Thursday, December 09, 2010

Confession of a Plant Geek

Which would you choose? Lounging on soft a sand beach or a guided hike to look at plants? I chose the hike. I guess that makes me a plant geek.

Coco Cay in the Berry Islands lies 150 miles east of Miami and 35 miles northwest of New Providence (Nassau). Also known as Little Stirrup Cay, this little chunk of paradise oozes with the rich folklore of the Bahamas.

Bush medicine is a large part of the Bahamian culture. African slaves in the 1700’s used indigenous plants to cure everything from menstrual trouble to measles. Our guide’s grandmother set up shop every Sunday after church to treat the villagers. Grandma wasn’t above pinching children’s noses until they swallowed the unpleasant potion.

Walking and writing was difficult over the uneven limestone paths. Reading my notes is even more difficult. Most of the information below was gleaned from the internet.

Buttonwood tree (Conocarpus erectus) - bark tea used to externally treat prickly heat and inflamed eyes. Used internally for syphilis and diabetes. The gray shimmer makes this tree stand out. from Ardastra, Gardens and Zoo Conservation Center

Cactus Prickly Pear (Opuntia dillenii) - gel used for healing wounds. The ripe, red fruit can be eaten raw or baked, and can also be made into jellies and wine. All parts of this thorny plant are useful for food or medicines. from Bush Medicine booklet Raven's Voyage

Gum elemi (Turnera ulmifolia) also known as gumbo-limbo in the Bahamas - boiled bark used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes or drunk as tea to treat backaches, urinary tract infections, colds, flu, and fevers. It is very important ingredient in the aphrodisiac Bush Tea called “21 Gun Salute”. from Bahamas Folk Medicines
Lignum Vitae (Guiacum officinale) is The National Tree of The Bahamas. It is called the Tree of Life, or as many old folk call it "Nigly Whitey". Extremely hard and heavy self-lubricating wood. Steeped bark is drunk as a tonic for creating energy or as an aphrodisiac. from Bahamas dot gov

Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) is used for upset stomach. The roots have been used to treat diarrhea. from Ardastra, Gardens and Zoo Conservation Center

Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) Medicinal uses of the tamarind are uncountable. Here are a few:

leaves and flowers - dried or boiled, poultices for swollen joints, sprains and boils. Lotions and extracts used to treat conjunctivitis, as antiseptics, as vermifuge, treatments for dysentery, jaundice, erysipelas and hemorrhoids and various other ailments
bark - astringent, tonic and febrifuge; fried with salt and pulverized to an ash, given as a remedy for indigestion and colic; decoction is used for gingivitis and asthma and eye inflammations; lotions and poultices applied on open sores and caterpillar rashes.
powdered seeds - made into a paste for drawing boils, with or without cumin seeds and palm sugar prescribed for chronic diarrhea and dysentery.
root infusion - curative value in chest complaints and is an ingredient in prescriptions for leprosy. from Purdue Horticulture Education

Bush medicine is woven tightly in the culture of the Bahamas. It is part of the heritage of the islands. Researchers have been studying the properties of these plants for years. Who knows, maybe we are already taking something that had its beginning in the Bahamas.

Even though I missed some beach time, I'm glad I took the hike.


donna said...

Inquiring minds want to know. Did you drink any of the tonic from the Tree of Life?


Marie said...

I'm not courgeous enough to try any of the remedies. Although I hear that they have worked their way into modern remedies. The Coco Loco was my only attempt to find that "makes you feel good" feeling.