Before I came to Belize, whenever I thought about mountains, I always pictured them as snow capped and cold. I've seen adventurers on TV climbing these mountains, some getting caught in avalanches, snow drifts, becoming frostbitten or even freezing to death.
Not so with the mountains of Belize. They are covered with greenery. In fact, most of them are in the jungle and when driving through the mountains there are green palm trees all the way to the top and as far as the eye can see.
People live at the bottom of these mountains, in valleys, with some being very isolated. They plant groves of pineapple and orange trees right up the side of the mountains. They are absolutely beautiful.
Driving through one day, I saw this brilliant red color. They had these long pods hanging off of them along with the beautiful flowers on the tree. I haven't trekked up into the mountains as yet (one day soon), so I couldn't get up close. So I asked my fellow passenger what kind of tree it was, and she said "Oh, that's stinking toe." What?! "Stinking toe." I was told the smell of the pod is like dirty socks or stinky feet, hence the name.
So when I got back to Hopkins I started looking for this stinking toe tree. VIOLA, I find one. Look at this beautiful tree.
On the first picture you can see the elongated pods hanging down off the tree. This is the fruit, the stinking toe. The actual name of the tree is Cassia grandis, but locally known in Belize as Bukut. In other Latin American countries it's known as Carao.
I was able to get one of the pods of the tree because it is edible. Not only is it edible, but the medical uses for it are known throughout Belize and I found in all the countries where this tree is found, the medicinal uses are varied and wide.
The two most common uses of the pod is reputed as a cure for anemia and impotence - or at least increased libido. The seedpods are eaten by monkeys, birds, baboons, and humans. You can see the Bukut tree in the Community Baboon Sanctuary along the Hummingbird Highway, one of the main highways here in Belize.
The ripe seedpods are can also be used for it's laxative effect, and the leaves are said to also be used as a laxative. The fresh juice of the leaves can be used externally for the treatment of ringworm. The actual tree is a strong wood and is used for many purposes, and the gum and resin from the tree also have commercial use.
In Latin America its used to make a popular drink called Carao milk. Its just a matter of boiling the fruit pulp and seeds until it turns into a creamy brown liquid, then chilled and served for a nutrition filled drink.
So, let's have a look at how the pod looks and what it tastes like. The pod is very thick and hard, so I had to crack it open with a hammer. As soon as you touch it, you start to get the aroma - dirty socks, YUK!
However, I'm adventurous, so I continue on. Once you crack the shell, you begin go see the "meaty" inside. It's dark and thick.
As you can see, it's filled with seeds. They're a shiny, light brown color. The "meat" is actually more attached to the shell than to the seeds, so its easy to get the meaty goodness out.
Well, I get past the smell and start to taste it. It's actually very, very good. It has a chocolatey, cherry taste and it smells like iron. It's been reported that the iron content is very small, but it has been reported to improve low hemoglobin and red blood cells levels. How it works is unknown, but the native people of Belize, Cuba, and Venezuela have used this method to improve these levels for years.
So despite its offensive smell, it's a tasty treat with known health benefits. But the beauty of the tree is enough to enjoy the tree in itself. The beautiful Cassia grandis, Bukut, or Carao can't be beat as an ornamental tree of Belize.