Writer Terese L. Kreuzer explored the world of herbal medicine
at a recent Caribbean conference. Here is her report:
St. Croix -- Probably few vacationers suspect that a plant remedy
for the common cold grows wild on many islands of the Caribbean.
Causton Merchant, resident manager of Elysian Beach Resort in St.
Thomas, calls the plant "horse rub dong," its name in his native
St. Kitts, where it is used to treat colds, fever and flu.
Herbal medicine, called bush medicine in the Caribbean, was the
subject of the second International Workshop on Herbal Medicines
held recently on St. Croix.
The three-day conference attracted about 200 participants to the
University of the Virgin Islands, one of the conferences' sponsors.
Traditional herbal practices, the integration of herbal and modern
medicine and the scientific validity and safety of herbal remedies
were topics of lectures, exhibits and trips.
Dr. Kumariah Balasubramaniam, a pharmacologist from Sri Lanka,
said herbal medicine attracts interest from both developed and
An organization called Tramil/enda-caribe, based in the
Dominican Republic, has gathered information since the early 1980s
about the uses of herbs and other medicinal plants by Caribbean
Tramil analyzed 300 traditionally used plants and found 90 of
them to be effective, according to Dr. Lionel Germosen-Robineau,
the group's founder. Data on other plants is still incomplete.
For more information, contact the organization at
[email protected] or by fax at (809) 541-3259.
Many West Indians use herbal remedies in addition to, or in
place of, modern medicines to treat problems from respiratory
infections to heart disease. With high blood pressure and diabetes
rampant in some regions of the Caribbean, plants have been used for
generations to keep these disorders under control. Herbs also
frequently treat diarrhea, stomach ailments, and joint and muscular
Couples turn to certain herbs to enhance fertility, and women
use herbs to help prepare for childbirth. On St. Thomas,
Rastafarian farmers sell herbs in the parking lot by the side of
Veterans Drive in Charlotte Amalie.
Black wattle is sold as a laxative and a sedative; Spanish
needle is recommended for backaches, bruises, kidney problems and
strains, and worrywine treats rashes and prickly heat when used
externally. Taken internally, the herb helps relieve headaches,
worms, asthma and jaundice.
Caribbean supermarkets and small grocery stores often carry a
range of herbs. Many people grow plants or find them in the bush.
Bush tea is popular for its taste and its prophylactic
Virgin Islander Jacquel Dawson packages and sells bush teas in
several locations in the U.S.V.I., including the coffee shop by the
fish market in Frenchtown, St. Thomas. The teas can be purchased
through the Web site at www.bushtea.vi.
Mango tea is good for arthritis; soursop helps insomnia; anise
treats intestinal gas, and japana helps coughs.
On St. Croix, Olasee Davis, a botanist and specialist with the
University of the Virgin Islands, leads herbal hikes in the hills
near Point Udall on the island's east end. Another popular site is
the Caledonia Valley in the rain forest area near Frederiksted on
St. Croix's west coast. Davis explains the historical uses of
various plants. His tours cost $15 per person. For information,
call (340) 778-9491.
Veronica Gordon, a traditional "weedwoman," sells herbs and
dispenses advice Saturdays at the Frederiksted dock. Gordon also
occasionally lectures and guides tours at the St. George Botanical
Garden in St. Croix.
In Trinidad, Francis Morean, a botanist with an interest in
folkloric medicine, conducts workshops and seminars and leads hikes
through the Arima Valley. For information, call (868) 681-0272.
The Caribbean Association of Researchers and Herbal
Practitioners is organizing the third herbal medicine workshop,
scheduled for June 2000 in Jamaica. For information, call (876)