San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Plants at a Glance

Common Name: Azul de mata, sacatinta Latin Name: Jacobinia macrantha

Family: Acantaceae

Geo-distribution: Azul de mata is found in most of Costa Rica and Central America, though it is more commonly found on the Pacific slope of the isthmus. It is a common patio plant used as a medicinal herb and dye.

Botanical Description: This bush-like plant has semi-wooden stems and reaches one to two meters tall. The leaves are usually light green in color, lanceolate in form, with opposite veins distributed evenly from a main vein. The inconspicuous brownish-red flowers are born on terminal spikes.

Medicinal Uses: The principal use of azul de mata in Costa Rican medicinal plant folklore is for alopecia or loss of hair. The plant also has a remarkable characteristic as a blue dye, and was used extensively by indigenous tribes. If you first heat a handful of the leaves over the stove and then boil them in about one liter of water, the resulting liquid will turn a dark violet-blue color, which is used as a rinse to fortify the scalp and hair. This works particularly well for those with dark or black hair, since it provides a dark, bluishblack sheen. Chamomile or manzanilla is preferred as a hair rinse for those with light or blond hair.

Before the time of bleach, azul de mata was used as a “bluing” or brightening agent for white clothes; h o u s e w i v e s soaked their white clothes in a diluted solution of azul de mata and then extended them in the sunlight to dry, to give them a brighter look.

Caution: Use this plant only externally as a hair rinse.

Notes: Azul de mata is easily grown in the home garden from stem cuttings. Mature, 30-centimeter stem sections cut from the base of the mother plant can be planted directly in their permanent sites or in plastic nursery bags with average soil, and kept well watered in a shady place until they root and bear new foliage. Azul de mata grows in a wide range of soils without the need of fertilizers. These plants grow best in full sun with good drainage. Mostly grown as a curiosity plant, azul de mata shows promise as a natural hair rinse or dye.


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