The People of Central America

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas; and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

The Herb Harvest Fall Festival schedule is now posted at on the herb calendar page. This event showcases the plants that provide us with herbs, foods and medicines that originated in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean Basin.

Central America is a land bridge or isthmus between South America and North America. It is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world. Its countries include Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala which are Latin American because they were part of the Spanish Empire. Belize is Anglo American because it was invaded and colonized by Great Britain.

Guatemala is home to the greatest diversity of Amerindian groups. The majority of people in Central America are Mestizo, a mixture of the indigenous people, and those of Spanish and African descent. Other European groups, Arabs, Syrians, Jews, Chinese, Russians and Poles have settled in various sections of the region over time. Spanish is the dominant language and Catholicism is the dominant religion. The culinary arts of this part of the world are as diverse as its people.

Rather than gold, the Spanish conquistadors found a wealth of new food plants. Beans, coffee, coconuts, potatoes, tropical fruits, vanilla, chocolate and corn are all familiar foods and beverages that we in the Ozarks regularly consume.

During the Herb Harvest Fall Festival, Susan Belsinger, Kathleen Connole, Steven Foster, Pat Kenny and Dr. Art Tucker will help us understand how plants connect the Ozarks to Central America. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!