Because of the tannin content, young fruits are boiled and the decoction taken to stop diarrhea. An infusion of the young fruits and the flowers is drunk to relieve pulmonary complaints. A decoction of old, yellowed leaves is drunk as a remedy for coughs, colds and diarrhea. A "tea" of the bark is regarded as a febrifuge and is said to halt diarrhea and dysentery. The crushed seeds have a diuretic action and are claimed to expel bladder and kidney stones. A fluid extract of the crushed seeds is employed in Yucatan as a sedative and soporific. A combined decoction of sapodilla and chayote leaves is sweetened and taken daily to lower blood pressure. A paste of the seeds is applied on stings and bites from venomous animals. The latex is used in the tropics as a crude filling for tooth cavities.
Source, History, and Preparation.
Historically, M. zapta was an important source of timber and latex in the new world tropics (Janzen, 1983). The latex is a milk-white exudate produced in
laticifer canals under the phloem bark surface (Simpson & Ogorzaly, 1995). The
latex is known as chicle, which had its highest demand during the rubber boom
of tropical America in the 1800's. When the United States and Great Brittain
established Rubber tree (Hevea spp.) plantations in southeast Asia in 1876,
the rubber boom occurred in tropical America. Economies were left helpless
and Indian rubber collectors were massacred (Hill, 1996; Stanfield, 1998). The
Chicle tree (synonyms: Sapodilla, Naseberry, Nispero) was the lone latex plant
to economically survive.
The Mayan Indians of Mexico and Central America traditionally have chewed the
raw chicle latex. Furthermore, Aztec prostitutes loudly snapped their chewing
gum to advertise their trade during the height of pre-Columbian Aztec
civilization (Plotkin, 1993). This custom was common to many Mexicans,
including an eccentric political leader from Veracruz. He is Antonio Lopez de
Santa Anna, eleven time president of Mexico (born 1794, died 1876). His
military prowess is capped by success at the battle of the Alamo (1836), where
Santa Anna's troops killed Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (Simpson & Ogorzaly,
1995). His eccentric political ways got him exiled to the West Indies. The U.
S. Secretary of State, William Seward, payed Santa Anna a visit in the West
Indies. Assuming he gained Seward's trust, Santa Anna sailed to New York in
1866. Santa Anna's shipmates stole his money, leaving him stranded in America
where Santa Anna was turned away by Secretary of State Seward.
The exiled Mexican president was a wise businessman and politician who
brought some chicle with him to New York. He hoped to find an inventor who
could make rubber from the chicle latex, so Santa Anna could finance his
return to political power in Mexico. Thomas Adams agreed to experiment with
the latex, so Santa Anna returned to Mexico in March 1867 to arrange the
shipment of two tons of chicle to New York. In short, Adams failed to invent a
usable elastic product out of chicle. He was left with hundreds of pounds of
chicle sitting around.
At the time, chewing gum was made of sweetened paraffin wax, which was not
very chewy. Adams decided to mix the Mayan use of chicle with the chewing gum
(wax) concept of the day to produce a new industry. He heated the latex until
it softened, added sugar, and molded this into balls to be sold at drug
stores. This chewing gum was an instant success, in part due to the
popularity of chewing tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) in the late 1800's. The
chewing gum industry of today originated with Adam's invention. In fact, he
added flavorings to the gum and patented the first machine for manufacturing
chewing gum. Today corn syrup, countless flavorings, and hard sugar coatings
are added to chewing gum. A direct link to economic botany in today's chewing
gum industry is the brand, Chiclets, whose name recognizes the Chicle tree as
its historic source.
The Indians who tap the M. zapota tree for chicle are known as chicleros
(Simpson & Ogorzaly, 1995; Castner, Timme, & Duke, 1998; Hill, 1937; Stanford,
1934). This title typically denotes a devoted Indian who carefully and
precisely cuts zigzag gashes in the bark of the Chicle tree with a machete.
The Maya Indian chicleros can occasionally still be found tapping for chicle
up to fifty feet high in the M. zapota trees. The latex follows the gashes
down to the base of the tree where it is collected in containers. The latex is
consists of 20-25 percent chicle (Hill, 1937). The best time to tap the Chicle
trees is during the mornings of the wet season (June to February) when the
latex flow is greatest (Stanford, 1934). One flow lasts several hours and may
yield up to 60 quarts of impure latex (Hill, 1937). A single tree must heal
itself, so 2-6 years should occur between harvests. The raw latex is boiled
to coagulate it into crude white chicle that is molded into blocks of 20
pounds. This boiling process takes skill to properly gauge when the chicle is
at 33 percent moisture content and needs to be poured off (Hill, 1937). The
components of crude chicle are resin, gutta, arabin, calcium, sugar, and
various soluble salts. The blocks of chicle are shipped to the U. S. to be
used as the base in chewing gum. The gum machinery that Adams patented is
used to purify, clean, dry powder, reheat, and compound the chicle with
flavoring materials. One tree yields 2.5 pounds of crude chicle (Stanford,
1934). Every 13 pounds of processed chicle makes approximately 5000 pieces of
chewing gum (Hill, 1937). In the 1930's each piece of gum contained 15 percent
chicle, and sugar, chicle substitutes, and flavoring substances.
Today, with the push for sustainable production of tropical forests, chicle
is still harvested on a small scale as a non-timber forest product (NTFP).
Green Industries promote the sale of rain forest products to economically well
off consumers, but it is believed that public policy makers have failed to
recognize the profitability of NTFP's like chicle (Balick & Cox, 1996).
According to Mark Plotkin (1993), "Fortunately, enough demand for chicle
persists that a portion of the rain forests of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize
are still protected and managed for this product [chicle]."