Looks harmless right? Just wait…
Alberto Fujimori, Joran van der Sloot… Kevin Gianni?
No, I didn’t commit murder or crimes against humanity like those other thugs, but the last time we were in Peru, I almost did something that would have landed me in a Peruvian jail, had I not been stopped at just the right time.
Let me explain…
Our Path is Paved with Good Intentions
When we go to Peru, we have a few objectives.
First, we go to take a break from the American lifestyle. Even Lima is slower paced than many of the cities we frequent like New York, L.A. or San Francisco.
We also go to be with our Peruvian family. We’re now god-parents to a beautiful Q’ero-mestizo girl named Esperanza.
We definitely go to practice our Spanish… pero tengo que practicar, porque mi español es horrible.
And finally, we go to discover foods, herbs and practices that we can bring back to you and share to help you reach higher levels of health.
That last objective is the one that almost got me in serious trouble.
A Mini Machu Picchu Unknown to Most…
A sacred place not many tourists have seen…
We’ve now spend almost 2 and a half months in Peru over the last few years, so we’ve become quite familiar with the cities we spend the most time in — Cusco and Lima. In Lima, we spend time in the parks of Miraflores and in Cusco, we spend our time in the Plazas watching people, reading or soaking in the hot, equatorial sun.
We’ve also made some fantastic friends — one of them a well connected dancer named Jackie.
Jackie has a knack for taking us to really cool places.
On our last trip, Jackie took us into the Sacred Valley to meet her friend Daniel. Daniel is originally from a small village about a 4 hour hike up into the mountains on the way to Lares. She promised us that Daniel would show us some of the ancient Incan ruins that his village has hidden from the government since they fear if they know they’re there, the tourism department will take away their land and turn it into a mini-Machu Picchu.
We had met Daniel before the previous year when we did a small despacho ceremony around a fire with Dr. Williams and a small group from D.C. and Seattle.
Our ceremony in the foothills…
He was quiet then. Tall, with dark hair and dark eyes. His clothes were 3 days overdue for a wash.
When we met him again, he looked the same, though this time he was much more talkative. He was happy to show us where he grew up.
We spent the night at a guest house and the next day, we took a wild plant tour led by an old man — I can’t remember his name — before we headed up to the Daniel’s village.
The old man was short, thin and only had one or two teeth, but he knew his plants. Annmarie busily took notes as he shared what their medicinal and traditional uses were. I even got into the mix by pointing out some nettles and wood sorrel.
One of the herbs he pointed out was one that I remembered from the last trip.
Tripping Over Something Quite Interesting
It was all a plan hatched by these children. They must be informants.
That last trip we had just done a ceremony in a small cave about 45 minutes drive and 1 hour hike south of Cusco. Our eyes were glazed over as we walked out and my mind was in a dreamlike state. Outside the entrance of the cave, sat three children — so close I nearly tripped over them as I exited. There were two dark girls and one boy — all with dirty faces and clothes. They were holding bunches of herbs and wanted to sell them to us.
We bought a few bunches for no more than a couple soles — about $1.00 U.S.
As I went to smell them, I was blown away by the minty, fresh smell of one. I was almost unable to separate myself from it — like a cat to catnip. (Minus the rolling, darting and hallucinating.)
I asked Sebastian, our Q’ero shamanic leader, what it was and he said in a gruff native-spanish accent, “muña.”
It’s Freaking Everywhere… Why Didn’t I See It Before?
After we returned, I saw muña everywhere.
It was offered as a tea at all the restaurants.
It was in the supplement stores as a digestive tonic.
The extract you could find in many of the anti-bacterial tinctures and drinks.
It was an herb that I started to get very excited about. So much so, that I almost went to jail for it.
A Little Deal Between Daniel and I
On this trip, after the old man went back to his home and we had started walking up to the ruins, Daniel showed me just how abundant muña was around the slopes of his village. He told me that his family and ancestors have used the herb for thousands of years for stomach issues, digestion, an overall energy boost and to improve circulation (for them this helps with the altitude.)
I picked a few leaves off of a plant and was again intoxicated by the smell.
I knew I had to bring it back to the U.S.
But, I didn’t want to just bring it back.
I wanted to give Daniel and his community a chance to make some extra money — since jobs in his village are hard — if not impossible to come by.
I talked to Jackie and Daniel and told him that I would pay him to pick about 25 kilos of the herb, dry it as they traditionally would and then we’d arrange shipping it to the U.S.
I wanted to bring it in to share it with some friends to see if they would be as crazy about it as I was.
Daniel agreed and a few hours later — after our hike up and down the mountain — we shook hands over a cup of muña tea. I told him I’d return in a week and we’d arrange to ship the harvest to the U.S. and I’d pay him a fair wage for his work.
I also told him I’d bring a bottle of Pisco — a Peruvian grape brandy — as a gift since he wanted to show me how to make an authentic Pisco Sour (one I probably wouldn’t have drank at all… LOL!)
The pisco sour Daniel might have made for me.
Anyway, while we headed back to Cusco in a mini-bus, I took the muña leaves out of my pocket and enjoyed their fresh eucalyptus-mint aroma. I dreamed about how I would get my 25 kilos shipped and distributed to my friends, colleagues and family so they could smell what I was smelling and drink the tea that I’d fallen in love with.
The next day I went to work making arrangements.
Operation Muña Begins…
Scratching a business plan on a napkin with Jackie and Daniel.
I called our team back in the states to tell them what I wanted to do.
They called DHL and our representative told us that there was a pick up in Urubamba — very close to where we stayed the night before with Daniel, Jackie and the old man.
Everything was working out just as planned.
I pictured my mother trying a bit of the herb in a tea and telling me how it helped her digestion. I imagined some of my friends asking me how they could get more of it for themselves. I thought about Daniel and his village being able to build the community kitchen they wanted to build to serve the hikers who travel through their land and to give some of his people jobs.
Then we went to a little cafe a few blocks from our apartment to have a cup of tea (muña of course) to check email.
Among the 25 or so new messages, one stood out for obvious reasons.
The headline was short and in caps…
DO NOT SHIP MUNA
Operation Muña Ends…
This, of course, caught my attention and I opened it right away.
One of our team members smartly had contacted a connection we have who has helped us bring in some Peruvian products in the past. (He helped with the sacha inchi — which now is very difficult to get high quantity and quality. That’s the reason we’re still out of stock.)
He had a chilling message for us.
He explained that exporting flora from Peru is very highly regulated. You need to have permits, pay fees, and have customs in your back pocket in order to make anything happen.
Any attempt to not following these rules “can even land you in jail…..!”
That was his last sentence.
For a minute, I was ticked off. It’s a plant. Why, in 2011 in the age of the global-everything, can’t I bring some back with me. I wasn’t trying to smuggle coca — the herb that is made into cocaine.
This was muña. An herb that tastes great as a tea and is fantastic for digestion.
Then, I was disappointed. I really wanted to give Daniel an opportunity to deliver on this deal so maybe we could set up a more formal arrangement moving forward.
Then, I came to my senses.
Peruvian prison is not for guys like me. I’m big, but I’m kind of a wimp. I don’t do drugs. I’m not good at lying. And I definitely have never bribed anyone before.
All these skills I felt would have been necessary if I wanted to even survive a few days in a holding cell with some of Peru’s nastiest criminals.
Do you think I’d last in a Peruvian prison? Yeah, didn’t think so.
So I contacted our connection.
I asked him if there was any chance it could happen — if there was a way that he knew that would make it legit. He told me it would be best to use his own connections, but it would take time.
I had to break the news to Daniel. We couldn’t move forward.
Due to the complexity of the situation and my awful Spanish, I had Jackie call him while were eating lunch at her home with friends and family.
I was sure that I was going — in good faith — to have to leave Jackie with money to give to Daniel.
But I heard Jackie tell Daniel that it was OK. Apparently, he didn’t start on the harvest. He was waiting for a confirmation call from me.
She explained to him that the Peruvian government isn’t in alignment with our idea of a little wildcrafted herb operation and that we couldn’t ship the herb to the U.S.
There was relief on all sides. I told her in English to tell Daniel that we’ll take a rain check on the Pisco. She looked at me funny. I realized she didn’t understand what a “rain check” was.
I said forget it and smiled.
She hung up the phone smiling too and took a sip of her coffee.
I told her I didn’t like rules like these and then asked her how dangerous Peruvian jails really were.
Unlike Jackie, her smile disappeared and she became uncharacteristically stern.
She told me strongly, “Las cárceles peruanas son las más peligrosas.”
I took a sip of tea and smirked.
She shook her head to tell me she didn’t know what to think of me.
So, Is An Herb Worth Going to Jail For?
Would I rather be here… or in jail…
I can’t say any herb is worth going to a Peruvian prison for, but I can tell you that using muña is like being in the foothills of the Andes.
After about 8 months of working very hard, we’ve finally been able to bring this herb into the country with all the appropriate paperwork and documentation.
It’s flavor is earthy and minty and I love making a tea with the dried leaves. It’s also fantastic for digestion and in many cases the Peruvians use it to help with stomach bugs and balancing the gut flora. Unlike many gut flora balancing herbs, this one tastes great and is not bitter or harsh.
Muña is also used for those who are sensitive to altitude, but if you’re at sea level, this is a benefit as well. Muña is likely able in increase circulation which in turn can bring more oxygen to your cells. As you probably know, oxygen is one of the most important raw materials our cells need.
It’s truly an ancient medicine that hasn’t left the Andes until now. I’ve recently, legally (LOL!), brought in some for you to try. It’s picked fresh, dried and then bagged so that it comes to you as close to harvest as possible.
It’s flavor, as I said, is unique and unlike anything you’ve tried before. I even challenge you to take a few leaves and smell them and see if you can put them down. I know for me, once I smell that intense aroma, I need to smell it all day long.
Anyway, I’ve love for your to try this amazing piece of Peru today. Just last week, we received our first shipment of this herb and I’d love for you to try it. This weekend — into the beginning of next week — we’ve put together a 2 bag special that will save you $5.00 on this wildcrafted, ancient herb of the Incas.
Here’s where you can read more and get your bag (or two) today…
We’ve also brought in some unique carob syrup that is a fantastic deep flavored sweetener — with notes of molasses, coffee, and chocolate. You can read more about that in the product pages, but I’ll be writing about that tomorrow!
Sipping a cup of muña tea…
Your Question of the Day: Have you heard of muña? Tried it?