PICA PICA

Is it a dance style, a national food dish or maybe a type of pepper? Or is it an elaborate tale, a part of Nicaraguan folklore and a way of explaining why the lily-white gringo skin can’t deal with the cheap harsh laundry soap that could de-grease an IFA truck?

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind… and it’s a very real problem.

Pica Pica (translates to “Itch Itch”) is the local name for a common weed, rampant out in the campo (countryside) which produces a seedpod that is covered in dense ‘hairs’ which cause a severe irritation to the skin. The hairs dislodge easily and will get into clothing, causing intense discomfort.

In this part of the world, millions of the tiny filaments are blown around by the strong winds that just happen to gust at hurricane speeds right now, just as the pods ripen – thank you Mother Nature! This causes a milder form of the discomfort, a lot milder than touching or rubbing against the actual seed pod itself which can cause blistering of the skin and a very nasty rash.

As a result, nothing is safe from this scourge. Washing on the line and exposed skin gather the tiny filament like hairs which then get thoroughly worked into your skin. You “Pica Pica” to relieve the irritation and take a shower to remove them from your skin, as you climb into bed, thousands more of them have been waiting for you, having collected on the clean bed sheets that you left drying in the warm winds.

The botanical name of this nasty weed is Mucuna pruriens, however it is also known as Cowage (Cowitch), horse-eye, nipay, ojo de venado, Hell Fire Bean as well as here in Nicaragua; Pica Pica. It is a fast growing vine with white, green, purple or red flowers. The curved pods are each covered in about 5,000 hairs containing mucunain, the chemical that causes the itch.

An application of an antihistamine cream like Benadryl, an anesthetic cream like Lanacane or a one per cent hydrocortisone (steroid) cream are known to give some relief.

Note: There is a cultivated version of Mucuna pruriens called Velvet Bean which does not have the irritating hairs.