Africans, ripped from their homeland and transplanted to the Caribbean during the unfortunate years of slavery and colonialism, were torn from a way of life. Yet, as they were thrown into a new existence of harsh labour, they consoled themselves with what traditions they managed to maintain. Among these important customs surviving today is the time-honoured repertoire of remedies sacred to the Shamans of ancient villages. This “bush medicine” is still practised and revered by country folk while products made from plant extracts are now available in local shops.

Aloe Vera

According to tradition, this plant is good for just about everything. The slimy pulp of the leaves is well known as a healing balm for burns and cuts. Ingested, it is believed to strengthen the immune system. It also thins the blood and increases circulation. The cure-all pulp is good for promoting healthy skin and hair. It is also known to settle an upset stomach. Mixed with sterile water it becomes an eyewash.

Avocado (Pear)

Beyond a tasty guacamole made from the fruit, a tea brewed from the leaves of this tree is imbibed to treat diabetes. The seeds can be grated and used to make a paste that will reduce swelling from sprains and bruises.

Papaya

Known locally as “pawpaw”, this delightful fruit has many uses other than as a breakfast favourite. Eaten green it is not only tasty but also lowers blood pressure. The ripe fruit strengthens the heart while the seeds are taken to extract worms. The leaves make an effective meat tenderiser and can be crushed into a poultice to help pull out infection or foreign bodies such as splinters.

Prickly Pear

This cactus not only has an edible fruit but, when sliced, is a natural hair relaxer. It is also helps to reduce skin infections. When the plant is diced and soaked in water it can be rubbed on the skin to reduce a fever.

Neem

The neem tree is referred to as “the village pharmacy” because its leaves, nuts, seeds and even the bark, sap and twigs are used in traditional medicine. Neem has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is an insect repellant and can be used to treat athlete’s foot and ringworm. It aids dental and hair care.

Moringa

Described as a “miracle tree”, moringa leaves are loaded with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, and are rich in antioxidants. Moringa lowers blood sugar levels and appears to have anti-diabetic effects. It also reduces inflammation.