When Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) served in Mexico as the first American minister to that country in 1825, he was so enamored with a plant bearing bright red flowers that he sent numerous stems to his home in the US for propagation.
This plant, the most common of which bears the scientific name E. pulcherrima, became known as Poinsettia, in honor of J. R. Poinsett, and was later acknowledged as the universal symbol of Christmas. Little did he know that this plant, aside from making our Christmas seasons bright, has medicinal and curative benefits as well.
Poinsettia, local herbolarios swear, is a purgative, helps in the treatment of skin diseases, influences milk secretion for lactating mothers, and controls vomiting.
Meanwhile, cactus, collected by green thumbs for its wide variety of shapes and exotic flowers, thorns notwithstanding, has long been considered in Mexico as the “perfect food.” Cactus stems are oozing with phytochemicals that suppress the growth of carcinogenic substances in the body so that our immune system can stand against several types of disease-causing organisms or pathogens.
Cactus helps inhibit osteoarthritis, a defect that slowly and painfully affects the weight-bearing joints of our body. It is also useful in suppressing the macrophages (effector T-lymphocytes) to spread and attack the organ tissues.
Like its cousin sabila, cactus effectively heals wounds, eases inflammation, and makes scars less noticeable. The juice extracted from cactus helps cure diabetes by making the body more sensitive to insulin. And, good news to dieters, cactus juice is good for controlling obesity.
Faced with skyrocketing costs of medicine and health maintenance, people have become neo-believers in the curative and medical potency of the “unsophisticated” herbs, plants, and local trees that abound in our forests, national parks, and, yes, even in our neighbor’s backyard.
Scientific research has come out with findings that positively identify a number of our medicinal plants that are safe to use, effective, and not as expensive as the prescription drugs from pharmaceutical laboratories.
The National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, and the UP Herbarium have come up with a list of medicinal plants and ways to grow and store them after harvesting or processing.
These are lagundi (vitex negundo L.) or five-leaf chaste tree for asthma and cough; yerba buena (Mentha x cordifolia Opiz ex Fresen) or peppermint for muscle pains; sambong (Blumea balsamifera (L.) DC.) or blumea camphor for urinary troubles and as antiurolithiasis; tsaang-gubat (Ehretia microphylla Lam.) for stomach aches; niyug-niyogan (Quisqualis indica L.) or Chinese or ringworm bush for tinea flava and most skin diseases; ulasimang bato (Peperomia pellucida) or pansit-pansitan for abscess, arthritis, neuralgia, pimples, and kidney trouble; bawang (Allium sativum) or garlic for arthritis, cough, insect and dog bites, headache, lowering cholesterol, toothache, wounds, rheumatism, hypertension, and for eradicating worms; and the notoriously bitter ampalaya (Momordica charantia) for anemia, coughs, abnormal menstruation, diabetes, dysentery, fever, skin diseases, skin ulcers, and abortion, and as antiseptic and laxative..
Former Senator Juan M. Flavier has authored RA 8423, also known as the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act (TAMA) of 1997 which created the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC).
The PITAHC is a government-owned and -controlled corporation and is tasked by the Department of Health to encourage scientific research, and promote and advocate the use of traditional alternative healthcare modalities using indigenous natural health resources and other organic products.
Most children know that the secret to good blowing soap bubbles is the sticky liquid from pounded gumamela leaves. Most adults, however, are unaware of the plant’s other medicinal uses: for abscess, boils, bronchitis, dysmenorrhea, eczema, fungal infection, gonorrhea, as an expectorant, and for abortion.
Coconut, aptly called the “tree of life,” is a purgative and is also a good cure for allergies, constipation, diarrhea, and skin ulcers. It retards baldness and prevents dandruff. Buko juice is a proven diuretic and lives up to its tag as the “purest liquid in the world” when used as an alternative dextrose fluid.
Ice-cold avocado drink quenches summer thirst as well as provides a rich source of vitamins. The fruit adds spice to the greens in our salad and a great dip for tacos. So the next time we scoop out the avocado fruit or decoct the leaves, we’re actually curing abnormal menstruation, dysentery, headache, toothache, neuralgia, rheumatism, and inflammation. Avocado is also a delicious astringent to promote a radiant skin.
Our favorite sinigang isn’t sinigang without that sweat-inducing sourness so we flavor the soup with santol, kalamansi, kamias, mangga, sampalok. We make it really hot and spicy with silinglabuyo to warm up those rainy day blues.
The tender leaves of the santol tree aid in childbirth, relieve fever, headache, and stomachache, cure skin disease, and eradicate ringworms.
Okra plant soothes the pain in burns, relieves itchiness and sore throat. Kalamansi leaves revive a person who has had a fainting spell. They are likewise used for coughs and sore throat, relieve itchiness, and are a good wash for sore eyes and freckles.
Kamias leaves cure coughs, hemorrhoids, and act as astringent for pimples. Siling labuyo plant is effective against arthritis, gas pain, stomachache, muscle cramps, and ringworms. Mangga leaves remedy bruises and burns, and cure dermatitis, dysentery, sore throat, and scabies. They are also effective expectorants and worm eradicator.
Kangkong induces vomiting and is used as an emetic in case of accidental poisoning. It is also a potent purgative and cure for ringworm. Alugbati cures anemia, boils, skin ulcers, and hypertension, and is used as a laxative.
Sampalok leaves are used as antiseptic and expectorant. They are also effective in eliminating conjunctivitis and in relieving inflammation. Eggplant leaves are used as antiseptic, in soothing sore throat, and for tinea flava and ringworm. The plant is also used to stop hemorrhage. For hemorrhoid sufferers, eggplant leaves ease the distress of being unable to move.
Luya or ginger provides that extra tang and zing to tinolangmanok. Salabat beverage has been proven to greatly improve the overall tonality of our voice. Ask anyone who’s been in an oratorical or balagtasan. The root of the ginger plant works as an antiseptic, and alleviates rheumatism and joint swelling. Luya is highly recommended for many ailments of the throat like soreness and laryngitis in addition to being an effective yet inexpensive mouthwash.
Malunggay leaves slow down the spread of toxin from dog and snake bites, long enough for you to see a doctor. The plant also relieves the pain of lumbago (backache). It stops hiccups. Aside from curing skin ulcers, perhaps the best known and most popular use of malunggay leaves is to enhance milk supply and production of nursing mothers.
Papaya leaves are great in combating asthma, dysmenorrhea, and inflammation. Skin disorders like corn, freckles, warts, and insect bites are relieved with the use of papaya leaves.
An infusion or a decoction of sampaguita leaves and flowers is a cure for bronchitis and a high-potency eyewash for cataract and conjunctivitis. Kalachuchi lowers fever and malaria symptoms. It is also known to diminish venereal sores.
Adelfa is known to cure insect and snake bites when applied as poultice. It stops recurrent sneezing and treats leprosy and ringworms. The adelfa plant is credited for its ability in containing sexually transmitted disease like herpes. Kalachuchi and adelfa plants are now being considered by local scientists as a possible suppressor of the HIV virus in a universal fight against AIDS.
We don’t have to look very far to avail ourselves of these inexpensive remedies from Mother Nature. Truth is, they’re right under our noses. For instance, the weeds and bushes that we uproot as soon as they become lush and too pesky for comfort.
Kogon treats allergy, wounds, indigestion, kidney trouble, liver ailments, measles, and dermatitis. We may have to give kogon a kindlier look the next time we aim our scythe at the grass. Makahiya is used for asthma and kidney troubles, insomnia, and eczema, and is a potent emetic. Mansanilya, a regular in every herbalist medicine kit, is a cure for abnormal menstruation, abscess, arthritis, boils, bronchitis, colds, cough, and is also an eyewash.
Ikmo (betel leaf), the old folks’ favorite chew, is an antiseptic and carminative. Usually bruised by heating over a live fire, ikmo is applied over an inflamed area of the skin.
Pandan leaves not only add flavor to steamed rice, ginataangmais, and ice cream, they also help ease headache, rheumatism, and are good antiseptic. Sabila helps deter baldness and eliminates dandruff. It is also used in the treatment of beri-beri, boils, bruises, burns, edema, and hemorrhages.
There are many plant specimens indigenous to our forests that have been recently discovered by our botanists that contain specific organic elements that may prove useful for medicinal purposes.
At present, the PITAHC runs four regional herbal processing centers that produce affordable herbal medicines in various dosages and forms (tablets, syrup, decoction, and ointment) consistent with government health standards.
At the rate medicine and healthcare maintenance costs are soaring to a height where we can no longer afford them, cultivating our own botica—in communal plots or in clay pots—may be the appropriate and inexpensive antidote against the high price of maintaining our health.
Photos by Diana Noche
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