With the cost of healthcare increasing, medical tourism is on the rise. It is now a well-known fact that Costa Rica is a medical-treatment destination for many people from the USA, Canada and beyond.
However, what is less well-known, is that Costa Rica has many indigenous herbs and plants that provide medicinal qualities. This natural side of Costa Rica medicine is often overlooked. It provides a perfect balance to the modern high-tech medical facilities in the country.
Let us take a look at the top 5 medicinal herbs in Costa Rica, and get a better understanding of the power of nature’s healthcare system.
1. Lippia alba
The common name of this plant is juanilama [ed: it is closely related to lemon verbena]. It is a short shrub-like plant with small purple or white flowers. It has a brown stem which produces light green serrated leaves.
Juanilama is very common across all of Costa Rica and has been used by Costa Ricans as an herbal medicine for hundreds of years. It is best taken as a tea, which can be prepared by placing the leaves and stems of the plant in boiling water.
It is said to aid digestion, depression and arthritis, and can also be used as a remedy for influenza. It is sometimes used in an herbal bath to cure fevers and stomach pain.
2. Satureja viminea
Also known as a Jamaican Mint Tree, this bush-like plant is found across Costa Rica. [ed: It is closely related to Summer savory, Winter savory, common calamint, lesser calamint, Alpine calamint, showy calamint and basil thyme] Its leaves are small and oval-shaped, and this lime green foliage has a very strong spearmint taste.
The leaves contain menthol oil which can aid in many ways – such as fighting bacteria, calming nerves and helping digestion. It is also used in mouth washes to help prevent cavities in teeth.
The well-known brand, Kama Sutra Luxury Mint Tree Bath Gel and Body Wash, is made from this plant.
3. Justicia pectoralis
Also known as Carpenter’s Bush, this plant is grown in Costa Rica at lower levels in fields and gardens. It can reach between 15 – 200 cm in height and has small purple flowers with light-green oval leaves.
For medicinal use, the plant is often used as an antiemetic. In other words, it is effective against nausea and vomiting – often used to cure motion sickness.
It can be used as an infusion to treat headaches, influenza, whooping cough and fever. There is even evidence of it being used on the scalp to treat hair loss.
4. Costus spicatus
This plant is more commonly known as Spiked Spiralflag Ginger [ed: It is closely related to Crepe Ginger]. It has a distinctive look with flowers which emerge from a tall red cone. Under the cone, there are large green leaves.
The seeds, fruits, leaves and rhizomes can all be used for medicinal purposes. It is most frequently used as a diuretic (commonly known as water pills).
However, it can also be used as an anti-inflammatory, stimulant, anthelmintic and antiseptic.
5. Piper auritum
This plant is known locally in Costa Rica as Hoja Santa (Sacred Leaf). It is a large plant with heart-shaped leaves that can grow up to 2 meters in height. This plant can grow very quickly, and in a native forest can quickly form large thickets with a dense canopy.
The large leaves can be crushed and applied to the skin to relieve the discomfort of skin irritations, bites and wounds.
It is also commonly infused as a tea for pain relief and to ease bronchial conditions.
So, as you can see, Costa Rica has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to natural medicinal herbs.
You may think that this country has moved away from its traditional roots. That it is now simply concerned with providing cheap medical solutions to people from other countries.
But, if you look a bit closer, you will find Costa Rica has a long tradition of using nature for medicinal purposes. And that these are still important and useful today.
About the Author
Paul Taylor is a contributor to welovecostarica.com. He loves traveling off the beaten track and exploring the less well-known parts of a country. That is, when he remembers to take his passport to the airport.