Discover Ojochal: The Costa Rican Town Named After the Endangered Ojoche Tree

June 14, 2024

Welcome to Ojochal, a charming town nestled in the lush landscapes of Costa Rica. This picturesque community, renowned for its natural beauty and vibrant biodiversity, carries a name deeply rooted in the history of the region – the Ojoche tree, also known as the Mayan Nut. As you consider making Ojochal your new home, imagine the profound connection to nature that this name represents.

The Ojoche tree, or Brosimum alicastrum, is an iconic symbol of resilience and sustenance. Standing tall at up to 45 meters, these trees have been a cornerstone of life in the Americas for centuries. They are packed with more nutrients than wheat or corn, with seeds that taste like a delightful blend of coffee, chocolate, and a hint of cinnamon. These seeds can be used in both sweet and savory recipes, adding a unique flavor to the local cuisine.

Despite its historical significance, the Ojoche tree has become a scarce resource today due to extensive over-logging in the past. It is crucial to plant this and other native trees on our private properties to ensure the continued propagation of these invaluable resources. By doing so, we can help restore the natural balance, support biodiversity, and preserve the rich ecological heritage of Ojochal for future generations.

Making Ojochal your home means more than enjoying its scenic beauty and welcoming community; it means embracing a deeper connection to the land and its history. The Ojoche tree is more than a namesake; it is a testament to the town’s enduring bond with nature and its commitment to a sustainable future.

Historical Significance

The story of the Ojoche tree is deeply intertwined with the cultural and traditional practices of the Mayans, one of the most advanced civilizations in Mesoamerica. The Mayans, often referred to as the "men of maize," relied heavily on agriculture, cultivating crops like tubers, beans, pumpkins, cocoa, cotton, and vanilla. While maize was their staple, the Ojoche tree played a crucial role in sustaining their society, especially during times of drought and food scarcity.

The Ojoche tree was abundant near Mayan residential centers, and although it is unclear whether the Mayans actively cultivated it or it grew naturally, its presence was invaluable. This tree continued to produce fruit even in adverse conditions, providing a reliable food source. Evidence of Ojoche seeds stored in granaries highlights their importance to the Mayan diet and culture. Perhaps the Mayans were not just "men of maize" but also "men and women of Ojoche."

In Costa Rica, the historical significance of the Ojoche tree extends beyond ancient civilizations. The village of Ojochal was named after this tree, recognizing its importance to the local community. However, the introduction of cattle and the use of Ojoche wood for construction led to extensive logging, bringing the species to the brink of extinction. Despite this, the Ojoche tree proved resilient, helping to feed many Costa Rican families during the severe drought and famine of the 1950s.

The Ojoche tree's importance is further highlighted by its role in providing sustenance during natural disasters. In Guatemala in 2005 and Nicaragua in 2007, the Ojoche tree was a lifeline for the poorest communities, offering much-needed nourishment during emergencies caused by hurricanes.

Uses of the Ojoche Tree

The Ojoche tree is truly a marvel of nature, offering a wide range of uses from its leaves and flowers to its seeds and wood. This section explores the various ways the Ojoche tree enriches our lives and the environment.

The Ojoche tree supports biodiversity, providing nutrition for birds, small ground animals, capuchins, squirrels, toucans, and many other species. Animals consume the fruits, dispersing the seeds and enriching the ecosystem. The root system of these trees also prevents severe erosion, contributing to environmental stability.

Leaves and Foliage

The leaves of the Ojoche tree are simple and alternate, reaching up to 18 cm in length. They are lanceolate in shape with an entire edge and elongated apex. The upper side of the leaves is an intense green, while the underside is pale, showcasing a lace-like vein structure with yellowish main nerves. In dry areas, the Ojoche sheds its leaves, but it retains them in more humid regions. At the base of the petiole, you can find a small pointed stipule, which also appears at the end of the twigs.


From January to September, the Ojoche tree produces small flowers on trees taller than 20 meters. The species is unisexual, with male and female flowers developing on different trees. Male flowers are yellowish and appear in large numbers, while female flowers are green and appear in smaller heads, usually containing only one fertile flower with a prominent stigma.


The round, fleshy fruits of the Ojoche tree are a sight to behold, appearing from April to May and again from July to September. Measuring about 3 cm in length, they start as yellowish-green with whitish spots and mature to an orange color. The sweet pulp of these fruits attracts a variety of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, bats, squirrels, wild pigs, mice, raccoons, chachalacas, and pheasants, all of which help disperse the seeds.


The fruits and seeds of the Ojoche Tree (source: the Ojoche Project Facebook page)


The Ojoche seeds are shiny, light brown, and covered by a thin, paper-like shell. Female trees can produce seeds once or twice a year, and sometimes the harvest can last all year or occur every two years. Each tree can yield between 16 and 29 kg of dry seeds per harvest. These seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients and can be used in a multitude of culinary creations.


The wood of the Ojoche tree is highly valued for its quality. Generally yellow with brown veins, the wood has a fine texture, medium to high luster, and straight grain. With a specific weight of 0.6 to 0.7 g/cm³, it is heavy and hard, making it suitable for various applications. Although resistant to fire, the wood is vulnerable to fungi and insects if left untreated outdoors.


Ojoche wood for sale (source: Premium Wood Slabs)

Additional Uses

The Ojoche tree is a versatile resource. Its leaves, branches, sap, fruits, wood, and seeds are all utilized in different ways. The wood is used for animal pens, rustic forks, fence posts, stakes, firewood, railroad ties, plywood, floors, tool handles, packaging, furniture, cabinets, apiary boxes, general construction, crafts, tongue and groove, turning, shoe lasts, sporting goods, moldings, stairs, saddles, particle boards, columns, parquet, veneers, and paper pulp.

The leaves of the Ojoche tree are known to increase milk production in nursing mothers (both human and animal). The milky sap, when diluted with water, can serve as a milk substitute. The leaves, bark, fruits, and seeds also provide excellent forage for animals. In traditional medicine, the Ojoche has been used to treat respiratory conditions, infertility, menstrual regulation, low breast milk production, osteoporosis, arthritis, and digestive problems.

Culinary Uses

The seeds of the Ojoche tree are a culinary delight, comparable to a blend of coffee and chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. They can be used to make various dishes, including egg salad, dough, cakes, tamales, purees, soups, quesadillas, pancakes, atoles, pizzas, desserts, pinols, soft drinks, ice cream, coffee, cookies, and baked goods. The seeds can be nixtamalized, roasted, or dried to be used as flour.



Various pastries made from Ojoche nut flour (top); and a bag of Ojoche nut flower from the Maya Nut Institute (bottom) (source: the Ojoche Project Facebook page)

Ojoche Tostado

Ojoche Tostado is a naturally energizing, caffeine-free superfood elixir. When roasted and steeped, Ojoche seeds create a brew rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It's high in potassium, calcium, vitamin C, folate, iron, vitamin B6, and tryptophan, making it a perfect addition to a health-conscious diet.

For hot preparation, steep 1 tablespoon of Ojoche in 8-10 oz of boiling water for 5 minutes. For a cold brew, mix 5 tablespoons of Ojoche granules into 32 oz of cold water and let it steep in the fridge for 24 hours. The dense nature of Ojoche means it won't dissolve completely, leaving a nutritious sediment that can be used in various recipes.




Ojochal's Tagua Cafe sells Ojoche beverages in honor of the town's name and history

Conservation and Importance

Ojoche trees are drought-resistant and have the ability to sequester carbon. With many Central American rainforests facing deforestation, the Ojoche tree can help alleviate the stress caused by cash crops like sugarcane and corn. The nuts can be hand-picked from the forest floor, providing a modest income to anyone who collects them.

The current status of the Ojoche tree population is concerning, as it is sadly almost extinct. Despite this, the tree still ranges throughout Mexico, the Antilles, and the Amazon, highlighting the need for concerted conservation efforts. Preserving the Ojoche tree is crucial not only for its ecological benefits but also for its cultural and nutritional value.

The Ojoche Project in Ojochal, started in 2012, aimed to reintroduce this vital tree to the community, emphasizing its sustainability and symbolic significance. Although the project is now defunct, it made substantial progress in restoring the Ojoche tree to its rightful place in the local ecosystem by planting more than 2000 seedlings across Ojochal in the 5 years it was active.


A photo of the first Ojoche Project meeting in 2012 (source: the Ojoche Project Facebook page)

How to Plant and Care for Ojoche Trees

Planting and caring for Ojoche trees involves understanding their reproductive methods, ideal conditions, and the importance of community involvement in conservation efforts. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to ensure these trees thrive.

Planting and Care

The Ojoche tree reproduces through seeds, cuttings, and saplings. Thanks to its high regeneration capacity, saplings growing under mother trees in the forest can be directly transplanted. Notably, saplings are typically found under female trees, aiding in distinguishing between male and female trees. The seeds remain viable for about three months at room temperature and have a germination rate of over 80%. Before planting, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. They can then be sown in seedbeds spaced 10 cm apart or placed directly in bags with a good substrate. In the field, trees should be planted at distances of 3x3 meters or 5x5 meters. Pruning can begin once the trees reach a height of 3 meters.


Tree #20 planted by the Ojoche Project (source: the Ojoche Project Facebook page)

Propagation Methods

Propagation can also be done through cuttings. Cuttings should be 1 to 3 meters high and 5 to 15 cm in diameter, planted 1 to 3 meters apart. Trees grown from seeds typically begin producing fruit around five years of age, while those grown from cuttings may do so sooner. The Ojoche tree is free of GMOs and agrochemicals, making it a 100% natural crop that benefits from forest conservation without depleting resources.

Seed Processing

Processing Ojoche seeds requires selecting the best quality seeds, washing them thoroughly, and drying them in the sun for about 20 days. This process ensures even drying and removal of hulls. Once dried, seeds can be stored properly. For making coffee or cereal, the seeds should be toasted over a fire, with constant movement to prevent burning. The degree of toasting depends on the intended use. Seeds for flour should not be roasted but finely ground.


The significance of the Ojoche tree extends far beyond its practical uses; it embodies a legacy of resilience and sustenance that has supported countless generations. As the Greek proverb wisely states, "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." This sentiment captures the essence of our efforts to preserve and reintroduce the Ojoche tree for the benefit of future generations.

The Ojoche tree represents more than just a plant; it symbolizes a connection to Costa Rica’s heritage, a commitment to sustainability, and a vision for the future. By planting and caring for Ojoche trees, we contribute to a greener, healthier world. 

As you explore Ojochal, envision a town where the spirit of the Ojoche tree lives on. Imagine a community committed to preserving its natural surroundings and honoring the traditions that have shaped its identity. By choosing to live here, you become part of this ongoing legacy, contributing to the conservation of a tree that symbolizes endurance, adaptability, and the rich cultural tapestry of Costa Rica.

Contact our team for more information about how you can make Ojochal your future home.


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