I’m posting this from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, now known to most visitors as the Riviera Maya. Yes, this is one of those carefully coined tourism catchphrases, but at least in this case it’s not too far-fetched.

One glance at the photo to the right and you’ll see that the sun, sand and turquoise water are indeed Riviera-like. And truly, Mayan history and traditions permeate every aspect of the Yucatan’s colorful personality.

Take, for example, Gabriel Bolio Argaez, the ecological guide at Xpu-Há eco-park, a protected reserve of low-lying jungle close to the Playacar Palace where we’re staying.

Gabriel and one of the rescued birds he cares for

Gabriel is Mayan by ancestry, a botanist by training, and a healer as well as a protector of wildlife by calling. He cares for all the rescued critters at Xpu-Há, which include flamingos, turtles, crocodiles, white-tailed deer, spider monkeys, and an aviary full of brilliantly plumed birds like military macaws, great curacao — even a toucan rescued from exporters who could have charged $7000 on the black market.

Gabriel describes himself as the animals’ “master chef,” preparing different fresh dishes for each species, including special diets for injured animals he’s nursing back to health.

Within ten minutes of meeting our group, Gabriel was offering us traditional Mayan medicinal cures for one common ailment after another. Gabriel’s carefully annotated recipes — he’s already prepared the index for a book he plans to publish – feature herbs and native plants he’s cultivated himself and leaves and bark from the native trees in the park.

A rescued “black market” toucan

A few of Gabriel’s Mayan healing recipes:

• Alfalfa tea: lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, cures diabetes and gout

• Oyster plant, or Boatilly: a tea made from the leaves has hypoglycemic properties and prevents diabetes; an ointment in a coconut oil base cures skin cancer

• Combination of oyster plant and broccoli: Prevents and cures prostate inflammation

• Eggplant: prevents insomnia

• A tea of avocado, lemon, and native Mexican oregano: antiviral, antibacterial and anti-hypertensive

• “Chicle”: a gum made from the bark of sapodilla trees (yes, this is where William Wrigley got Chiclets chewing gum) cures dental infections and inflamation

Curious about the science behind Mayan healing methods, I did some quick research when I got back to my room and quickly came up with a wealth of interesting research backing up pretty much everything Gabriel had to say. For example, I found a botanical monograph by Ralph L. Roys (not available as a link), The Ethno-Botany of the Maya, that lists 10 Mayan herbs and plants demonstrated to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, including.

I also found an older book, Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Mayan Healer, by Rosita Arvigo, that made me want to drop everything and head for the rainforest for further study.