The spice route through South America

Food and drink & South America

As North and South America were increasingly explored, our range of herbs and spices in Europe expanded massively. As far back as the 16th century, physician Dr. Fransisco Hernandez boasted a herbarium with no fewer than 1200 recipes. Those recipes didn’t just consist of delicious cups of tea, stimulants and meals, but mainly covered the use of plants and flowers for their medicinal effect. Join us on a voyage of exploration.

Herbal medicine

The Aztecs, the original inhabitants of Mexico, knew plenty about using flowers and plants. Their research and expertise were highly rated and have been incorporated into studies in more modern times. A lot of their wisdom is still being used nowadays. Take a look at the labels on herbal medicine tablets and capsules. Can you spot the South American herbs and spices? 

You almost certainly eat or drink this

A diet soft drink with stevia sweetener or a spicy dish with cayenne pepper. These ingredients originate from South America. There’s more: have you ever drunk lapacho tea? Or do you use allspice when you’re cooking? Here we go again! Both come from plants and trees native to South America. But more powerful stimulants also originate from this continent. There are lots of cacti that cause hallucinations, and the coca bush has been used for centuries for its energising effect. Take a look at the herb and spice map of South America. How many jars have you got in your kitchen cupboards?

South America's answer to coffee and tea

If you’ve ever visited South America, it’s quite likely that you’ve drunk yerba mate. This bitter herbal tea is made of dried leaves and buds of the mate plant and is packed with vitamins and antioxidants and a natural type of caffeine. Yerba mate is therefore sometimes called the healthy substitute for coffee or tea. Drinking yerba mate is a social and national custom in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. If you drink together, that represents friendship, because you only share a cup of yerba mate with soulmates. 

Local spice route

Start your own spice route with a home-made herb garden - in the garden if you’re lucky, but otherwise a balcony or window with plenty of light will also do. There are lots of herbs that you can buy here that do well in our climate, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, laurel and eucalyptus. These herbs not only lend flavour to dishes, but also make an excellent cup of tea. Allowing you to make your own British version of yerba mate tea. To be enjoyed  with your nearest and dearest, obviously.