Belize Spice Farm and Botanical Garden

Bridge over Waterlillies

…an emerald among the jungles of Golden Stream Village…

Just five minutes from Nim Li Punit is Belize Spice Farm & Botanical Garden, an emerald among the jungles of Golden Stream Village. Located on Southern Highway, Hellagte, Belize, it is owned by retired doctor Tom Matthew and his wife Tessy Matthew. They are both originally from Kerala, India, but moved to Belize after falling in love with its serenity.

Orange Orchids: The farm grows oranges as seen in this gorgeous orchid. We were given orange juice made from them to taste, and the flavor was incredibly smooth and sweet with notes of toffee.
Poinsettias growing near the waterlily bridge.

Dr. Matthew’s farm and garden currently consists of approximately 5,000 acres of greenery―which is just under 8 square miles. With the help of the Belizean government, he was able to import fruits, spices, wood, and flowers native to Kerala and grow them on his land. These include (but are not limited to) tellicherry black pepper, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and teak.

Cacao: The Belize Spice Farm also grows cacao. Before it tastes anything like chocolate, the ripe pods first have their gooey seeds scraped out with a sharp blade. Great care is taken so as not to damage the tree. Afterward, the collected seeds are fermented.

The climate in Belize is similar to that of Kerala, so the spices adapted very well to their new home. The farm provides a variety of local and exotic spices to the Belizean residents so that many of the items do not have to be imported from Mexico or Guatemala, both creating jobs as well as culinary resources.

This flower has six different names! Also known as Bluebellvine, Blue Pea, Asian Pigeonwings, Darwin Pea, or Cordofan Pea, this velvety flower can be used to make tea.

Upon entering the farm, the first thing that strikes you is the incredible smell; the air is quite aromatic―like perfume, but fresh, uplifting, spicy, and floral. Inside, the facility is stunning, built from the teak grown right there on the farm. The wood shimmers, and you are welcomed by a wonderful display of dried spices, honey, jams, and jarred recado―a Mexican and Belizean spice paste made mostly with annatto seeds. Everything is cultivated and processed at the farm, so you will be getting the freshest products. This is especially evident when you can smell many of the spices right through their packaging.

Asoka: Also known as the Ashoka Tree or Saraca asoca, this plant blooms handsome amber, orange, and scarlet flowers. We arrived at the farm in November, so unfortunately, no blooming for us. The plant is sacred in India and is used extensively for medicinal purposes in traditional medicine. The bark is used to treat gynecological ailments such as abdominal pain during menstruation, miscarriages, abortion side effects, and uterine and ovarian fibroids. The seeds, on the other hand, can be used as a diuretic and helps in treating urinary stones. These are just claims, as far as I know, so if you feel inclined to use Asoka as a treatment, be sure to ask your doctor first.

I regret that our group did not have the time to eat there, but there is a restaurant that specializes in Belizean, American, and East Indian cuisine. It is quite a unique experience to see Mayan and East Indian cuisine together under the same roof. I will definitely go back.

Cardamom plants that dot the landscape.

Our tour guide was Carlos, an energetic young man who is passionate about his work. He helped us onto a tractor trailer elegantly designed from the same teak grown on the farm. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch our driver’s name, but he helped to pick out spices, flowers, and leaves for us to smell. Along the road, Carlos pulled a bunch of large, glossy leaves off a tree. “This is garlic leaf,” he said, “We don’t eat it, but we use it as a natural pesticide since this is an organic farm.” We’ve seen not one jar of chemicals since our ride.

Carlos shows us the green peppercorns before they are dried and produce a hard, black skin.
Rows of Peppercorn.

The trailer rode along a path decorated with floral arches and elegant bridges. Carlos would pick fresh plants and spices off of the growing stems and explain their purpose and their cultivating processes. Fresh turmeric and cinnamon among others were highly fragrant and intensely flavored―a characteristic lacking in a lot of commercial American supermarkets. I could only imagine just how delicious they would be when used fresh. Carlos stated that lately, he has been enjoying using all of the farm’s resources for cooking versus learning how to grow them.

Healthy vanilla bean pods. They’re not ready for harvest yet.
Vanilla Bean Pod
Vanilla Bean Pods: A toothpick is used to individually pollinate the vanilla bean pods grown on the farm. The second most expensive spice in the world (saffron is the first, vanilla takes 5 to 9 months to harvest. It must be yielded once the pod begins to turn yellow at the tip. Wait too long and the bean will split, making it susceptible to moisture and insects. Here, Carlos shows us one that has split and is unsuitable for harvest, but still smells delicious.
Rows of Vanilla Bean Pods being grown.

This is a precious place to visit if you ever find yourself in Southern Belize. The spice farm is also used as a venue for weddings and events with its lotus dotted canals, rosy bridges, and flowered corridors. Toward the end, I made out like a bandit, purchasing an arm filled with spices unique to this land. Look out for my Belize Spice Farm Haul to see what treasures I took home!

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