Medicines of the Rainforest: Part 3

Rainforest Medicines of Belize


The most renowned plant medicine of Belize is "sorosi", also called "condiamor". This vine is used as a household tonic for the treatment and prevention of parasites and dysentery, and for the treatment of delayed or painful menses. A handful of leaves is boiled in 3 cups of water for 10 minute; the patient then drinks 1 cup of this three times per day for ten days. Bathing in a tea of sorosi is a treatment for ticks or lice. This plant may have some activity against diabetes.

Sorosi, growing as a "weed" in my Florida garden.

Even though extract of this plant is now available commercially in the US, several major studies of it have questioned its safety.



Contribo

Contribo is a fascinating plant if for no other reason than that the huge flower smells like rotting meat. And as you might expect - it is fertilized by a fly! In Belize it is a popular remedy for colds and flu, stomachache, and indigestion. It may be used as a tea, or is frequently seen soaking in rum. One can go into many bars and order a shot. To cure what ails you? This plant contains aristolich acid, a known nephrotoxic agent (it damages the kidneys).



Many plants are selected for medicinal purposes because of the "doctrine of signatures". This is a philosophy that says that the plant may tell you what it is useful for. The bark of the gumbo limbo tree is used as a tea or poultice to treat rashes and snakebite. The joke about this tree from the Florida Keys down through Central America is that it is "the tourist tree" - "because it turns red and peels".

Gumbo limbo.


Give-and-take.

The inner bark of this small palm tree contains chemicals which ease pain and help prevent infection. Because of these properties - and its obvious ability to inflict those problems, it is called the "give-and-take" plant!



The Mexican Yam (the tuberous plant with vines growing out of the top) has long been a source of hormone chemicals (such as diosgenin) for the pharmacuetical industry. Long before that - and to this day - this tuber has been used by indigenous healers to prevent miscarriage and treat infertility. Various methods, including teas and an alcohol extract, are used.

Wild Mexican Yam


Sloth in cecropia tree.

The leaf of the cecropia tree (which is a favorite food of sloths, as seen here) is used in a tea to treat hypertension and diabetes, and as a sedative. This photo was taken in Costa Rica - sloths are no longer found in Belize.



 

Most of us are familiar with the use of ginger as a flavoring agent, but in Belize, and around the world, it is widely used for relief of indigestion, gas pains, stomach ache, and colds. It may also be useful for motion sickness and morning sickness. Generally the root (or rhizome) is boiled to make a tea. The root may simply be chewed as well. For muscle aches a towel is soaked in the hot ginger tea, and this is placed over the sore area, this treatment being repeated up to six times.

Ginger

Ginger is commercially available in fresh, dried, and candied forms.



Aloe vera in my garden.

Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years and in Belize, as elsewhere, it is used as a purgative and for treatment of rashes and wounds. It has been shown to accelerate healing in several studies. It is also used to prevent hair loss! Taken internally in large amounts it may be toxic.



Mexican heather is boiled to make a tea which is used both as a drink and a bath for those with fatigue. The tea is also used in Belize to treat dysentery and infertility.

Mexican heather in my garden.


Lemongrass, in Costa Rica

Lemon grass is grown by may for its medicinal properties. A tea made from lemon grass is used to treat fevers, colds, and coughs. It is also a mild stimulant. Studies have shown extracts of lemon grass to have antibacterial and antifungal properties in the test tube.


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©2000 Dr. Stephen Blythe