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

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.


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 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.


Costa Rica’s Most Magical Plants

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

Sesame health benefits: for hair loss and a herbal sunscreen

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Open Sesame refers to the sudden opening of seed pods when ripe

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sesame, Sesamum indicum but sometimes labeled Sesamum orientale, is a tropical plant which originates from India, although it is found across most of Africa and Asia. It is a tender annual which requires full sun and reaches a height of around 3 feet (1m), bearing yellow, blue or purple flowers in July.

In Britain, it is difficult to grow to maturity, although the variety “90 Day” is more likely to succeed, at least in Southern counties. It may do better under cover. It grows well in Southern United States, and is grown commercially there, principally in Texas, but as it needs moist soil, requires irrigation.

Sesame has a long history of use in Indian medicine, and is regarded as a holy plant representing Vishnu’s consort, Devi. Although we normally see creamy-white seeds on sale in the West, the color can range through to charcoal, which is the color preferred in the Far East. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone who is diagnosed as obese.

Medicinally, the leaves, seed and oil are all used for various purposes.

Mixing the leaves with water produces mucilage which can be used to treat diarrhea and bladder problems, and is safe for infants.

The seed is very rich in nutrients, but unfortunately also in calories. A quarter of a US cup (2 fl oz, 60ml) provides 206 calories, almost 75% of the adult daily requirement of copper, and useful quantities of manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber. In addition sesame seeds contain lignans which act as an antioxidant, lowering cholesterol and  protecting against high blood pressure.

When eaten the seed acts as a diuretic and liver/kidney tonic, promotes milk flow in nursing mothers, and is used to treat premature hair loss, constipation and osteoporosis. Externally, in the form of a poultice (made by crushing the seed and mixing with very hot water, then wrapping in a finely woven cloth), it is used to treat hemorrhoids and external ulcers.

Sesame oil, which is difficult to produce at home but can be purchased in many larger supermarkets and in some Asian grocers, can be used to promote menstruation, as a laxative and externally to treat rough skin and act as a protection against UV light.

I offer dark sesame tahini in my online shop.

Although many gardeners will have difficulty growing this plant, if you decide to do so, it’s important that you use organic methods, so that the intrinsic properties are not destroyed by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic sesame visit the Gardenzone.