The Spanish took many products from the Americas and introduced them to the world where they had a huge impact. The history of the world, for example, would be very different had it not been for the Andean potato, which allowed populations to boom in many places. But for some reason, almost no Andean condiment made that transition, and yet they are still used today in the foods of Cuzco. In the Cuzco markets you can buy bunches of herbs called asnapa that are classic for Cuzco cuisine. The asnapa generally includes oregano, rue (a plant that is almost never used for food in Anglo North America), cilantro, yerba buena (“good herb” or a sweet mint that can often be a form of muña), parsley, muña, huacatay, and paiko. Although the asnapa contains some European imports: oregano, rue, cilantro, and parsley, and even these are not always so clearly foreign as in “oregano” and “yerba buena”, nevertheless the core flavors come straight from the Incas and before. I got to see some unusual herbs in Aguas Calietes and some plants used for food, like the Arrowleaf Elephant Ear that I thought I would share in this post.
Machu Picchu is such a pregnant ecosystem, that it is difficult to include or categorize the many beautiful plants that you encounter. I have decided to arbitrarily divide descriptions of the plants into several posts; orchids, flowers, plants and herbs. The combination of the humid tropical greenery with the towering peaks of the eastern mountain ranges gives Mach Picchu a unique and remarkable quality. As one travels by train from Ollantaytambo to the Ecological Reserve of Machu Picchu, the Andean landscape transforms into a deep canyon festooned by a dense tropical jungle that seems impossible to penetrate through its soaring slopes. The valuable 32,592-hectare Reserve has an enormous ecological variety. That is why there is such scientific interest in their original genetic diversity. The primary forest ecosystem has an incredibly diverse flora with a lush forest vegetation (such as cedar, romerillo, laurel, among others), shrubs, ferns and ancient tall palm trees. In the higher parts, endemic mountain species can be found such as the beautiful queñual tree or Polylepis. It is pretty much impossible to describe it all but I hope these posts will form a helpful beginning.
When we visited Machu Picchu, we stayed at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. The hotel has 372 different native orchid species in their natural habitat, the world record according to the American Orchid Society. Many things are said about orchids. They are extremely diverse, have colorful and fragrant blooms, are the most widespread family of flowering plant, and some have evolved bizarre ways to cross pollinate. There are between 21,950 to 26,049 currently accepted species including Vanilla (the genus of the vanilla plant). This is more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. The Andean cloud forest is a habitat which is home to a large diversity of orchids. Among the most significant sites from which to appreciate these stunning flowers is undoubtedly the Machu Picchu Natural Reserve, with a wide variety of native species and genus. Some of the most remarkable assembled at Inkaterra Machu Picchu are: the minuscule Lepanthes, Trichosalpinx and Stelis; some of the largest, like Phramipedium caudatum and Sobralia aff. setigera; and the fragrant Anguola virginalis, Lindley Ida locusta and Lycastemacorphylla.