In The Herbal Dose’s “Tree of Life Series,” we’ve been observing the facts, stories, and medicinal and nutritional values of four trees from around the world deemed sacred by their longevity, resilience, and folklore: the Baobab in Africa, the Ginkgo in China, and the Bodhi in India, and the Lucuma in the South American Andes. They are among the world’s oldest trees and revered by their people as the Tree of Life.
Next up and last of the series: the Lucuma tree, native to the South American Andes Mountains.
Lucuma is known as “el Oro de los Incas” or the Gold of the Incas. The lucuma tree, typically 25-50 feet in height, is native to the Andean valleys of Peru, Ecuador, and northern Chile, but it is culturally embraced more by Peru than any other country.
Although lucuma has experienced a recent surge into the health culture limelight, archaeologists have found the lucuma fruit and tree frequently depicted on ceramic vases at burial sites of the Moshe civilization of coastal Peru as early as 100 AD.
Lucuma was traditionally used throughout the Andes and is today used globally for promoting cardiovascular health, balancing blood sugar levels, regenerating red, inflamed skin tissues, healing wounds, and regulating the bowels and gut health.
Recently it has been studied specifically for its anti-aging, wound-healing, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Lucuma has been a main food staple throughout the Andes since the pre-colonial era. In modern times, it is the #1 most popular ice cream flavor in Peru. With its orange, fleshy pulp and flavor similar to caramel and sweet potato, it’s a rich and fulfilling meal or snack. Lucuma is commonly added to shakes and smoothies, as it mixes well with healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and dairy or non-dairy milk, ice cream, and yogurt. It is now available internationally and has grown in popularity as a superfood and healthy substitute for sugar.
It contains high amounts of fiber, potassium, beta-carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. It has a low glycemic index, meaning it raises the blood sugar level less than other sweeteners like pure sugar.
The whole fruit starts to ferment soon after ripening, which makes lucuma difficult to find fresh outside its natural habitat. It’s mostly sold as a fine powder in select grocery stores and health markets. Lucuma can be found as a frozen pulp or fruit concentrate in some Latin grocery stores.
When I lived in Urubamba, Peru, I used to make lucuma shakes often. A generous neighbor gifted me regularly with the fruit from their lucuma tree. As I became more familiar with the flavor and how the fruit made my body feel, I crafted by own medicinal shake recipe with complementary spices. I encourage you to try it – I find it delicious!
Ingredients (all organic)
2 tbsp Lucuma powder
8 fl oz Milk or non-dairy milk substitute – best with almond, flax, or oat milk
¼ tsp Vanilla extract
Pinch of Cinnamon powder
Pinch of Ginger powder
*For more natural sweetness, to balance the dryness of the lucuma with ‘wet plant energetics,’ and to increase the orange color therapy, add 1 mango, cubed!
- Fill a glass to ¼ with milk or non-dairy milk substitute, add lucuma powder, mix into a paste, then add the rest of the milk.
- Add vanilla extract, then stir to mix.
- Add cinnamon and ginger, then stir to mix.
- Or, add all ingredients to drink shaker and shake or to blender and blend (if adding mango).
I have seen lucuma lattes popping up in health-conscious cafes around the world in recent years. Of all the bold, extravagant latte combinations with lucuma surfacing in mainstream cafes and health cultures now, my personal recommendations are lucuma chai latte and lucuma matcha latte. Here is why:
Spices in chai like cinnamon and ginger increase circulation and move the medicinal and nutritional benefits through the body. And it works the other way too: lucuma softens the “bite” and sweetens the bitterness of matcha while multiplying the nutritional value.
Balancing the energetics of plants is what makes the recipe taste “good” (balanced, complex, palatable) as well as more effective medicinally. Plant energetics are identifiable energy patterns of plants, a person, or disease – a system used by all major traditional medicine cultures. The flavor of lucuma is sweet, the texture is creamy, and its energetics are dry and cold. Therefore, to balance the lucuma in a latte, we want to add wet and hot plant and food ingredients. Spices in general are hot and drying too, but I don’t worry about over-drying myself from that combination because milk and non-dairy milk substitutes like almond (neutral) milk and oat (warming) milk increase mucus (also known as wetness and moisture) in the body, and these are already included in lattes.
**If you are interested in learning more about plant energetics for customized herbal healing, I will be teaching a class about it at World Herb Day in Omaha on May 23, 2020. Email me at email@example.com for details!
Tree of Life
In ancient Andean culture, Lucuma trees and their fruit are considered “the tree of life” for providing nourishment in times of scarcity and famine. In the art of the Moche and Nazca civilizations, the fruit often symbolized creation and fertility. Traditionally, it’s considered the most sacred fruit one can consume.
I used to work in Peru at the Sacred Valley’s original yoga retreat center and renowned chakra garden guesthouse called Willka T’ika. The owner, Carol Cumes, wrote an award-winning book called “Chakra Gardens, Opening the Senses of the Soul.” Below is an excerpt from her book about the lucuma tree, which is considered to *embody the three worlds of ancient Andean cosmology: the lower/inner world (ukhupacha), middle world (kaypacha), and upper world (hanakpacha).
*Other indigenous tribes around the world have a similar system of viewing trees when applying traditional healing theories.
“The trunk represents kaypacha, the world of humans, plants and animals, a place of action and interaction, of cause and effect that shapes our lives.
The roots represent ukhupacha, the inner world of wisdom and experience.
The leaves and branches reach into hanakpacha, the upper world of spirit, of creative ideas and inspiration.
All three interconnected realms create the world we live in. Having awakened each energy center in the body, Amaru, the serpent goddess of the Inka, or kundalini energy, bursts through the crown energy center opening it to spiritual enlightenment. Unrestricted by previous patterns, people become linked with cosmic energy, eternal wisdom and boundless inspiration. Life fills with passion. Wisdom becomes profound. Insights are infinite.”
The 1000-year-old lucuma tree featured in Willka T’ika’s Crown Chakra Garden (pictured above and below) was the owner Carol’s vision catalyst and source of spiritual inspiration for creating Willka T’ika in 1994.
Locally in the Omaha area, lucuma can be found in the health section of most grocery stores. It’s a wonderful superfood to incorporate into your diet — especially if you want to infuse more sweet richness into your life.