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


Chia seeds health benefits: a superfood worthy of the name

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

Chia seeds are a star among superfoods

The chia plant (sometimes Mexican chia), Salvia hispanica, is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was one of the staples eaten by ancient Aztecs. It is related to sage, clary sage and Spanish sage.

Chia is an annual plant which reaches a height of around 1m (3′), but is frost tender. However, as it flowers in July and August, the seed crop can easily be harvested before frost strikes. It prefers well drained, light to medium rich soil and a sunny position. Sow under cover in March-April, prick out and pot on as necessary, then plant in their final position in late Spring/early Summer. You can also sow direct, but may not achieve a mature crop if the Summer is poor.

Chia seeds can be different colours, depending on variety, ranging from off white through various shades of brown to black. They are shaped like miniature pinto beans, but only about 1mm in diameter.

Chia is a good plant for attracting bees, and is apparently unpopular with deer, which may be useful in areas close to forests.

Chia seeds are usually mixed with water to make a jelly, and once gelled added to fruit juice. You could also use them to make a pudding. Sprouting the seeds is difficult, due to the gel, but you can use a porous clay base to achieve this with some experimentation. Sprouted seeds can be eaten like other sprouts in salad, sandwiches, and added to breakfast cereal and recipes. A teaspoon of chia seeds mixed into orange juice and allowed to soak for 10 minutes will produce a refreshing drink that will stop you feeling hungry for several hours. You can also grind the seeds and mix with other flours for bread, biscuits and other baked goods. Chia seed is of course gluten free, since it is not a member of the Gramineae/Poaceae family.

Chia seed nutrition tableA well known superfood, chia seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (see table). On top of this, 100g chia seed provides 91% of the adult recommended daily intake of fibre. Most amazing is the 17.5g Omega-3 oil and 5.8g Omega-6 oil per 100g, which along with the other nutrients makes it a true star.

The high antioxidant content from vitamins A, C and E plus selenium, ferulic acid, caffeic acid and quercetin helps to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. The high niacin content (almost twice that of sesame seeds) gives it the property of helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and enhancing GABA activity in the brain, reducing anxiety.

Chia seed has a good level of potassium, very much higher than its sodium content. Potassium helps to counteract the bad effects of sodium in the body and is involved in regulating fluid levels and enhancing muscle strength.

It has to be said that chia is probably one of the better candidates for the label “superfood”.

A chia leaf infusion made with just a few chopped leaves to a cup of boiling water is used to provide pain relief for arthritis, sore throat and mouth ulcers, for respiratory problems, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is also helpful for relieving hot flushes during the menopause. Chia seed can be chewed to help relieve flatulence (“gas” or “wind“).

I offer a wide range of chia seed and products in my online store.

If you decide to grow your own chia seed, please remember that for safety’s sake it’s best to use organic methods, to avoid high concentrations of nasty chemicals ending up in your stomach. To find out more about organic gardening visit the Gardenzone.


Cotton herb health benefits: for women’s problems and a men’s contraceptive

Popular with women in the know for much more than cosmetic use

Popular with women in the know for much more than cosmetic use

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cotton (also called American cotton, American upland cotton, Bourbon cotton, upland cotton and lu di mian), scientifically Gossypium hirsutum syn. G. jamaicense, G. lanceolatum, G. mexicanum, G. morrillii, G. palmeri, G. punctatum, G. purpurascens, G. religiosum, G. schottii, G. taitense and G. tridens, is a tender annual which can reach a height of 1.5m (5′). It requires a sunny position and rich, well-cultivated acid to neutral soil.

Some cultivars require 2-3 months dormancy before sowing. All types need a growing season of at least 180-200 days at around 21ºC (70ºF) and will not survive frost. Sow seed in Spring 2.5cm (1″) deep at a minimum temperature of 18ºC (65ºF). Cotton will be ready to pick 24-27 weeks after sowing. The seeds should be removed for medicinal use, sowing or storage. The roots should be dug up after the cotton has been collected, the bark pared off and dried for later use, and the remainder discarded.

NB: Not suitable for use during pregnancy except during labor. Only for use by professional herbal practitioners.

Make a decoction using 1 tsp dried root bark to 750ml (3 US cups, 24 fl oz) water boiled in a covered container for 30 minutes. The dosage is 250-500ml (1-2 US cups, 8-16 fl oz) per day, taken cold (sip it, don’t drink it all down in one go).

The decoction has been used by women at almost every stage of their reproductive life to induce periods (emmenagogue), for painful periods (dysmenorrhea), irregular periods, as a birthing aid (used by the Alabama and Koasati tribes to relieve labor pain), to expel the afterbirth, increase milk production (galactagogue) and for menopausal problems. Other uses include constipation, coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, nausea, urethritis, fever, gonorrhea, headache, hemorrhage and general pain relief.

It contains gossypol, which at low doses acts as a male contraceptive (see next paragraph), a fact which was discovered because Chinese peasants in Jiangxi province used cottonseed oil for cooking — and had no children.

Cotton seed extract (gossypol) is used as a male contraceptive in China. A study followed 15 men who took gossypol 15mg/day for 12 weeks and 10mg/day for 32 weeks. The outcomes showed a 92% infertility rate from low dose gossypol, reversible after discontinuation of treatment.

Cotton seed cake is often used for animal fodder. However, because of the gossypol content long-term feeding may lead to poisoning and death, and will definitely reduce fertility.

Oil extracted from cotton seed is used in the manufacture of soap, margarine and cooking oil. Fuzz not removed in ginning is used in felt, upholstery, wicks, carpets, surgical cotton and for many other purposes.

Aromatherapy

Cotton aromatherapy oil is difficult to find. Don’t confuse this with ‘clean cotton’ or ‘fine cotton’ fragrance oils. Check the latin name. Even if you do find it, the uses are unknown – unless you know better (if so, please contact me).

NB: Cotton essential oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy, or by children under 12 years or anyone suffering from epilepsy or high blood pressure. Never use it undiluted (dilute 3 drops to 10ml carrier oil). It is a photosensitizer (makes skin sensitive to sunlight).

As with all essential oils, cotton essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

As I always point out, any herb intended for medicinal use including cotton should be grown organically to avoid foreign chemicals from destroying or masking the important constituents which make it work. Organic gardening is the subject of my sister site The Gardenzone, if you need help with this.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Herbs from Native American Medicine”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to get your own copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to .


Sweet Flag health benefits: for anorexia, pain and to stop smoking

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag has strange flowers

Sweet flag, Acorus calamus, is also known by many other names, including calamus, calamus root, flag root, muskrat root, myrtle flag, rat root, sweet calomel, sweet rush and sweet sedge. It is found growing all over the world, though it is believed to have originated in Asia. It is not related to the blue flag, bog myrtle, common myrtle, lemon myrtle or allspice (sometimes called myrtle pepper).

Sweet flag is a hardy perennial which reaches a height and spread of 1m (3 feet). It grows in wet soil or in water. Type of soil is not important, but the plant will not grow in full shade. It can be propagated from seed, which should be surface sown onto moist or wet soil as soon as the seeds are available and not allowed to dry out. Once plants are big enough to handle they can be moved to a sheltered area, but must be kept moist or wet at all times until they are transplanted to their final position, on the edge or in the margins of a pond, where the soil is always moist or even flooded.

The American poet Walt Whitman wrote 39 poems about the sweet flag, known as the Calamus poems, in his book Leaves of Grass, and it was also a favorite of the naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

Sweet flag is the favorite food of the American musk rat and perhaps because of this, as well as its use in medicine, native Americans planted it everywhere they went. It’s now found across North America in water close to former native American settlements, camping areas and trails.

Blue flag is unrelated to sweet flag, and POISONOUSTake care not to confuse this plant with the poisonous blue flag, left (sometimes called poison flag), a species of Iris which grows in the same habitat. If either plant is in flower, this is easy to achieve, but otherwise you can tell them apart by fragrance. Sweet flag has a pleasant, sweet fragrance, whereas blue flag does not. If there is any doubt, it is wise not to harvest the plant, as an error may prove fatal. However, if you are able to grow sweet flag, this difficulty can be avoided (so long as you don’t also grow its poisonous namesake).

Acorus calamus and derivatives, as well as products containing them, were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1968 for use in food or food supplements offered for sale. The reason given relates to tests done on rats fed with large quantities of an extract (beta-asarone) of the tetraploid form of the plant (found in East Asia, India and Japan), which is not found in the diploid and triploid forms which grow in Europe and North America (even though beta-asarone is not found in European and North American plants). For this reason, the essential oil (which is a highly concentrated extract) is not recommended for medicinal use, because it may be dangerous. It’s possible that the real reason for this ban is the plant’s hallucinogenic properties. The 60s were a time when natural hallucinogens were popular for recreational purposes, much to the annoyance of Western governments.

There is no regulation prohibiting personal use of sweet flag in the US. There may be regulations in other countries, so it is best to check the law in the country where you live.

The part used in herbal medicine is the rhizome (an underground stem, often mistakenly called a root), which should be harvested in late fall or early spring when plants are no more than 3 years old and used immediately or dried for later use. Other parts may be used in the kitchen – the leaves to flavor custard (by immersion in the milk while it is heating, removed before serving), young leaves can be cooked, and the peeled stems used uncooked in salad. Young flowers are sweet, and can also be eaten uncooked.

Don’t store dried roots for more than a few months, as they deteriorate quickly.

Sweet flag is an amazingly versatile addition to the herbal medicine cabinet. However, it is definitely not suitable for use during pregnancy, as it may cause miscarriage.

Historically, sweet flag has been used all over the world for many different purposes. It was listed in the US National Formulary for medicinal use on humans until 1950. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat deafness, dizziness and epilepsy. In Ayurvedic medicine it is valued as a rejuvenator for the brain and nervous system, and as a remedy for digestive disorders. The Dakotas used it to treat diabetes.

If you’ve never used sweet flag before, start with a low dose. If this does not work, increase the dose but don’t overdo it. Taking too large a dose can cause nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. Do not use sweet flag for a long period. Alternate with other remedies for longstanding conditions.

The most common way of using sweet flag is by chewing it; a normal dose is about 5cm (2 inches). Normally, you chew it without swallowing until you feel you’ve had enough (this may sound a bit hit and miss, but isn’t unusual with folk remedies, which are generally milder than the chemicals used in conventional medicine). Try not to swallow the chewed root, as it may cause a stomach upset. Dispose of the chewed root in the trash.

You can also make a standard infusion using 1 tsp of dried rhizome to 120ml (half US cup, 4 fl oz) boiling water, leaving it to steep for 5 minutes before straining for use. A decoction can be made by adding 1 tbsp of dried rhizome to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) cold water, bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then strain. The dosage for the standard infusion or decoction is up to 240ml/1 cup a day, split into 3 doses.

Another way to use it is as a herbal bath: add 450gm (1lb) of dried rhizome to 5 litres (5 US quarts, 1 UK gallon) of cold water, bring to a boil and turn off the heat, steep for 5 minutes, strain off the herb and throw away, then add the liquid to the bath water. Check that the bath water has not been made too hot by the addition of such a large quantity of very hot water before getting in!

There are so many uses, I’ve split them up as follows:

Anodyne:
soothes and relieves pain (mainly toothache, sore gums and sore throat).
Anti-smoking:
chew the rhizome to kill the taste for tobacco (may induce nausea)
Aphrodisiac:
Arabic, Ancient Roman and traditional European herbals recommend it as an aphrodisiac which increases sexual desire. The traditional treatment for this purpose is a herbal bath.
Appetizer:
stimulates and restores the appetite, recommended in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
Aromatic:
stimulant and mild tonic, especially useful when you don’t feel you have enough energy to finish a job which must be completed before you can rest.
Carminative:
expels excessive gas (and reduces its production) and relaxes the bowel, useful for digestive problems such as flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), bloating and colic.
Diaphoretic:
promotes perspiration.
Emmenagogue:
promotes menstruation.
Expectorant:
promotes flow of mucus from respiratory passages and makes tickly coughs productive. Also relieves sinusitis by acting on the mucous membranes.
Febrifuge:
reduces or eliminates fevers.
Hypotensive:
lowers blood pressure.
Odontalgic:
treats toothache and other tooth and gum problems, chewing the root alleviates toothache.
Stomachic:
remedy for digestive disorders; small doses reduce stomach acidity; larger doses increase stomach secretions. It also stimulates the salivary glands.
Sedative:
has a calming effect and can be used to treat panic and anxiety attacks, or for shock. Chew a piece of the rhizome and breathe slowly and deeply while doing so.
Tonic:
for brain and nervous system to manage neuralgia and epilepsy and treat memory loss.
Vermifuge:
destroys intestinal parasites.

It is also used externally to treat skin eruptions, rheumatic pains and neuralgia.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, it’s important to grow sweet flag organically, and this is particularly the case for herbs which grow in water. If you have fish, then you will probably already be avoiding chemicals in the water, but in any case if you have trouble with algae, it’s important that you find an organic treatment, because chemicals will find their way into the plants and dilute or entirely eliminate the active constituents.To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Do not use the essential oil except under medical supervision and advice. As with all essential oils, sweet flag essential oil should also never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Primrose health benefits: for pain relief

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Primrose is good for gout pain

Primrose is good for gout pain

The common or wild primrose (sometimes English primrose), Primula vulgaris (sometimes labeled Primula acaulis), is closely related to the cowslip, and a lot tougher than it looks – it will cope with almost anything except full shade, even salt spray from the sea. It’s a perennial, and native to Western Europe from Sweden in the North to Africa in the South.

Primrose was once a useful pot herb, used in salads or cooked as a vegetable. Leaves and flowers were used for tea as well as garnish, or sometimes the flowers were crystallized. Most of these uses have become rare, just as the plant has in the wild in many parts. It’s a good garden plant, though, as it flowers in early to late Spring, the first appearing when little else is blooming.

Primrose is not suitable for use as a remedy during pregnancy, or by anyone with a sensitivity to aspirin, or anybody on anti-coagulants such as Warfarin.

Primrose can be used for most of the same uses as cowslip. Use a standard infusion from leaves and flowers for pain relief, particularly effective for gout, cramps and spasms, as well as headache. It can also be used cold as an astringent. A decoction of roots is supposed to be good for “nervous headache” and the leaves themselves can be used to make an ointment for the treatment of small cuts and grazes.

To make an infusion, take 2-3 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried herb and add a cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, strain and sip slowly. To make a decoction, take about an ounce of dried root and put in a pan, adding a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain and use or bottle.

As with all remedial herbs, it’s vital that primroses should be grown organically so as to avoid them being contaminated with toxic substances. To find out more about growing organic primroses, visit the Gardenzone.


Cowslip health benefits: for COPD

The cowslip is one of the prettier wild plants

The cowslip is one of the prettier wild plants

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cowslips, Primula veris, have a number of other names, including mayflower, herb Peter, (wild) primula and fairywort. Cowslips are closely related to primroses. The word “cowslip” comes from Old English cu-slyppe, meaning cow dung, which probably reflects the places in which it was found. Despite the original meaning of its name, the cowslip is often called the herald of Spring, because it is one of the earliest Spring flowers to appear.

Cowslip as a remedy has quite a long list of exclusions. It is not suitable during pregnancy. It is not suitable for anyone taking Warfarin or other anticoagulants (drugs which thin the blood). It is not suitable for anybody who is sensitive to Aspirin (salycylates). So long as you or the intended patient does not fall into any of these groups, it’s safe to read on.

Cowslips are becoming quite rare in the wild, so if you intend to use them for herbal medicine, you should grow them in your own garden. Although it’s a perennial, the roots have specific effects which are different to the leaves and flowers, so you may need to grow quite a few! It’s quite easy to propagate, either by sowing in late Summer or by dividing existing stock in late Spring or early Autumn. It prefers dry soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.

Use the flower petals on their own to prevent or relieve spasms or convulsions, and as a sedative useful for treating hyperactivity and sleeplessness in children. They may also be helpful in treating asthma. The flowers and leaves (gathered in Spring, used either fresh or dried) to induce sweating, for pain relief, as an expectorant and diuretic. For all these purposes, make a standard infusion by using 2-3 teaspoonfuls of fresh or 1-2 teaspoonfuls of dried herb to a cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, strain and sip slowly.

The roots (harvested in Spring, can be dried for later use) can be used to treat COPD and catarrh, also to slow blood clotting and as a treatment for rheumatism. To use the roots, make a decoction by putting 30g (half an ounce) of dried root into a small pan containing 570ml (2½ cups, 1 UK pint) of water, bringing to a boil and simmering for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. The dose is one cupful per day.

Infusions and decoctions can be sweetened with honey if preferred.

An oil made from chopped flowers can be used externally to treat bruising.

As you can see, cowslip is an extremely useful herb, but to avoid contamination by chemicals, like all herbal remedies, it’s important that it is grown organically. To find out more about growing organic cowslips, visit the Gardenzone.