Stop bashing the ‘bush’

STOP bashing the ‘bush’. All doctors are bush doctors and all medicine is bush medicine. God gave the leaves of the trees to us for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).

While it is not wise to use any leaf willy-nilly to make tea, it is true that plants have been scientifically proven to have many medicinal values, and hundreds of Caribbean folk recipes have been tested for their efficacy and toxicity. Google TRAMIL to learn more about Caribbean herbal recipes.

To give a few examples of how bush is used for health: Aspirin is from the willow bark, vincristine and vinblastine being used for leukemia is from periwinkle, and morphine is from poppy seeds. Essential oils are another example — peppermint, citrus, pimento, et cetera. Then there are our foods, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices such as yam, dasheen, cocoyam, orange, banana, aloe, ginger, turmeric, noni, moringa, coconut, cerasee, neem, to name but a few.

Even whole plants are used by doctors such as ginger tea for nausea and cannabis buds for epilepsy. All from the bush.

Bush is simply an array of plants – herbs, shrubs, vines, trees — growing without man’s interference. Why are we so quick to assume that a solution is not hidden in a plant somewhere for the present situation? Another scripture that comes to mind is that there is no temptation that comes to man that God does not first provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10: 13).

Allow me to give advice as someone who has been studying plants for health for more than 20 years.


1. Don’t assume every leaf can be made into a tea.

Get to know your bush before you use it. Sometimes it’s the leaf that is used, sometimes the seed, or bark, or root.

Find out the folk recipe to use before you go ahead. For example, garlic is known to be antibacterial and antiviral, but it can also thin the blood so it should not be overused. Also, how you prepare the garlic will affect the outcome.

Aloe leaf when it is soaked in water to be used for a washout should not be used for more that three-consecutive days. Learn about the plant you want to use before you use it.


2. Don’t think because it is natural, it must be safe to use in any way you want to use it.

When The University of the West Indies started in 1948, the two main diseases were a vomiting disease and distended tummy — the latter was linked to ackee and the former to Crotalaria fulva and Senecio discolor (white back). We have subsequently learnt how to eat the poisonous ackee from the bush while the latter two have dropped from Jamaican folk use, as they were not identified in any of the ethnomedicinal studies we have been carrying out for the last 18 years.


3. Don’t use plants unwisely.

Get the plant properly identified before use. That means you need to know its scientific name and not just the name people around you call it.

Search for information about the plant using its scientific name. Liaise with professionals who can give you the scientific name, then use it to search the Internet for information. Don’t search for information about a plant using its common name. There is a lot of information out there, use reputable sources such as Google scholar, which searches only peer-reviewed articles.


4. Don’t use plants unless you know what it is good for.

Antibiotics kill bacteria not viruses. Colds, flu, and COVID-19 are caused by viruses.

Similarly, antibacterial plants are not necessarily antiviral. However, plants tend to have a wider number of usages as the body can use their myriad chemical moieties to prevent or treat underlying problems.


5. Don’t be afraid of the bush, but be respectful.

Once you have learnt that a plant can be used for healing and how to use it, don’t denude the plant.

When moringa was known to be a plant of healing, individuals denuded trees of its leaves and pods, thus killing them. Only take what you need, it will grow back and you can get more.


1. Do inform the authorities when you are ill.

Use the bush wisely as complementary medicine, and use only non-poisonous plants. Do not use them as your only medicine. The authorities need to know you are ill.


2. Do build your immune system by eating healthily.

However, even the young and healthy can still catch a cold. So, get to know your cold bushes — there are some for cold in the head, some for fever, some for chest infections, some for belly pain.


3. Do contact a professional who has been working with plants for health for a long time and not those who just want to make money from a disaster.


4. Do read studies done on Jamaican folk medicine, you might be pleasantly surprised.


5. Do talk to the elders (at a considerable distance, of course), they have a lot of information we need to record before their time on Earth ends.


6. Do take pictures of the plants around you and get them identified.

Learn which ones can be made as tea (infusions), which are boiled (decoctions), which are used in root tonics, and which are poisonous.


7. Do plant a herb garden.

Fresh food is the most healthy. Some suggestions are callaloo, cabbage, aloe, tuna, escallion, okra, and broccoli.


8. Do plant a tree.

Fruit trees are a blessing: Citrus grafted on resistant root stock, otaheite apple, avocado pear, breadfruit, grafted mango, et cetera.

Make the time at home productive by turning your yard into a den of healing.

Here is food for thought, Germany accepts herbal remedies as part of their medical system and they have been least affected in Europe, in the present pandemic. Food for thought indeed.

In summary, the bush is not to be feared but it is not to be misused either. Let’s do this together.


Senior Lecturer Dr Sylvia Mitchell is head of Medicinal Plant Research at the Biotechnology Centre at The University of the West Indies. E-mail her at sylvia.mitchell@uwimona.edu.jm.

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