conectando conciencia caribe

The Caribbean basin and its medicinal plants Chapter 1: The Properties

When we think of the Caribbean, a series of paradisiacal islands with crystalline beaches and exuberant flora automatically come to mind. The Caribbean Basin extends well beyond the islands, but from south to 

Florida, through the Yucatan Peninsula to Central America and encompassing the northern part of

Colombia and Venezuela. It is the Caribbean pharmacopoeia in its extensive diversity that interests us. In the complexity of our cultural heritage influenced by the countless Amerindian peoples, the Spanish, French and Dutch legacy, and the contributions of African tribes, we see the variation in the uses of medicinal plants in the Caribbean.

When searching for information on this subject, one finds the difference in uses attributed to the same plant, for example, the Mangó or Mango (Mangifera indica) used as antidiarrheal in Cuba and Nicaragua or as a liver remedy in Martinique and as a febrifuge in these countries. Other plants are used as vermicides, are hypotensive, diaphoretic or carminative. But what do all these terms mean? They are the properties assigned to each plant by which its main use is determined, since a single plant can have different properties. The importance of knowing these terms makes it easy to find out which specific plant we need for which condition. It is very important to mention that it teaches us to discern between a plant and a prescribed medicine (if applicable), since they can conflict due to their properties.

An example of a wonderful plant found throughout the Caribbean is Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis).

Its properties are: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, cathartic, purifying, demulcent, hepatic and emollient. By which we understand its various uses.

Aloe is used topically (applied to the skin) and orally. Topical use of aloe is promoted for acne, lichen planus (an extremely itchy rash on the skin or in the mouth), fibrosis of the oral submucosa, burning mouth syndrome, burns, and radiation-induced skin toxicity.  Oral use of aloe is promoted for weight loss, diabetes, hepatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Before listing a series of Caribbean medicinal plants and in order to simplify the understanding of these  scientific terms, we have prepared a list of properties and their meanings:

ABORTIFACIENTHerbs That Can Cause Miscarriage in humans and animals.
ADAPTOGENAct to bring the body back in balance, increasing the body’s resistance to stress and adversity
ALTERNATIVEClean and purify the blood, cool the blood, dispel fever and detoxify the liver.
ANALGESICRelieve pain such as: arthritis pain, headaches, toothaches, sore muscles, lower back pain and neuralgia.
ANODYNEAct to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the sensitivity of the nervous system. It is a kind of analgesic, and is often applied topically.
ANTI-BACTERIALFight infections and kill bacteria
ANTI-DEPRESSANTCan can help with bouts of occasional, mild depression and uplifts weary spirits.
ANTI-FUNGALHelp against several common infection-causing fungi, including those that cause athlete’s foot and ringworm.
ANTI-HELMINTICExpel parasitic worms (helminths) and other internal parasites from the body by either stunning or killing them.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORYDecrease inflammation and painful swelling in arthritis, and skin disorders.
ANTI-PARASITECleanse the body of intestinal worms and parasites .They may also be called vermifuges (stunning) or vermicides (killing).
ANTI-PIRETYCReduce fever.
ANTI-RHEUMATICHelpful in a wide range of arthritic conditions including rheumatoid arthritis , osteo-arthritis, lupus and, gout.
ANTI-SPASMODICSuppresses spasms, and reduce muscular tension.
ANTI-SCORBUTICAre good sources of  vitamin C include the citrus oranges, lemon, and lime,used in the  prevention of scurvy.
ANTI-SCROFULOUSCombaten una infección de la piel en el cuello conocida como escrofula
ANTI-TUSSIVEHelp to calm, dry or nagging coughs, are commonly used in herbal cough syrups and teas.
ANTI-VIRALBotanical protection against viruses
AFRODISIACNot only improve your sex life but many can nourish your overall health, and enhance your sense of well-being.
ASTRINGENT  Draw together or constrict body tissues and are effective in stopping the flow of blood or other secretions. They are tightening, healing   and drying, reducing irritation and inflammation and creating a barrier against infection that is helpful in wounds and burns.
BITTER  These are unrivaled stomach tonics. They improve the appetite, promoting digestive juices and the flow of bile. By stimulating bile flow, bitters improve fat digestion and prevent waste accumulation in the liver.
CARMINATIVEHelp to dispel gas, prevent bloating and indigestion.
CATHARTIC  Accelerate defecation with a much harsher and stronger action than laxatives, and are also used to detoxify the lower bowels of toxins.   Unwise and prolonged use of cathartic herbs can cause electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
CHOLAGOGUESupport the gall bladder and liver by promoting the flow of bile from the gall bladder into the intestines.
CICATRISANTThey are used to heal any wound by forming scar tissue over them. These herbs help in the regeneration of damaged cells.
COAGULANT   Encourage blood coagulation and help stop bleeding. Appling these herbs after an injury will help support the complex process by  which blood forms clots.
DEMULCENT  Provide a protective coating and soothe irritated body tissue,  soothe and protect all the way down from the mouth and throat to the  urinary tract.
DEPURATIVE  Help cleanse waste products and toxins from our body,they work by supporting the natural cleansing functions of the kidneys and liver;   and also increase tissue blood flow and lymph drainage.
DIAPHORETIC  Diaphoretic or sudorific herbs induce involuntary perspiration that helps to reduce fever, cool the body, and speed the elimination of  toxins from the system.
DIGESTIVE  They can have different effects, such as warming the digestive tract, speeding up digestion, reducing gas, relieving constipation, or  nourishing probiotics.
DIURETICStimulate the elimination of fluid, without the depletion of minerals that is a common side effect of prescription drugs.
EMETICcauses emesis, that makes you want to vomit. Sometimes used in cases of emergency poisonings.
EMOLLIENT  Soothe and protect irritated or inflamed skin, moisturize, and help replenish the skin’s natural oils. Emollients are important to those  with serious skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as anyone with dry, irritated or aging skin.
EMMENAGOGUE  Stimulate menstrual flow in women who would normally be having a period. (not pregnant) These herbs can also help to restore a  normal cycle for those with missed or irregular periods (amenorrhea).
EXPECTORANT  Help loosen congestion in the lungs by reducing the thickness of mucus, making coughing more productive and clearing the lungs.  Expectorant herbs are very important in the treatment of coughs, congestion and bronchitis, to the extent that the term is sometimes  incorrectly applied to any cough medicine.
FEBRIFUGE  Also called antipyretic: Herbs that reduce fever are useful in a wide range of conditions including colds and flu and viral infections. Hot   herbal teas should be given in good amounts, and a tepid herbal bath can cool the body as well.
GALACTAGOGUEEstablish and promote the flow of mother’s milk.
HEMATINICImprove the quality of the blood and are useful in the management of anemia.
HEMOSTATICAntihemorrhagic. Coagulant. Stops bleeding. Styptic.
HEPATICHelp support the liver.
HYPERTENSIVECan raise blood pressure.
HYIPOGLYCEMICAct to lower abnormally high blood sugar.
HYPOTENSIVELower blood pressure – relieving hypertension
INMUNOSTIMULANT  Stimulate the immune system. Many of these herbs work slowly over a long period of time to help our bodies naturally fight off  infections, colds and other viral invaders.
LAXATIVEGently relieve constipation.
NERVINEAct as stimulants, relaxants or have a tonic and restorative effect on the central nervous system.
PARTURIENTPromotes and facilitates childbirth.
PSICHODELICThey alter consciousness, the dose determines whether it will serve as a medicine or a poison.
PURGANTIVECleanse the system, have laxative properties.
REFRESHINGQuenches thirst and gives a sensation of freshness or acts as a fever reducer.
RUBEFACIENTSoft skin irritant that stimulate circulation.
SEDATIVECalms nervous excitement and in larger doses leads to sleep.
TONICSupport for the immune system, engergy and vitality.
SIALAGOGUEPromote salivation.
UTERINE TONICPrepare the walls of the uterus for childbirth, they also solve menstrual problems.
VASOCONSTRICTORContract the capillary vessels, fight migraine.
VASODILATORThey open and expand blood vessels.
VERMIFUGUECleanse the body of worms and parasites.
VULNERARYThey are used in emergency situations to treat wounds and cuts


8 Everyday Herbs of the Caribbean