Before you land in Peru for a hiking adventure, you’ll probably hear about coca tea. People drink it to combat the effects of being on the top of the world with no oxygen. But what is muña tea? You’ll often see it listed alongside the coca tea on restaurant menus. Many hotels, like Antigua Casona, offer free coca and muña tea to guests throughout the day. When I arrived at the place I rented in Cusco, my host had packets of coca and muña tea waiting by the hot water thermos, and instructed me to not drink the coca tea in the evenings but instead switch to muña. Let’s explore what this plant is and why it’s useful on your adventures (especially your food adventures).
The altitude in Cusco affects digestion
If you hang out in Cusco long enough, and especially if you do a few hikes (like this 5-day hike to Choquequirao), you’ll hear so much folklore about good foods and bad foods to eat at high altitude. Something does change in the way the body digests food. My stomach often felt different and I was really gassy.
If you’re coming from somewhere close to sea level, operating at half the usual amount of oxygen is just weird for your body. So muña tea helps address that weirdness. It’ll improve digestion. It’s typically consumed after meals. If somebody offers you muña tea after a meal, drink the tea. They probably served you something knowing it should be consumed with muña after to prevent you from getting all bloaty. You’re not having the complete meal if you skip the muña.
How does muña taste?
If you get the pre-packaged stuff, it’ll probably just take like mint tea. Somebody might describe it to you as “Andean mint”. The plant looks quite different from mint. The muña plant looks like a shrubby weed, with a bunch of thin, woody stems shooting up from the base, with tiny, pointed oval green leaves and small white flowers at the tips of the stalks. Crushing a leaf quickly gives you a smack of peppermint. But when you sip fresh muña tea, the flavor is more complex than mint. If mint is a single, sharp high note, fresh muña has a bass section of woody, herby notes that’s a bit like ginseng.
Menu at Limbus, Cusco
Limbus Restobar initially didn’t register on my radar because I’d been to a couple places in Cusco with high ratings on Google, and they tended
Menu at LOCAL, Cusco
As I mentioned in the dispatch on chicha morada, there was a restaurant in Cusco I’d eat at after every hike in the Andes. And
Chicha morada. The joy of purple corn juice.
The first time this Guide tasted chicha morada was on the trek to Choquequirao. There was a big jug of deep purple juice sitting on
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