Our grandparents were medical geniuses in their own right: they were well acquainted with the healing qualities associated with what we would likely have seen as just ‘random bush’ growing in the yard or on a nearby empty lot, and when we were sick, they knew exactly which one to pick, and how much of it to use depending on our symptoms.
Now, as that generation is passing on along with their knowledge, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture is doing its part to ensure the current generation of Barbadians renews its acquaintance with these ‘natural remedies’.
Over the past two days, the ministry staged field days at its Graeme Hall headquarters highlighting ten specific plants. These included “Cure for all”; “seed under the leaf”; periwinkle; aloe; mosquito bush; cerasee; “wonder of the world”; vervain; gully root and Christmas bush.
The objectives of the field days, which attracted a high number of Barbadians, included “encouraging everyone to plant something, since these products are less labour intensive and occupy less land space than food crops; educating the general public on these non-traditional plants; as well as to explore opportunities for business development and contribute to the health of the nation.”
The majority of the plants featured grow year-round and are durable enough to survive regardless of the kind of soil in which they are planted. Following is a closer look at these plants and their medicinal properties.
“Cure for all”, also known as sourbush, pluchea (which comes from its original name, pluchea carolinensis) and cattle tongue, is said to help with flatulence, stomach ailments, headaches, sore throat, catarrh, high blood pressure, rashes and toothaches. It is also effective in treating sinus problems, inflammation, bronchitis, psoriasis, joint swelling, arthritis, rheumatism and neurological diseases, coughs and hemorrhoids.
All the different parts of a plant known as “seed under the leaf”, owing to the small mustard-like seeds growing under its leaves, can be used for health reasons (seeds/fruits, flowers, stem, roots, leaves). It is said to be anti-viral, protects the liver, lowers blood sugar, and as such can be used for kidney disorders and urinary tract infections, bladder infections, colds, hepatitis B, and ulcers.
Periwinkle, which produces a beautiful pink flower with a deep purple centre, contains two compounds, vincristine and vinblastine, which are used in chemotherapy treatments for cancer. A solution from the flower extract is used for eye infections and irritation; and it is also used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, malaria, and can ease excess menstruation and perspiration. However, it is advised that it should not be used during pregnancy as it can have an adverse effect on the developing foetus.
Many of us have heard of “cerasee bush”, and would have drunk teas made from it when we had a cold. Its leaves and stems are used to treat Type 2 diabetes, and its vine is a ‘folk remedy’ for high blood pressure, intestinal worms, dysentery, colds and fevers. It can also be used to relieve constipation, in birth control, to treat rashes, skin ulcers, and gout. Its root can be used to help with expulsion of kidney stones, can also be used to treat sore throats and cancer.
Gully root is traditionally used for treatment of cancer, as a pesticide and an insect repellent. The plant has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, antifungal properties and is also used to treat respiratory infections.
Another plant most Barbadians are familiar with is Aloe, which is used extensively in medicinal and beauty products. It can be used as a laxative since it purifies the colon and intestines and bowels, as well as for diabetes, and in terms of the skin, it helps with the treatment of sunburn and other burns, removal of wrinkles, to stop bleeding, promotes healing of wounds, and stimulates hair growth. It is also an anti-inflammatory with antibacterial and antiviral properties.
“Wonder of the world” is used for treating asthma, diabetes, gout, insect bites, arthritis, inflammation, hypertension and kidney stones. Christmas bush, which is also called Siam weed, devil weeds and camphor grass, is used as a tea, and young leaves can be crushed and the liquid extracted used to treat skin wounds. Mosquito bush is a member of the mint family. People eat the leaves of this plant, which is said to be good for treating colds, coughs and ‘stomach disturbances’, fever, headache and worms in children. and finally, Vervain is used to treat asthma, heart disease, sore throat, anemia, and digestive disorders.
Would be growers were also given tips on the type of pests likely to affect the plants and told how best to go about harvesting them and preparing them for use.