Caribbean Cures

MSC Buon Gusto - - Contents - Jen­nifer Billock

Who needs a doc­tor when nat­u­ral so­lu­tions can be found in so many plants all around the Caribbean?

CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL — bush medicine, folk reme­dies or jun­gle medicine — but Caribbean moth­ers call it by the proper name: good health. Tra­di­tion­ally, ora grow­ing through­out the re­gion has been used to heal ail­ments of all kinds, every­thing from colds and us to more in­tense is­sues like in­fec­tions and par­a­sites. And the best thing about jun­gle medicine is it’s freely avail­able, grow­ing out in the wild. Check out these 10 in­dige­nous is­land plants that have long cured what ails the peo­ple of — and vis­i­tors to — the Caribbean.

Snake Plant

True to its name, the snake plant’s leaves look like snake­skin and are a rem­edy for the ser­pent’s bite. But the plant it­self isn’t used as the medicine; you would boil the leaves and then use the wa­ter, which ex­tracts all the ben­e­fi­cial prop­er­ties from the plant. The wa­ter is also said to help rashes and other skin wounds. Cheek­ily, snake plant is also called moth­erin-law’s tongue — it grows rapidly, is long with sharp edges and, as lo­cal gar­den­ers will tell you, you can’t get rid of it once it’s started. Be­ware with this one, though. It’s a com­mon house­plant that’s easy to grow in­doors, but can be poi­sonous to pets.

Who needs a doc­tor when nat­u­ral so­lu­tions can be found in so many plants all around the


Aloe Vera

We know this as sun­burn re­lief, the mag­i­cal in­gre­di­ent in gels and lo­tions that eases the burn from too much time in the sun. It’s the same in the Caribbean; the clear gel in­side the leaf soothes pain and speeds up heal­ing time from cuts and burns. To the Caribbean peo­ple, though, it’s known as “the mir­a­cle plant be­cause its bene ts reach far. Drink­ing the gel as an herbal tonic relieves all types of breath­ing ail­ments, from bron­chi­tis to colds, and the browner-col­ored gel is a strong lax­a­tive used to pu­rify the body’s di­ges­tive tract. If you put the gel on your head, it helps ease dan­druff as well as strength­en­ing the hair and en­cour­ag­ing it to grow. Plus, aloe can pre­vent both scars and wrin­kles. Mir­a­cle plant, in­deed.

Fever grass

This grass is ac­tu­ally quite com­mon — we put it in tea and smooth­ies, and use it as a sea­son­ing in meals. But we know it by another name: lemon­grass. In the Caribbean, they call it fever

The clear gel in­side the leaf soothes pain and speeds up heal­ing time

from cuts and burns.

grass be­cause it’s brewed into tea to re­duce fevers. But that tea has other medic­i­nal prop­er­ties, too; it eases stom­achaches and di­ges­tion prob­lems, relieves cramps and gas, and guards against nau­sea and asthma at­tacks. Some even use the crushed leaves as a poul­tice to re­lieve arthri­tis and other pain.


Sour­sop is more than just jun­gle medicine in the Caribbean; it’s also a de­li­cious na­tive fruit of­ten called a cus­tard ap­ple.

Prickly green on the out­side, it can look like a heart, a small thick cucumber or a pear. Cut open, the in­te­rior is a creamy white with black seeds. The fruit tastes like a mix of straw­berry, co­conut and pineap­ple, with a cit­rusy kick. For medic­i­nal pur­poses, drink­ing tea made with the leaves can re­duce fever, help cure uri­nary tract prob­lems, lower blood pres­sure and reg­u­late the ner­vous sys­tem. A poul­tice made from the crushed leaves relieves skin is­sues and re­duces swelling. As a bonus, sour­sop is a pow­er­house against bugs and in­sects. It kills lice and bed­bugs and helps to drive away cater­pil­lars, army­worms and leaf­hop­pers in the gar­den.


No, not that mi­mosa. This one has noth­ing to do with Cham­pagne and or­ange juice, and every­thing to do with a pretty pur­ple ower and leaves that shy away if you try to touch them. It’s also called the sen­si­tive plant, or the hum­ble plant. When you touch the leaves, they close in on them­selves and droop down to avoid fur­ther con­tact. Its medic­i­nal pur­pose re­flects its ac­tions — tea from the leaves and branches can help the drinker fall asleep. Mi­mosa is also a good pain re­liever, and mashed leaves can be put on toothaches to help calm the hurt.

Siem­pre Viva

This plant grows wild all over the Caribbean, and is com­monly known as a kalan­choe or “leaf of life.” The leaves can be eaten on their own as medicine — and, in­deed, some peo­ple chow down on them sprin­kled with salt — but it can also be made into a sun tea, which is most com­mon. Siem­pre viva works well to re­lieve res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments of ev­ery type, no mat­ter if the prob­lem is vi­ral, fun­gal or bac­te­rial. Just chop up the leaves, throw them in a ma­son jar full of wa­ter and set it in the sun or in the fridge to steep for a day. Strain it and drink up. It’s also ben­e­fi­cial for gas­troin­testi­nal ul­cers due to its anti-in­flam­ma­tory and sooth­ing prop­er­ties.

Gumbo Limbo

As a tes­ta­ment to Caribbean clev­er­ness, this tree goes by a much more ap­pro­pri­ate name: the sun­burned-tourists tree. The name rep­re­sents both ill­ness

and rem­edy. Tourists come to the Caribbean and leave with red, peel­ing sun­burnt skin that matches the bark on the tree, which is also red and peels away. And the tree helps cure it, too. Boiled strips of bark can be laid over sun­burns to speed up heal­ing. The bark strips are also a topi­cal rem­edy for any type of skin ail­ment, in­clud­ing measles and rashes from poi­son plants. Taken as a tea, gumbo limbo eases cold and u symp­toms and relieves uri­nary tract in­fec­tions and headaches.


Want to keep away evil spir­its Euro­peans of old sug­gested grow­ing some peri­win­kle to de­ter them. On a less ethe­real plane, the ower has a long his­tory as folk medicine.

It’s tra­di­tion­ally been used in the Caribbean to ght against di­a­betes. But also, if you juice the ow­ers, it calms stings and in­sect bites; a tinc­ture from the petals treats eye ir­ri­ta­tion and in­fec­tions; a poul­tice stops bleed­ing and re­laxes sore mus­cles; and a tea helps sore throats and coughs. Plus, it’s pretty enough to keep around all the time.


Typ­i­cally, peo­ple don’t eat the large fruit that grows on the cal­abash tree. But in the Caribbean, it’s roasted and con­sumed to pre­vent cramps or in­duce child­birth. It can also be used as a lax­a­tive, and the esh from the fruit heals the skin and helps bruises dis­ap­pear quickly. Al­most ev­ery part of the tree can be used in folk medicine. The pulp of the fruit works as cough medicine and treats asthma. The bark cures ear­aches and cools a fever. Tea from the leaves can lower blood pres­sure, treat a cold and di­ges­tive prob­lems, ease headaches and help al­le­vi­ate dysen­tery symp­toms.

Jack­ass Bit­ters

You may pre­fer the less crass name, gav­i­lana, but the com­mon moniker tells a story about the ow­ers and leaves; it’s said that a tea made from the plant is so bit­ter that you have be a don­key to drink it. But it’s worth it to mus­cle through the taste. When made into tea or wine, jack­ass bit­ters is a pow­er­ful anti-par­a­sitic. It tack­les every­thing from ring­worm and malaria to yeast and fun­gal in­fec­tions. It’s also anti-vi­ral, help­ing speed cold and u re­cov­ery. Topi­cally, it dis­in­fects wounds. And if you ever have the un­for­tu­nate op­por­tu­nity to catch lice, just wash your hair with the bit­ters and it’ll get rid of them right away. Its ver­sa­til­ity re­ally makes the taste worth it.

When you touch the leaves, they close in on them­selves

and droop down to avoid fur­ther con­tact.

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