editorial by Maggie Rosado
Photography by Andrea Mier y Terán and Loboluna Producciones

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