A Cautionary Tale of Pica Pica

Posted by on Nov 4, 2013 in 1000 words, Food, Slider | 9 comments

Pica Pica beans

Pica Pica beans

We’ve dealt with Pica Pica (or Velvet Bean “Mucuna pruriens) on many occasions in our 2 years here. It’s name in Spanish literally means “itch itch” and it’s aptly named. It’s a vine that grows over everything like kudzu, except it grows flowers and beans with hairy fibers that cause EXTREME itching. Normally these fibers float around in dry weather  and get on your laundry hanging out to dry or get in your unmade bed. This itching is pretty bad, but it only lasts about 10 minutes or so before it subsides. We’ve learned to deal with it in the dry season and it’s been bearable.

What’s crazy, is that this plant is not only an awesome food crop for livestock, but it also has amazing medicinal uses, including treatment for Parkinsons!

That is until I had an up-close and personal encounter with Pica Pica. We have a few Pica Pica vines around here, as everyone does, and I thought I might carefully chop a few down. I was very careful to only chop a little one that was down a slope and just barely reachable with the machete. There was only a bean or two, but I didn’t like them getting that close to us. It was so far down the slope, that I could just barely reach it, but I was able to chop off a little bit, which made me feel good about taking control of this itchy bastard.

The events that happened next will be difficult to understand by someone who had not been in direct contact with Pica Pica before.  An itching sensation started almost immediately, and I didn’t think much of it for the first few seconds. Except it kept growing. The English language doesn’t have the proper words to describe an itching sensation that grows beyond “itch” and into “pain”. This sensation transcended these simply terms into a realm of agony that I’ve never experienced in my life.

This sensation was so strong and so incredibly overwhelming that I was frozen in place while my brain raced for way to deal with it. The first thought was gasoline! I can douse my legs with gasoline and then light it. The fire will kill the itch! The itch/pain sensation was so severe that this seemed like a good idea!  The part of brain that was tasked with self-preservation won out and had me run upstairs to the shower.

Mucuna pruriens flower

Mucuna pruriens flower

I was stripping off my clothes as I ran, and as I jumped naked into the shower, Naomi was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. The itch/pain was so great, though, that conscious thought had ceased. There was no communication possible in this state. My thought process was, “pain, stop pain, scrub, pain, scrub, pain, stop pain, scrub”. But scrubbing didn’t help! By this point Naomi was alarmed by what was going on as I just tore off my clothes, jumped in the shower, and not only am I ignoring her questions, I’m moaning and speaking incomprehensibly.

I spent 30 minutes scrubbing in the shower and it did little to alleviate the pain. I reached a point where I could say enough words to let Naomi know what had happened and I gave up on the shower. I spent the next hour sitting at my dinner table trying to control my hyperventilating and body shudders as the itch/pain overcame my ability to keep myself from panicking.

I have never experienced any sensation like that and I hope it never happens again. When you think think lighting yourself on fire with gasoline is a viable solution…there’s a problem.

When you see fires in the summer, when all the vegetation has dried out, when the pica pica is sending it’s little hairy fibers out into the wind. I hope you understand why people are willing to risk burning down their entire town to take out this little vine.