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Peru herb: Molle

Molle, Schinus molle, (Peruvian pepper) is also known as American pepper, Peruvian peppertree, escobilla, false pepper, molle del Peru, pepper tree, peppercorn tree, Californian pepper tree, pirul and Peruvian mastic. The word molle comes from the word mulli, Quechua for tree. It is a quick growing evergreen tree that can reach a height of 15 meters and has long, drooping branches that remind me a bit of the Mesquite trees back home in the Tucson desert. It is native to the Peruvian Andes but has been naturalized throughout most of the world and has even become an invasive in some parts of the U.S. and Australia. The pink fruit is normally sold as pink peppercorn in the market but is unrelated to black peppercorn, Piper nigrum. The tree's pinnately compound leaves (feather-like) are made up of alternate leaflets. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants (dioecious).

In traditional medicine, S. molle was used in treating a variety of wounds and infections due to its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. It has also been used as an antidepressant, a diuretic, for toothache, rheumatism and menstrual disorders, to stimulate menstruation and to stimulate the uterus. Other traditional uses include: candida, muscle spasms, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-fungal, astringent, tonic, regulate heartbeat, stimulate digestion, lower blood pressure, increase urination, mild laxative (sap), reduce phlegm and heal wounds. Parts used are the bark as a decocotion, the leaf as an infusion or the bark and leaf as a tincture. In Peru the entire plant is used externally for fractures or as a topical anesthetic. The oleoresin is applied as an external wound healer, to stop bleeding and taken internally for rheumatism and as a purgative. The fruits, seeds, resin and oleoresin or balsam have been used medicinally by indigenous people throughout the tropics. In South Africa, a leaf tea is used to treat colds, and a leaf decocotion is inhaled for colds, hypertension, depression and irregular heartbeat.

Molle is still used in herbal medicine today in many countries. In the tropics it is also used for bronchitis, gingivitis, gonorrhea, gout, eye infections, sores, swellings, tuberculosis, ulcers, urethritis, urogenital disorders, venereal disease and warts. All parts of the tree have a high oil and essential oil content that produce a spicy, aromatic scent. The leaf is so high in the essential and other oils that when placed in a bowl of hot water it will twist as the oils are released. The essential oil of molle is readily available commercially. There are two species of Schinus that are found on the market. Both are often referred to as Pink Pepper. Schinus molle, also known as Peruvian pepper, is mostly used to produce the essential oil. Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper, is found more often on the market as a whole dried berry. The essential oil is used mostly for digestion and circulation. The berries are used in Peru in syrups, vinegars, and beverages and as a pepper substitute in the tropics.

S. molle is suspected to have insecticidal properties and can be use as a substitute for synthetic pest control. Bunches of the fresh, green leaves are used shamanically in traditional ceremonies and for cleansing and blessings. The leaves are also used as a natural dye in the Andean region dating back to pre-Columbian times. The Incas used the oils to preserve and embalm their dead. The Incas also used the berries to make a drink or boiled down to make a syrup that was then mixed with maize to make a nourishing gruel. There is an alcoholic beverage called chicha that is readily available throughout the central Andes. Chicha is now made from maize but around 500-1000 AD molle was used to make this drink.

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