Scientific Name: Crescentia cujete

Plant Family: Bignoniaceae

Other Names: luch, hom, huaz, tree gourd, wild calabash, jicara

In the Popul Voh, a Maya creation myth, the lords of Xibalba, the underworld, cut off the head of One Hunahpu, the father of the Hero Twins

And when his head was put in the fork of the tree, the tree bore fruit. It would not have had any fruit, had not the head of One Hunahpu been put in the fork of the tree.

This is the calabash tree, as we call it today, or 'the head of One Hunahpu,' as it is said.

And then One and Seven Death were amazed at the fruit of the tree. The fruit grows out everywhere, and it isn't clear where the head of One Hunahpu is; now it looks just the way the calabashes look. All the Xibalbans see this, when they come to look.

The state of the tree loomed large in their thoughts, because it came about at the same time the head of One Hunahpu was put in the fork. The Xibalbans said among themselves:

'No one is to pick the fruit, nor is anyone to go beneath the tree,' they said. They restricted themselves; all of Xibalba held back.

It isn't clear which is the head of One Hunahpu; now it's exactly the same as the fruit of the tree. Calabash tree came to be its name, and much was said about it. A maiden heard about it...

Blood Woman, the daughter of a lord named Blood Gatherer hears of the tree and goes to see it out of curiosity about the fruit of the tree. The head of One Hunahpu speaks to the maiden and assures her she doesn't want the fruit of the tree.

"I do want it," said the maiden.

"Very well. Stretch out your hand here so I can see it," said the bone.

"Yes," said the maiden. She stretched out her right hand, up there in front of the bone.

And then the bone spit out its saliva, which landed sqarely in the hand of the maiden.

And then she looked in her hand, she inspected it right away, but the bone's saliva wasn't in her hand...

Right away something was generated in her belly, from the saliva alone, and this was the generation of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

Tedlock, Dennis. 1986. Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 113, 115.

Beyond the creation myth, the calabash tree was extremely important for the ancient Maya. The gourds of the tree were often cleaned and elaborately decorated for food and water storage. The hard wood is also an excellent construction material.
Today, the gourds are used in many medicinal cures. One cure for whooping cough calls for splitting a ripe calabash in two with a saw blade and mixing the inside of the gourd with the fat of a chicken, the fat of an armadillo, and two heads of garlic. This mixture is then boiled together and made into a syrup that is mixed with honey.