Baja’s purple Elephant Trees are one of our favorite desert sentries, adding a vivid hue to the balmy colors of los medanos. This year’s rains have them leafing out with bright green for the first time in years of drought.
Locals have used its sap – copal – as a panacea. We have taken quite a liking to it too. It shares a lot of properties with myrrh. Along these lines, nervy tooth pain quickly diminishes with a mouth rinse made from boiling water poured over crumbled copal.
The gnarliest, most challenged trees have the best copal. My five year old sings a new song to each tree as we harvest, slipping under the spiky branches to find the little drops of honey-gold sap hardened on the sand below. He’s red hot at spotting ones I’ve missed.
Copal makes a heady incense burned on charcoal, and has widely been used in ritual and magic. An artist at last weeks’ Shrimp Fest was burning copal and when I smiled in recognition of the intoxicating scent, he nodded and explained “para limpiar el aire’.
One local man with open low-leg sores asked me to harvest him some copal last spring. He drank just a little every day, dissolved in water, to improve his blood circulation. By the time I saw him again his wounds had sealed over and the tissue quality had much greater vitality, and he is walking a little better. In another case this summer, it helped as part of an herbal regimen to quickly clear blood clots and improve circulation.