Also called Paxnikak (1), Lok, barbaron, pitzoquilit
- One variety of tequelite (P.peltilimba) is called panixkaka. Tequelite de panixkaka is found in Cuetzalan, Zoquiapan, Tuzamapan, Huehuetla and Tlalauquitepec, in la sierra norte de Puebla (Rodríguez etal., 2010). See Post Quelite : Tequelite
This plant is a “tolerated” quelite when found growing in coffee plantations or the milpa, in that I mean it will be left to grow if it sprouts up as a weed in commercial or other agricultural crops. This is often the case with quelites which are generally considered to be weed plants. There are some exceptions such as Pápaloquelite : Porophyllum macrocephalum and Quelites : Romeritos which are so popular that they are grown as commercial crops.
Xanthosomas can be identified by a multitude of common names. It is important when discussing a particular plant that we use the botanical names for identifying these plants. For a more in depth look at this problem see my Post A Note on Deer Weed : The Danger of Common Names.
Also Known As:
- huichicata sweet potato – camote de huichicata (these names are interesting as they refer to the edible root of some varieties of Xanthosoma. These roots are similar in nature to the taro (Colocasia esculenta)
- macal sweet potato – camote macal
- macal or makal
Known in other languages as:
- cacalacaxtli (Veracruz)
- exquiquilit (náhuatl, Puebla)
- pa’xni’ca’ca (Totonac, San Luis Potosí)
- Paxnikak (Totonac, Sierra Norte de Puebla)
- Pitzoquilit (Nahuatl, Sierra Norte de Puebla)
Known in other regions as:
- aramicua (Michoacán)
- capote (Chiapas)
- caramicua (Michoacán)
- Colomo (Sinaloa)
- hoja de huichicata (Oaxacan Mixtec, Isthmus of Tehuantepec)
- hoja de la comezón – itching leaf (Oaxacan Mixtec, Isthmus of Tehuantepec)
- hoja elegante – elegant leaf (State of Mexico)
- lampaz (State of Mexico)
- quelite de la comezón – itching quelite (Oaxacan Mixtec, Isthmus of Tehuantepec)
- Realgar (San Luis Potosi)
- tarabundi (Oaxaca)
- Español: Barbarón, Capote, Capote blanco, Capote blanco grande, Capote de monte, Colombo africano, Colomo, Hoja elegante, Hoja elegante verde, Lampazo, Mafafa, Mafafa blanca, Malanga, Malvarón, Quelite de puerco …
- Náhuatl: Exquiquilit, Paquelite (also a Common name of borreguitos. See Yepaquilitl : Another Skunk Weed )
- Huasteco: Lu, Lum, Tzailu
- Totonaco: Pa’xni’ca’ca
- Inglés: Elephant ear
- Portugués: Falsa-taioba, Orelha-de-elefante
- Tarasco: Carámicua
- Zoque: Poco
- ND: Aquequexquic, Arámicua, Cacalaxtli, Camote de malango, Carámicua, Colomo, Exquiquilit, Hoja de serra, Huacalxōchitl, Lampaz, Lu, Pashnikaka, Pashnikan, Pasnikak, Piche, Pise, Pises, Pitzotquilit, Pixi, Poco, Quequeshte, Quequeste, Quiquichiquilit, Rejalgar, Rejargar, Tarabundi
Common names of other Xanthosoma varieties
(these are all names for the edible root of this plant)
Xanthosoma yucatanense :
- macal nel
Xanthosoma sagittifolium, the arrowleaf elephant ear, arrowleaf elephant’s ear, malanga or American taro, is a species of tropical flowering plant in the genus Xanthosoma, which produces an edible, starchy corm.(1)
- A corm, bulbo-tuber, or bulbotuber is a short, vertical, swollen underground plant stem that serves as a storage organ that some plants use to survive winter or other adverse conditions such as summer drought and heat
Also called : Elephant ear
- tiquisque, tiquizque, macal, (Costa Rica)
- walusa (Bolivia)
- malanga (Cuba)
- quequisque (Nicaragua)
- otoe (Panama)
- ocumo (Venezuela)
- taioba (leaves) and nampi or malanga (tuber) (Brazil)
The leaves of mafafa contain high amounts of an irritant called oxalic acid. I go into detail on the toxicity issues with this chemical in my Post Xocoyoli : The Sour Quelite where mafafa is an ingredient in in a dish featuring a sour quelite from the begonia species. I will repeat the WARNINGS here as they really need to be understood. In fact I would not even consider making this dish if I was not familiar with the leaf or its toxin.
The leaves (and roots) of this plant are high in oxalic acid and the eating of the fresh leaf without any prior processing will cause a painful burning in the lips, mouth and throat. If any of this is swallowed it has the potential to cause breathing difficulties and intense gastric irritation. This type of poisoning is similar when consuming the (unprocessed) leaves or tubers of the taro plant (1).
- Colocasia esculenta, is a tropical plant that is grown mainly for its edible tubers in Africa, Oceania and South Asia (just like sweet potatoes and yams). While its corms are primarily used for cooking, its leaves are also edible.
There is disagreement surrounding the exact mechanism by which raw taro causes oropharyngeal irritation. It is largely thought to stem from specialized plant cells called idioblasts, which contain bundles of oxalate crystals called raphides coated with a proteolytic enzyme (1). When the plant is crushed or chewed, the idioblasts (2) forcibly eject the raphides (3) along with the proteolytic enzyme into the oropharynx (4) causing micro-trauma and a local reaction (Bradbury and Nixon 1998). WARNING : Seek urgent medical attention if lips or tongue become swollen or if there is difficulty breathing or swallowing. As been noted that “In the case of oral exposure to raw taro leaf or corm, patients should first be assessed for airway compromise. Should significant oropharyngeal swelling or airway compromise occur, patients should obtain emergent medical attention at a health care facility (Yuen 2001). In the absence of severe symptoms, patients should be instructed to immediately remove any plant debris from the mouth by wiping with a wet cloth, rinsing the mouth with water to flush out the crystals, then drinking a full glass of milk or ingesting another calcium-containing food or supplement (Yuen 2001). The calcium is thought to limit absorption of soluble oxalates by forming insoluble calcium salts (Hossain 2003; Brogren and Savage 2003). Cold items such as popsicles, ice cream, or ice chips may provide symptomatic relief for the local irritation. Patients or caregivers can further monitor for worsening of symptoms during the first few hours after oral exposure.” This process may or may not work similarly in the case of mafafa. I have no definitive information on this as I am not prepared to test it on myself (or anyone else for that matter). My recommendation is to seek medical advice in ALL CASES of this type of poisoning. Call your local Poisons Information Centre.
- Proteolytic enzymes, also called protease, proteinase, or peptidase are enzymes that break down protein. The three main proteolytic enzymes produced naturally in your digestive system are pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin
- An idioblast is an isolated plant cell that differs from neighbouring tissues. They have various functions such as storage of reserves, excretory materials, pigments, and minerals. They could contain oil, latex, gum, resin, tannin, pigments, or, as in this case, oxalic acid crystals
- Raphides are needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate monohydrate found in more than 200 families of plants. Both ends are needle-like, but raphides tend to be blunt at one end and sharp at the other.
- The middle part of the throat, behind the mouth. The oropharynx includes the soft palate (the back muscular part of the roof of the mouth), the side and back walls of the throat, the tonsils, and the back one-third of the tongue..
WARNINGS FOR PET OWNERS : Irregardless of how this plant is processed it is deadly poisonous to dogs and cats. DO NOT feed leftovers to your pet. Varieties of this are commonly used as houseplants. Its probably best not to have these plants in your house if you have pets.
Poisoning in pets is caused by oxalic acid (the same thing that poisons humans). If your pet bites, chews or eats the leaves of the plant poisoning may occur.
The immediate signs of poisoning are pawing at the face and mouth, vomiting, foaming, and drooling. The swelling of the mouth, tongue, and upper airway can produce breathing trouble and difficulty in swallowing. This can be quickly be fatal if you do not act immediately. Pets can also get a toxic reaction in their skin and eyes from the liquid or oils (sap) inside the leaves and stalk, and if it gets into any puncture wounds. This can cause skin pain, redness, itching, and redness.
To help with this problem, you can rinse your pets mouth out with cold water on a washcloth (and this might even be further helped if you use milk instead of water as the liquid you soak your washcloth in – see above). Clean any plant residue from your pets face and rinse out their eyes. Call your Veterinarian immediately. Do not induce vomiting unless the veterinarian tells you to do so.
Both varieties of plant (taro and mafafa) can be made perfectly edible with some fairly basic treatment. Treating the leaves of both plants involves either soaking them (as is the case with taro) for between 20 minutes and 18 hours, depending on the maturity of the leaf (the older the leaf the longer the soaking) and in the case of mafafa the plant is simmered in fresh water for between 20 minutes and an hour (again, depending on the maturity of the leaf). In both cases the soaking/cooking water is discarded as it contains the oxalates at the heart of the problem and, in both cases, the soaking/cooking water might be replaced once or twice throughout the process with fresh water.
In one of my reference recipes for Xocoyoli (La Jornada 2008) there is was the inclusion of an alkalising agent in the recipe. Interestingly enough it was not noted in the ingredient list and I wonder if this was a typographical error or if its use is such common knowledge that it didn’t even occur to the author to note it. It is referenced in the second step of preparation. En una olla colocamos la mafafa con agua hasta cubrirla y la dejamos hervir con una pizca de sal caliza por 15 minutos. Literal translation Place the mafafa in a pot with water until it is covered and let it boil with a pinch of limestone salt for 15 minutes. The key reference is “sal caliza” which can translate to “limestone salt”. More detail on this a little later (and for greater detail of another closely related alkalising agent see Tequesquite)
In Chiapas it is eaten cooked as a vegetable; It is used to prepare porridge and its young leaves are eaten as quelites.
In Tuxtla and Zapotitlán, Puebla, paxnikak is prepared with its leaves
The leaves can also be mixed with corn dough to make memelas.
In Guatemala the young leaves are said to be cooked and eaten, but the roots are regarded as poisonous. (Standley and Steyermark 1949). There may be some confusion in this regard as Chávez (etal 2009) notes that Los rizomas en sopas y atoles y los cogollos fritos o cocidos (the rhizomes are used in soups and atoles and the cogollos (hearts or buds) can be fried and eaten.
The Totonacos and Nahuas of Sierra Norte de Puebla use the leaves in a dish called paxnikak
Leaves can be used to wrap tamales (Turriera etal 2015)
Below, an abuela shows us how to prepare mafafa leaves for cooking
Images via Tamiahua TV on Facebook
Recipe supplied by Raquel Ramírez Falcón, Ecatlán Puebla
150 gr de almendras de piñón (tostadas)
3 hojas de aguacate
8 chiles serranos verdes
8 hojas tiernas Paxnikaka (hojas de mafafa) desvenadas
Jugo de 3 limones
Sal al gusto
- 150 gr pinyon (pine) nuts (toasted)
- 3 avocado leaves
- 8 green serrano chiles
- 8 young Paxnikaka leaves (leaves of mafafa) deveined
- Juice of 3 limes
- Salt to taste
- limestone salt (Not a good translation – we’ll look deeper into this a little further down)
Just to clarify
Limones translates into the English “lemons” but, more accurately, we are talking about a lime and not a lemon.
Almendras de piñón literally translates to Pinyon almonds which does this ingredient no specific justice. Almendras are almonds and the pinyon nut is not related. The pinon (or piñón) is a variety of pine nut which is sourced from the cones of the pine tree. The Pinyon is still a pine nut but it is from a variety found in the Americas (as opposed to Europe or Asia)
Almonds actually come from the same family that peaches do, its just that the flesh of the almond fruit is not much more than a thick leathery skin over the seed rather than the ripe and juicy flesh of a peach.
Devein the paxnikaka leaves, (removing all of the large ribs in the leaf like the Abuela did in the images above).
Boil the pieces of paxnikaka with the sal caliza (a 3cm chunk of the sal caliza should suffice), until the pieces of leaf begin to break down (20 to 30 minutes according to the original recipe)
Grind together the pine nut and the chiles in your molcajete (could use a blender too I suppose)
Add the pine nut – chile paste to the cooking paxnikaka leaves
Add the juice of your limones and the avocado leaves to cooking paxnikak leaves. Stir constantly for the next 10 minutes while the dish finishes cooking. You may need to add extra water to the leaves (This dish is a little wet. It is not as soupy in nature as Xocoyoli : The Sour Quelite is though). if you add extra water to the dish ensure you add already boiling water.
One of the steps in the NOTES of the recipe above is to soak the mafafa leaves in an alkaline liquid before using them .The pieces of leaves are mixed with ashes by approximately 2 hours in order to absorb the as much latex as possible, since it scalds the tongue and causes irritation upon consumption. immediately rinse the leaves well until all the residue of the ashes is removed. This step was also part of the Xocoyoli : The Sour Quelite recipe (and is also mentioned in Quelite : Tequelite, so check these both out)
The alkalising agent is often tequesquite or wood ash. This recipe calls for sal caliza
Also known as : Kuan, Kaun Potash, Kanwa, Kanwa’a , Akanwu (these are African terms for this ingredient)
Potash (akanwu) is a type of lake salt (sodium carbonate) that is dry and hydrated in nature. This is very similar to Tequesquite which is gathered from lacustrine environments in Mexico.
Akanwu is edible and is used in African kitchens as a food tenderizer and soup thickener. It is used to soften greens (bitter leaves, cassava leaves), akidi (Mexican black beans) and fiofio (cowpea beans) in order to tenderize them and to help reducing their cooking time. Akanwu is also added to ewedu (1) and okra soup during preparations in order to boost the viscosity (2) (and thicken the soup)(3) as well as to increase the greenness and texture of the vegetables.
- also called Molokhia/Mulukhia/Mulukhiyah; Jute leaves/Jews mallow is a leafy green vegetable originating in Ancient Egypt, and found throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Molokhia was a known dish in the Medieval Arab world. The recipe on how to prepare it is mentioned in the 14th century Arabic book Kanz al-Fawa’id fi Tanwi’ al-Mawa’id. Mulukhiyah is rather bitter, and when boiled, the resulting liquid is a thick, highly mucilaginous broth; it is often described as “slimy”, rather like cooked okra See the recipe “Jane M’s Mouloukhieh” in my Post Green Rice : Arroz Verde
- This viscosity (or slime) is referred to as “baba” in México. It is commonly associated with nopales (and pulque)
- Quelite : Tequelite is also said to have the same thickening properties
Medicinal use of akanwu
Akanwu can be ground and mixed with water before applying on tooth to relieve toothache.
Cough Treatment. Studies show that potash can act as an expectorant by inducing the secretion of the respiratory mucosa (Ibeme 2012).
Constipation Relief . Studies have shown that akanwu can act as an antacid thus can be used for constipation and flatulence relief. (Rabiu & Malami 2019)
Lactation. Studies reveal that potash is capable of increasing breast milk production and quality in new mothers for example, the Hausa women use the potash to prepare special porridge with millet and guinea corn, which they often take after childbirth in order to boost breast milk production. (Rabiu & Malami 2019)
Akanwu can induce abortion in early pregnancies due to its ability to increase uterine contractility. DO NOT take this if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
In larger doses Akanwu can irritate the stomach and cause heartburn. Large doses may also increase blood pressure due to its sodium content.
Medicinal Uses of Xanthosoma
There is little information on the medicinal use of this plant to be found and what little there is is somewhat contradictory. This is noted in the plants ability to both cause and treat kidney stones (and other issues with post menopausal women and calcium depletion. See WARNINGS below)
It has been noted as a galactagogue in Guatemalan herbal medicine. The boiled leaves are reputed to be given to nursing mothers to eat in order to stimulate the natural milk supply. (Standley and Steyermark 1949)
Duke (2009) notes X.sagittifolium to have the following activities : analeptic (1), antioxidant, cicatrizant (2), fungicide and that it is medicinally indicated for : burns, cancer (nose), dermatosis (3), erysipelas (4), fungus, infection, polyps, rhinosis, sores, tumours, wounds.
- (chiefly of a drug) tending to restore a person’s health or strength; restorative.
- promoting the healing of a wound or the formation of a cicatrix (the scar of a healed wound.)
- Rhinosis is potentially an archaic medical term (Dunglison 1856) meaning “The state of looseness and excess of skin observed in phthisis” (pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease.) but in more modern terminology it might refer to “Retinopathy (Rhinosis) is persistent or acute damage to the retina of the eye“. Which is kind of interesting as in modern medical terminology Phthisis bulbi is an ocular condition characterized by severe eye damage. regardless of the meaning DO NOT PUT THIS PLANT IN YOUR EYES.
- Erysipelas is a superficial form of cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial infection affecting the skin. Erysipelas affects the upper dermis and extends into the superficial cutaneous lymphatics. It is also known as St Anthony’s fire due to the intense rash associated with it.
A study by Hossain (etal 2017) suggests that methanolic extracts of X.sagittifolium leaves may be used to treat diseases related to pain and inflammation. There is much work to be done here though.
I have found no specific method of processing this plant for medicinal use. You are primarily directed to consume the leaves or corms of the various species (after processing them properly that is)
This plant is not recommended to be used by post menopausal women. After menopause a womans ability to absorb calcium decreases markedly and the high oxalate content exacerbates these calcium deficiencies. This is contradicted by the work of de Oliveira (etal 2012) which notes that in Brazil Xanthosoma sagittifolium (which is known locally as “taioba”) is used for the prevention and treatment of bone diseases, such as osteoporosis because of its high calcium content.
I am not making any recommendation that this plant be used medicinally. Shit, I’m not even recommending you even use it as a food unless you receive expert instruction in its use. THIS POST IS NOT EXPERT INSTRUCTION. I am only supplying information for curiosity’s sake. I would avoid using this plant medicinally at all.
- AVEDAÑO, Sergio and José Salvador FLORES 1999 Registro de plantas tóxicas para ganado en el estado de Veracruz, México. Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México. 17 pages. Available online: https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/423/42330111.pdf
- Bradbury J. and Nixon R. The acridity of raphides from the edible aroids J. Sci. Food Agric 1998 76 608 -616
- CHÁVEZ-Quiñónez, Evelia, ROLDÁN-Toriz, José, SOTELO-Ortiz, Blanca Estela, BALLINAS-Díaz, Julio and Judith Erika LÓPEZ ZÚÑIGA (2009) Plantas comestibles no convencionales en Chiapas, México. RESPYN. Vol, 10, No. 2. https://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/revsalpubnut/spn-2009/spn092g.pdf
- de Oliveira, Gisele Lopes; Holanda Cavalcanti Andrade, Laise de; Morais de Oliveira, Antonio Fernando (2012). Xanthosoma sagittifolium and Laportea aestuans : Species used to prevent osteoporosis in Brazilian traditional medicine. Pharmaceutical Biology, 50(7), 930–932. doi:10.3109/13880209.2011.637054
- Delia Castro Lara; Francisco Basurto Peña; Luz María Mera Ovando; Robert Arthur Bye Boettler (2011) Los quelites, tradición milenaria en México. Universidad Autónoma Chapingo : ISBN: 978-607-12-0202-4
- Dunglison, Robley. (1856) Medical lexicon : a dictionary of medical science
- Duke, James A. (2009) Duke’s handbook of medicinal plants of Latin America: CRC Press ISBN -13: 978-1-4200-4316-7 (Hardcover)
- Hossain R.Z., Ogawa Y., Morozumi M., Hokama S., and Sugaya K. Milk and calcium prevent gastrointestinal absorption and urinary excretion of oxalate in rats Front Biosci 2003 8 a117 -125
- Hossain, Md Sarwar & Uddin, Sahab & Asaduzzaman, & Munira, Shirajum & Uddin, Josim & Rafe, & Rahman, & Hossain,. (2017). Inquiry of analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities of Xanthosoma sagittifolium L.: An effective medicinal plant. 10.12980/jclm.5.2017J6-229.
- Ibeme, Dr I. U. (2012) Medininal uses of Kanwa (or Akanwu) in Nigeria. PriscAquila Publishing, Maiduguri, Nigeria
- Lim, T. K. (2015). “Xanthosoma sagittifolium”. Edible Medicinal and non Medicinal Plants. pp. 498–509. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9511-1_15. ISBN 978-94-017-9510-4.
- Mahelet Lozada Aranda. Quelites “Flores, hojas, tallos… todos a la cazuela” 10 de abril de 2020
- Martínez, Miguel Ángel, Evangelista, Virginia, Basurto, Francisco, Mendoza, Myrna, & Cruz-Rivas, Antonio. (2007). Flora útil de los cafetales en la Sierra Norte de Puebla, México. Revista mexicana de biodiversidad, 78(1), 15-40. Recuperado en 03 de mayo de 2023
- Montoya, O. Hernández-Totomoch, A. Estrada-Torres, A. Kong and J. Caballero (2003). Traditional Knowledge about Mushrooms in a Nahua Community in the State of Tlaxcala, México. Mycologia, 95(5), 793–806. doi:10.2307/3762007
- Opara, Linus U. (2003) EDIBLE AROIDS: Post-Harvest Operation : Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations : https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/inpho/docs/Post_Harvest_Compendium_-_Edible_aroids.pdf
- PÖLL, Elfriede de 1983 Plantas silvestres comestibles de Guatemala. Revista Cientifica, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 6-17. www.revistasguatemala.usac.edu.gt/index.php/qyf/article/view/194/pdf
- Rabiu, A. & Malami, S. (2019). Toxicity Study of Potash Extract, “jar Kanwa”: An Earthy Material Consumed for Remedy of various Ailments in Northern Nigeria.
- Recipe via La Jornada de Oriente : Algunas recetas de la gastronomía prehispánica : Lunes, 18 de agosto de 2008 : https://www.lajornadadeoriente.com.mx/2008/08/18/puebla/cul317.php
- RODRÍGUEZ, M., FA JIMÉNEZ & AJ COOMBES (2010) Plants of economic importance in the state of Puebla. Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla, Puebla. 328 npi.
- STANDLEY, Paul C. and Julian A. STEYERMARK 1958 Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany, Volume 24, Part I. Chicago Natural History Museum.
- TURREIRA-García, Nerea, THEILADE, Ida, MEILBY, Henrik and Marten SØRENSEN (2015) Wild edible plant knowledge, distribution and transmission: a case study of the Achí Mayans of Guatemala. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
- VOGL, C. R., VOGL-Lukasser, B. and J. CABALLERO 2002 Homegardens of Maya Migrants in the District of Palenque (Chiapas/Mexico): Implications for Sustainable Rural Development. In: Stepp, J. R., Wyndham, F. S., and R. K. Zarger (eds.). Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity. Pp: 631 – 647. University of Georgia Press; Athens, Georgia.
- Yuen E. Upper airway obstruction as a presentation of Taro poisoning Hong Kong J. Emerg. Med 2001 8 3 163 -165
Image 1 Almendras : De Philmarin – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24724177
Image 2 Almendras : De Rafael Ortega Díaz – Trabajo propio, Dominio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1932318
Image 3 Almendras : https://www.casaperris.com/casaperris/noticia-Losbeneficiosdelasalmendrasconcascara-1603473224615ffffffffe55b53f4