Piri-piri (Cyperus articulates, Cyperaceae) a tropical, reed-like grass, is usually found in marshy or flooded environments and can grow up to 6 feet in height.1 Found in the Amazon river basin, this “sedge-grass” can aid in controlling soil erosion. The green stems are round and fibrous and have been used in basket-making. The flowers are white and “wheat-like”. The grass grows in clumps from dividing rhizomes, the part of the plant used for both medicine and magic. While native to the Amazon, piri-piri can be found in tropical habitats in Australia, Africa, Asia, and the southern United States.
Fresh rhizomes are ground to extract the juice and used as a nerve tonic to treat nervous conditions, digestive and gastrointestinal issues, aid in childbirth, and treatment of throat cancer. The rhizome is also used to heal wounds, including those caused by snake bites, and as a hair tonic to prevent and treat baldness. Adding the ground rhizome to water is a decoction for the treatment influenza and fevers, used as a calmative, and to eliminate diarrhea and dysentery. Leaves steeped in warm water are consumed to alleviate colds, flu, headaches, hypertension, and mouth sores and ulcers. In Peru, piri-piri is thought to have a number of the therapeutic actions including abortifacient, anticonvulsant, antiepileptic, carminative, and vulnerary.
Magical powers have also been associated with piri-piri. Both the stems and rhizomes are dried, ground into a powder, and prepared as an infusion for good luck or as a love potion, known as a pusanga. Mothers bathe their children with the plant to prevent illness or injury, and wives will bestow piri-piri decoctions to their husbands for good fortune in fishing and hunting. The plant has also been used as an aphrodisiac and included in love potions.2 An essential oil is produced from the rhizomes with the scent of wood and incense and undercurrents of fruit and spices.
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1Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
2The piri piri love. Tolteca Website. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://tolteca.fr/en/ingredients-en/#:~:text=The%20Piri%20Piri%20is%20a,fruity%20and%20slightly%20spicy%20scents.