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.


Lime or Linden health benefits: for colds and coughs

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Lime trees are often grown in cities and towns

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Lime or linden is a group of trees which mostly have the same properties. The ones I’m dealing with here are: the common lime (European lime or European linden), Tilia x europaea (syn. Tilia intermedia, T. officinarum); the small leaved lime or small leaved linden, Tilia cordata (syn. Tilia microphylla, T. parvifolia, T. ulmifolia); and the large leaved lime or large leaved linden, Tilia platyphyllos (syn. Tilia grandifolia, T. officinarum). Another tree is closely related, but has different properties, the American basswood.

Despite the name, the lime is not related to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia, which originates from the West Indies.

Lime trees are a familiar sight lining the sides of roads across England, as they are fairly resistant to city pollution. The trees are native to Europe (the common lime is a natural hybrid of the other two).

The leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though the description “mucilaginous” doesn’t appeal to me that much. Immature fruit and flowers ground into a paste is supposed to make a chocolate substitute, but it has to be used straight away as it goes off quickly.

The part used medicinally is the flowers, which can be used fresh or dried. It is worth pointing out that these should not be collected from the highway, as apart from the danger of passing traffic, the flowers will have been polluted by the fumes. If you wish to use them, pick flowers from trees in an area well away from the road, as in a back yard or in the middle of a large park not crossed by roads.

It is said that older flowers may produce a narcotic effect, but as they have to get old in the course of being dried, this is probably not something to worry about overmuch. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you intend to drive or operate machinery after using this remedy.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of dried flowers or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Stand for 15-120 minutes before straining off the herb and discarding. The dosage is up to 1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Make an oil maceration by filling a jar with flowers, covering with light olive oil and adding 1 tablespoon of spirit vinegar (not malt vinegar). Seal tightly and place on a sunny windowsill. Shake the bottle well every day for 2-3 weeks, and then strain off the herb and discard (use a cloth inside the strainer, so you can squeeze out as much of the oil as possible).

Use a standard infusion internally to treat anxiety-induced indigestion or vomiting, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disorders, catarrh (congestion of the nasal passages), feverish colds, dry stubborn coughs, headache, hypertension, influenza, migraine and urinary infections, to calm nerves and promote restful sleep.

Externally it can also be used as a lotion to condition the hair and scalp. An oil maceration can also be used for this purpose. A charcoal made from lime wood has been used internally for digestive disorders and externally in powder form as a treatment for burns and sore skin.

Tilia platyphyllos flowers can also be used as a vasodilator.

As lime/linden is a full size tree, you are unlikely to be growing it from scratch for use in remedies. If you have one in your garden that you wish to use remedially, please avoid treating it with anything not organic, to avoid contamination of your remedies with foreign chemicals.


Woad health benefits: for food poisoning and influenza

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Woad was used by ancient Britons for tattoo art

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Woad, Isatis tinctoria (syn. Isatis canescens or I. indigotica), is also sometimes called asp of Jerusalem, dyer’s woad or Marlahan mustard. In China, the plant is extensively used for medicine, and each part has a different name: the leaves are called da qing ye, the roots ban lang gen and the pigment qing dai.

You may also occasionally come across the name glastum, which was one of the names used by the ancient Romans. Glastonbury is in an area once known for its woad.

At the time of the Roman invasion, Britons used woad to tattoo blue patterns on themselves, which made them appear fearsome in battle (which is why the Romans called them Picti, which means “painted men”). It can also be used to make a blue dye using alum and potash as mordant. The woad dye-production industry continued in Europe from at least the 10th century until the beginning of the 20th century when synthetic dyes became available.

Woad is a class A noxious weed in parts of the USA. It is a biennial or short lived perennial with a taproot which makes it difficult to eradicate. A native of Central and Southern Europe, it is naturalized in many parts of the UK and across much of the USA. It prefers rich neutral to alkaline (even very alkaline) soil which is well drained, and will not grow in full shade. As the plant depletes the soil, it needs to be planted in a new place every couple of years to maintain a good supply. It’s a member of the cabbage family (which is susceptible to clubroot), so should not be preceded or followed by other members of the same family.

Harvest in the summer, preferably before it flowers to avoid self-sowing, and dry in a cool airy place out of the sun before storing in an airtight colored container. If you wish to use the pigment, this can be extracted from fresh leaves following the instructions given here.

To make a standard infusion use 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours), then strain off the herb and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of chopped root to 600ml (2.5 US cup, 1 UK pint) of cold water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain off the herb and discard. Dosage in either case is up to 1 cup, split into 3 doses.

The leaves have antibacterial, anticancer and antiviral properties, the root is antibacterial and anticancer. Use a standard infusion of leaves to treat viruses and bacterial infections including encephalitis, erysipelas, heat rash, influenza, meningitis and mumps. Use a root decoction to treat fevers, respiratory inflammation in influenza and meningitis, acute infectious diseases including diptheria, dysentery, food poisoning (E.coli and salmonella), streptococcus, typhoid and paratyphoid. The pigment can be used externally as a plaster for inflammation and to staunch bleeding.

Those Picts must have been healthy!

As with all herbs used in remedies, you should grow woad organically to ensure that its active constituents are not masked or etirely eliminated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic woad visit the Gardenzone.


Goldenrod health benefits: for candida and cystitis

European goldenrod is a useful anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal herb

European goldenrod is a useful anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal herb

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea (not to be confused with S. virgaurea asiatica, which is an old name for S. japonica, a species of little medicinal value), is also known as Aaron’s rod, Blue Mountain tea, European goldenrod, wound weed and woundwort. The latin name is sometimes mistakenly cited as a synonym for Solidago canadensis (the Canada goldenrod), which is incorrect. It is the most medicinally active of the goldenrod genus, which also includes the sweet goldenrod native to the USA and the Canada goldenrod, both of which are sometimes called just goldenrod, amongst others. It is not related to rose root (also sometimes called Aaron’s rod), tea (Camellia sinensis) or to lambs’ ears (also sometimes called woundwort).

Goldenrod is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2 feet (60cm). It will grow in any soil, even heavy clay, but will not survive in full shade. It is propagated by seed sown in Spring or division in Spring or Fall.

Make a standard infusion using 30g (1 ounce) of flowering tops to 480ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) boiling water, leaving it to stand for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) before straining for use. The dosage is up to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) a day, split into 3 doses. It can be used internally as an anti-fungal, which works well with candida and both vaginal and oral thrush, as an anti-inflammatory, for urinary tract disorders including cystitis, nephritis, stones in kidney or bladder, and for nasal congestion, whooping cough and influenza. Goldenrod is a safe treatment for diarrhea in children. Externally it is a useful wound herb, acting both to staunch bleeding and disinfect the wound, and can also be used for skin infections, as well as treating thrush by douche or mouthwash as appropriate.

If you’re a regular reader, you will not be surprised that I recommend that goldenrod is grown organically to avoid corruption of its active constituents. To find out more about growing organic goldenrod visit the Gardenzone.