24 April 2012

Witch's brew: blue tea that might cause hallucinations

Now, I'm no stranger to tea, but this one called Palo Azul (literally "blue stick") that my friends in the Neths found in Guatemala piqued my interest, mainly because it makes you poop money was obtained through a mysterious tea witch and also turned blue when prepared.

[Palo azul prepared for consumption. No fancy filters used! Photo by François M.]

I asked them about this intriguing demon concoction -- which turns out to be a diuretic, and also used a cheap way of duping dope testing (especially useful for those avoiding military service conscription).

Here's an excerpt of my interrogation session with Lin and François.
Chow: Tell me more about where and how you got a hold of this tea...
Lin: When I went to visit Guatemala with my friend Nerea last October on holiday, we were relegated to indoor sight-seeing as the weather was horrible and somewhat dangerous, and we were apparently sitting ducks between two hurricanes in adjacent countries. We went to visit an indoor market in Antigua to find some Pericón tea, which I had had everywhere in Guatemala but couldn't find in the supermarkets.

At the market, we were directed to the farthest end where a woman (whom I would describe as a "herb witch") was peddling all sorts of branches, leaves, resins, barks and some unidentifiable, organic looking objects. To my disappointment, she had no Péricon tea, however she offered me another kind of infusion: branches with small leaves and an indistinguishable but rich and fragrant aroma. I bought some of the branches, and while she was packing the "tea", my eyes caught sight of wooden cubes and asked her what they were for (assuming she would come up with a story on a Mayan ritual). Instead, she nonchalantly mentioned the cubes were used for infusing, so I decided to try them as well. While packing the cubes, she told me that the cubes had to be boiled until the water would turn light blue. Light blue?! But I already told her I would buy them...
François: What she said.

[The wooden cubes and the infusion. They look like Duraflame firestarter and probably smell like them.]

CDid the tea witch have large fang-like teeth, googly eyes and smell like a retirement home? 
L: The smell of the tea witch was camouflaged by the smells of the rotten fruits and veggies of the stalls around her, not to mention the Mayan incense lit in her own stall.
CWhat convinced you that this was a good idea? Did the witch put a spell on you?
L:  It was probably the intrigue of the cubes and the way to prepare them. I did, however wait about five months before I felt it safe enough to try to try the tea. On that particular evening, we were at home with five people, including one physician. We applied a first-in-human procedure, in which one person drank the tea in sitting position, and maybe 15 minutes later, a second person drank the tea. The other three persons present were observers with a phone within reach.

CHow did you prepare this tea? What did it tea taste like?
L: We put about 500 mL of cold water in a pot, added a cube, and started to boil the water on a gas flame. As the water heated, the cubes started to imbue the water with a yellow colour. In phase II, the water became brown. Then, after approximately 10 minutes, the surface of the water started to get a mystical shine, which became more and more blue. This is the point where we poured the water in our cups, and went to the laboratory setting. The taste of the tea is not tea-like. It tastes mild, not very characteristic and not bitter. [Chow note: Lin is a scientist.]
F:  Rather bland, considering how it looks. Think something between a neutral watery taste and some vague forest-floor flavour.  It leaves a bit of film in your mouth. It's ever so slightly, subtly oily... And you know that blue stuff has to coat all your organs on the inside, right?

C: Uh, okay... Did you have the urge to urinate frequently afterwards? 
L: In the adverse events, no diuretic effects were reported. [Chow note: Again, Lin is a scientist.]
F: It didn't make me rush to the pissoir... probably similar to regular tea in this regard (i.e. modest urge-inspiring effects).

C: Did you pee blue?
F: Nope. The blue found another way of escaping. Or it is still in me...
CWhat did you start hallucinating after drinking the tea? 
L: We actually believed the infusion looked blue!
F: (Chuckle).

C I read that people drink this tea to help them pass drug tests... Was there any plans to join the army or navy or some other organization requiring clean urine samples?
L: No comment.
F: Hell, don't all boys?

CWhat did you do with the tea you didn't drink? You can be honest and say that you watered your plants with it...
L: We still have some cubes left, and after having started doing clinical experiments, plant experiments would indeed be a very interesting next step to take.
F: I just had another cup of this blue devil-witch drink a while ago, after letting it breathe (in a pot on the table top) for 2 days. I'm still breathing.
Special awesome thanks to François for his mad photography skills and for loaning the photos for this post. (P.S. He is for hire if you live near the Netherlands.)