Chipilin : Crotalaria longirostrata

also called : chepil, chepilin, cascabel de vibora, chapilin, chinchín de zope, chipilín de zope, chipilín de caballo, chipilino, garbancillo, parrajachel, tcap-in, tronador, longbeak rattlebox.

Some 600 or more species of Crotalaria are described worldwide, mostly from the tropics with at least 500 species known from Africa: 19 species are native to Australia (Ryan etal 2011).

The common name rattlepod or rattlebox is derived from the fact that the seeds become loose in the pod as they mature, and rattle when the pod is shaken. The name derives from the Ancient Greek κρόταλον, meaning rattle or castanet (1). Crotalus is also the root word for the name of a genus of venomous pit vipers in the family Viperidae which are known as rattlesnakes or rattlers. Rattlesnakes receive their name from the rattle located at the end of their tails, which makes a loud rattling noise when vibrated that deters predators or serves as a warning to passers-by.

  1. Castanets, also known as clackers or palillos, are a percussion instrument (idiophone), used in Spanish, Kalo, Moorish, Ottoman, Italian, Sephardic, Swiss, and Portuguese music. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome there was a similar instrument called crotalum.

Depictions of castanets (krotala) in ancient times (below).

Chepil flowers

Chipilín is a leguminous plant originally from Central America and Southern Mexico that is a popular crop in the cuisines of El Salvador, Guatemala and parts of Southern Mexico, including Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Chepil seed pods
Chepil seeds

In Oaxaca Mexico, the name used for this leguminous leafy-green is chepil. They use C. longirostrata, but also another species which is probably Crotalaria pumila.

C.pumila is a shorter plant, with smaller leaves compared to C. longirostrata.

C. longirostrata in Oaxaca (and some other parts of México) is sometimes referred to as chepil de hoja ancha (wide leaf chepil) to distinguish it from C. pumila.

This variety (C.pumila) has also been tested for its efficacy against Helicobacter pylori (1). It was found to be more effective than metronizadole (2) (and less effective than amoxicillin (3) in its antibacterial activity against this bacterium (Gomex-Chang etal 2018)

  1. the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers.
  2. Metronidazole, marketed under the brand name Flagyl among others, is an antibiotic and antiprotozoal medication. It is used either alone or with other antibiotics to treat pelvic inflammatory disease, endocarditis, and bacterial vaginosis. It is effective for dracunculiasis, giardiasis, trichomoniasis, and amebiasis.
  3. Amoxicillin is an antibiotic used to treat a number of bacterial infections. These include middle ear infection, strep throat, pneumonia, skin infections, and urinary tract infections among others. It is taken by mouth, or less commonly by injection. This medication is a penicillin-type antibiotic.

WARNING : Raw chipilín leaves are considered by some to be a purgative and are only eaten in dishes that are cooked.

Commercial chepil products

Tamales with Chipilín and Cheese

Makes 40 Tamales

Ingredients:

  • 2 kg. of maize – only if you are nixtamalizing your own corn to make fresh masa – otherwise use dried masa harina para tamales
  • 1 bunch of chipilín
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 onion
  • 2 kg. of tomatoes
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 lt. of oil
  • 1 teaspoon of thyme
  • 500 gr. of cheese
  • Banana leaves

Preparation:

Long Version : Start off by cooking the maize with cal (calcium hydroxide). Wash and drain the maize, and then grind it to create dough (masa). This process is called “nixtamalization”. See Post Nixtamal for further details on this process.

Short Version : Purchase masa harina para tamales. This masa flour is slightly different to the masa harina (nixtamalised corn “flour”) used to make tortillas. Tamale masa has a coarser grind to regular masa but is otherwise the same. Follow the instructions on the pack (see images below this recipe)

Make the tomato salsa by frying the garlic, onion and tomato together and adding the thyme last. Then, blend all the ingredients together with some water and put back on the stove to boil until the sauce is the desired consistency.

Once everything is prepared, take the dough and add a bit of water, oil, salt and chipilín. Knead dough until it is mixed and ready.

Steam the banana leaves until they are softened.

Prepare the tamales by taking a portion of the dough and pressing it on the banana leaf. Then, fill the tamales with cheese and tomato salsa. Wrap the tamale with the same banana leaf, and place in a steam cooker until cooked.

Arroz con Chepil  Chepil Rice (Recipe adapted from a Pati Jinich recipe)

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup white onion finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 serrano or jalapeño chiles finely chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chepil or chipilin leaves (substitute baby watercress)

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until it becomes milky white, crackles and feels heavier as you stir it in the pan, about 3 minutes (an old chef trick is to cook it – stirring constantly – until it sounds like sand). Make room in the centre of the pan, add the onion, garlic and chile, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring and mixing with the rice, until the onion begins to soften.
  2. Add the chicken broth and salt and stir once. Raise the heat to high, bring to a rolling boil, add the chepil leaves, stir, cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Simmer 12 to 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed but there is still some moisture in the pan. The rice should be cooked and tender; if it is not, but all the liquid has been absorbed, add 2 tablespoons of water, cover again, and cook for a couple more minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and let the rice rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Nutritional content (Martínez Muñoz 2012)

Chipilin Nutritional Content (per 100g fresh material)
Calories57
Water81.6g
Protein7.1g
Lipids1.0g
Carbohydrates8.7g
Fibre1.9g
Ash1.4g
Calcium (Ca)248 mg
Phosphorous (P)74 mg
Iron (Fe)4.9 mg
Retinol (Vitamin A)3483 IU
Thiamine (B1)0.33 mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.52 mg
Niacin (B3)2.02 mg
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)112 mg
A nutritional comparison between chipilin, other quelites and introduced greens (Garcia 2020)

Chipilin is an example (along with pulque as well as other quelites) of a functional food (1) (as opposed to a “superfood)(2) used by the Aztecs.

  1. a food that has a healthy effect, beyond its purely nutritional effect, which has proven specific medical or sanitary advantages that include the prevention or treatment of diseases.
  2. Super food is a nonmedical, marketing term that refers to natural foods supposed to be useful for health because they are rich in a particular antioxidant or any other nutrient (Waisundra etal 2017). They deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories (Kawezynska 2016). They help fight disease, maintain healthy skin, improve healthy digestion, maintain joints and strong bones, detoxify the body system, boost immune system, promote longevity, boost energy, and maintain good health in general. Unlike super foods, functional foods are natural or processed foods (Waisundra etal 2017). They contain considerable levels of biologically active components that impart health benefits beyond the basic essential nutrients (Kloyzbach 1999). They also provide clinically proven and documented health benefits for the prevention, management, or treatment of chronic diseases (Martirosyan 2015)

Peña Montes (etal 2017) notes that wild chepil samples have a significantly higher antioxidant capacity than the cultivated ones.

Medicinal use.

WARNING : Raw chipilín leaves are considered a purgative (1) and are only eaten in dishes that are cooked. It is considered to be a good food although it should not be consumed in large quantities or eaten for more than a few days in a row. (Nicolas 2013)

  1. Purgative = strongly laxative in effect. Folk wisdom suggests that if the plant is held upside down it is purgative but if held upright then it is an emetic (a medicine or other substance which causes vomiting).

Martínez Muñoz (2012) notes that the most common use of this herb is as a soporific (1). Boiling water is added to a bunch of Chipilín (leaves and stems) (2) and left to steep/infuse for 5 minutes. Drink a glass before bed time. These sedative effects are also utilised for the treatment of nervios. It has been noted that in Aguascalientes this plant is used to treat empacho (3).

  1. a drug or other substance that induces drowsiness or sleep.
  2. the recipe calls for 3 ramitas (twigs/sprigs) of the herb
  3. See Post Empacho for further information on this condition.

Other varieties

In the herbal monograph published by the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de México as part of their herbal medicine unit the variety C.sagittalis (1) is listed to have the following properties.

  • A decoction of the leaves is used via an external compress as a febrifuge (2),
  • a decoction of the bark is also applied as a compress in cases of measles.
  • In cases of nocturnal enuresis (3) it states that the crushed seeds are used (it does not say how) and that
  • the plant is useful for snake bite and erysipelas.
  1. known as Cocuite
  2. medicine used to lower fevers
  3. bed wetting at night
  4. Erysipelas is a relatively common bacterial infection of the superficial layer of the skin (upper dermis), extending to the superficial lymphatic vessels within the skin, characterized by a raised, well-defined, tender, bright red rash, typically on the face or legs, but which can occur anywhere on the skin. It is a form of cellulitis and is potentially serious. Erysipelas requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent the spread of infection. Medication for pain and fever may also be required. Although generally easily and successfully treated with oral antibiotics, with a mortality rate of less than 1% in treated cases, erysipelas can be fatal when associated with bacteraemia (the presence of viable bacteria in the circulating blood) in very young, elderly, or immunocompromised patients.

There are also studies showing the anti-inflammatory (Ahmed etal 2006), anthelmintic (Panda etal 2015), antitumoral capacity (Delal & El-Dien 2014) and antimicrobial activity of both C. madurensis (Bhaksu etal 2008) and C. burhia (Sandeep etal 2010)(Mansoor etal 2011), which showed activity against Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, while C. pallida demonstrated that it has an effect on Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas sp. (Pelegrini etal 2009)(Aravinthan etal 2014)(Ukil etal 2016).

C.pallida

also called rattlepod, streaked rattlepod

In traditional medicine, the plant is used to treat urinary problems and fever, a poultice of the roots is applied to swelling of joints and an extract of the leaves is taken to expel intestinal worms (Chong etal 2009). In India C.pallida is used in the treatment of diabetes (Pullaiah & Chandrasukha 2008), snake bite, stomach ache prevention and in the treatment of skin infections and eczema (Grenand etal 1987)(Marini-Bettolo 1959).

C.burhia

C.burhia is used for stomach ache, the powdered plant material is taken orally with water. The dried herb is ground, mixed with water and filtered, and can also be used for diarrhoea and other abdominal troubles.

  • The root of the plant is used for rheumatism;
  • a root decoction (in combination with other plants) is given for typhoid;
  • fresh plant juice is applied on eczema;
  • the leaves can be applied externally on wounds and cuts.
  • The plant is also useful in gout, hydrophobia (1), pain, swellings and inflammation.
  • In some areas of Pakistan, the whole plant is boiled in water and the decoction is used for leukoderma, fever, arthritis and skin diseases.
  1. hydrophobia is (literally) the fear of water but it is also an historic name for rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain in humans and other mammals. Early symptoms can include fever and tingling at the site of exposure. These symptoms are followed by one or more of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, fear of water, an inability to move parts of the body, confusion, and loss of consciousness and death. Rabies is caused by lyssaviruses, including the rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus. It is spread when an infected animal bites or scratches a human or other animal. Saliva from an infected animal can also transmit rabies if the saliva comes into contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.

C. burhia is also known to possess antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive activities. (Saboon etal 2015)

Medicinal actions of other varieties of Crotalaria.

Yaradua etal 2018

References

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  • Aravinthan, K.; Kiruthiga, R.; Rakkimuthu, R. Antibacterial activity of Crotalaria pallida Aiton. (Fabaceae). Indian J. Pharm. Biol. Res. 2014
  • Belal, A.; El-Dien, B. Pyrrolizines: Promising scaffolds for anticancer drugs. Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2014
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