Guest Post: Top 5 Medicinal Herbs in Costa Rica

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.

Lippia alba. Photo by Dianakc

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.

Satureja viminea. Photo by TopTropicals.com

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.

Justicia pectoralis. Photo by Scott Zona from Miami, Florida, USA

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.

Costus spicatus. Photo by Joan Simon from Barcelona, España

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.

Piper auritum. Photo by Jim Conrad

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:
http://tropical.theferns.info/
http://www.cabi.org/isc/
http://www.guanacastecostarica.com/medicinal_plants.html

Costa Rica’s Most Magical Plants

Please note that publication of guest posts does not imply endorsement.


Apple health benefits: they really do keep the doctor at bay

Apples come in many varieties

Apples come in many varieties

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve decided to start a series of fruits that are useful medicinally.

Today’s fruit is the apple, Malus domestica, which is a cultivated hybrid. If you find a true apple growing wild, it’s almost certainly an escape.

There are many other Malus species, but the star of them all from a medicinal (and edibility) viewpoint is the apple.

Apples grow on trees, as everybody knows, but these don’t have to be enormous. There are a large number of rootstocks on which apples are grafted to control their eventual size, so if you want to grow a small standard tree, choose one of the dwarfing rootstocks, such as M27 or M26. This will restrict the height to 1-2m or 2-3m respectively. A larger tree can be grown on MM106 or M25. The latter will produce a large vigorous tree which may be difficult to crop.

If you only have a small area available, you can also buy trees prepared for growing in containers or alternatively use a cordon, which is a single stem with no lateral branches (small branches grow each year, produce a crop and are then removed). The yield from a cordon or a containerized plant is less than you would expect from a larger tree, but most people have difficulty coping with a large crop of apples in any case. Using cordons is a great way to grow a large variety of top fruit in a small garden. You can even grow them as a “stepover” or to provide a fence-like division between one part of the garden and another.

Make sure you talk to your supplier to ensure that you have a pollinator nearby – most apples are not self-fertile, so if there isn’t another suitable tree nearby to act as “dad”, you won’t get any apples at all. A crabapple will generally do for this, but it has to be in flower around the same time as the variety you are growing, or it will be no use at all. Some trees are so picky they need two pollinators! You may wish to grow 2 or 3 different compatible apples to ensure a good crop.

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples are not useful medicinally

Crabapples or crab apples (left), which come in many types, are a different species. Malus pumila nervosa is the true crabapple, but there are various others including Malus angustifolia, M. baccata, M. coronaria, M. floribunda, M. fusca and M. sylvestris. Unfortunately, the crabapple has no documented medicinal purposes, though I’m sure some of your grandparents will testify to its efficacy as a laxative! It is one of the nine sacred herbs of Wicca.

Apple trees are deciduous and are not fussy as to soil, so long as it is moist. They will grow happily in the open or in light woodland. If growing in open ground, keep a circle at least 1 meter in diameter around the trunk clear of grass and weeds for best results.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a well known proverb which carries a lot of truth. A medium sized apple eaten with the skin gives 17% of required fiber, 14% vitamin C, 2% vitamin A and 1% each of calcium and iron (based on the US RDA for an adult on a 2,000 calorie diet).

Apple juice is a popular drink, but should not be taken to excess, as even unsweetened types are high in sugar (most apple juice also contains added sugar), which may lead to weight gain. A whole apple contains useful fiber, which is mostly removed in the juicing process.

Apple wine which is at least 2 years old was recommended as a cure-all by Galen in the second century. I’m not sure what the difference between apple wine and cider is, if any, but either way I advise not drinking it in large quantities. Apple vinegar has a similar reputation in modern times, especially for weight loss.

Bark infusion: Put 30g (1 ounce) of chopped bark or root bark into a warmed pot, pour over 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water, allow to infuse for 20 minutes, then strain off bark and discard. Dosage is one third of a cup up to 3 times a day.

Apple peel infusion: Use 1-2 tsp dried apple peel to each 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water and prepare in the same way as a bark infusion. Drink a cup as required.

An infusion of bark (especially root bark) can be used as a vermifuge for intestinal parasites, to cool abnormal body heat, induce sleep and to treat nauseous fevers.

The leaves contain phloretin, an antibacterial substance which inhibits the growth of some gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, even at very low concentrations.

The seeds contain hydrogen cyanide which in small quantities stimulates respiration and improves digestion, and may be useful in the treatment of cancer. Large quantities of hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure and death.

The fruit is both astringent (reduces any bodily secretion) and laxative. Ripe raw apples are very easy to digest and combat stomach acidity. Eating an apple raw cleans both the teeth and the gums. Grated unripe apple on a fasting stomach is a good treatment for diarrhea.

Dried apple peel can be used in a standard infusion to treat rheumatic conditions.

The recommended dose of cider vinegar for weight loss and as a general tonic is 2 teaspoons cider vinegar to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) cold water, sipped slowly throughout the day. Earth Clinic also recommend it for treating acid reflux, cough, bronchitis and sore throat using 2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) 3 times a day. Both of these taste pretty sour, so unless you’re using it for weight loss, I recommend stirring in a teaspoon or 2 of honey to take the edge off.

I offer organic apple cider vinegar and apple cider vinegar 150mg Tablets in my online shop.

This varied list of applications puts apple among the most useful home remedies. If you can spare a small space for a couple of containerized plants or cordons, it’s definitely worth it.

Apple is not used in aromatherapy, though the fruit and the blossom are both often used in perfumery.

As I always say, try to avoid using chemicals on any plant intended for medicinal use, so as to avoid them ending up in your remedy. Some chemicals may also interfere with the remedy’s properties. For more information on growing organic apples visit the Gardenzone.


Stevia health benefits: to regulate blood sugar levels

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Stevia is a frost tender annual

Stevia is a frost tender annual

The herb known as stevia, Stevia rebaudiana (syn. Eupatorium rebaudianum), is actually only one species in the genus Stevia, many of which also have similar sweetening capabilities. However, S. rebaudiana is the plant commonly referred to as stevia, and the one that I’m covering in this post. Other names by which it is known include candy leaf, sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf.

Stevia is a native of Brazil and Paraguay, and is cultivated elsewhere. It is a half hardy annual (cannot survive temperatures below 20ºF, -7ºC) which reaches a height of around 50cm (20″). It is best sown under cover in temperate areas, pricking out, potting on, hardening off and transplanting like any other half hardy annual. Extra protection from fleece or cloches may be helpful at the beginning of the season if the weather is poor. Stevia is not fussy as to pH and tolerates poor soil well, but prefers light to medium soil. It must be kept moist and will not grow in shade. Leaves should be harvested when the plants come into flower and dried for future use.

Once dried, the leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener. Be cautious with it until you are used to it, as it is around 15-30 times as sweet as sugar. This must be a lot easier to deal with than commercial powdered stevia, though, which is based on a refined product 300 times as sweet as sugar! In my view the commercial product is not suitable for use in a weight loss diet because it is often blended with maltodextrin (mostly made by processing GMO corn) which is high in fructose, itself strongly associated with obesity.

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Paraguay exports a large part of its stevia crop

Stevia has been used in its native habitat for hundreds of years both medicinally and as a sweetener, and for the past 30 years in Japan where it is used in place of aspartame, which is banned in Japan and in my view [aspartame] should be banned everywhere. Studies have shown that stevia has no damaging effects in the body.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are usually dried and can be used to sweeten beverages or food. Research has shown that it is useful for regulating blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, fighting tooth decay and gum disease, and as a craving suppressant. It is particularly useful for anyone suffering from obesity as it provides sweetness without calories, and for diabetics because it does not raise blood sugar levels, possibly improves glucose tolerance and acts as a pancreatic tonic.

Stevia is not used in aromatherapy.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, organic growing methods are preferred to avoid corrupting the essential components which provide the healing with foreign, and potentially toxic chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Stevia has been used by the Guarani Paî Tavytera and Kaiowa people for thousands of years.