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.


Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use during pregnancy.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint 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.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Spanish Sage health benefits: great memory aid

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spanish sage smells like spicy lavender

Spanish sage smells like spicy lavender

The recent news about Gingko biloba is disappointing. In case you missed it, the BBC publicized a recent study by Imperial College, London, testing the effects of Gingko on memory in those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), in comparison with a placebo. These results confirmed a previous study published in New Scientist of August 2002, which concluded “Gingko biloba has no beneficial effect on memory in healthy older people”. This new test shows that it has no measurable effect in those suffering from dementia either.

However, all is not lost. Another study in 2003 has shown that Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia syn. S. lavandulaefolia) does have measurable positive effects on memory retention, and without any side effects.

Spanish sage (also called lavender-leaved sage) is a pretty herb, with smaller leaves than its more common relative garden sage, and pale lavender flowers, which seem to be produced quite profusely. Another close relative is clary sage.

Spanish sage is a hardy evergreen shrub which reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) and spreads over an area of about 50cm (18″). It requires well drained light to medium soil, but is not fussy about pH. It will not grow in shade.

It is easy to grow from seed sown under cover in early Spring, pricked out and potted on until early summer, when it can be hardened off and planted in its final position. It can also be propagated from half ripe cuttings during the growing season.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which can be harvested as required, taking the main crop just before the flowers open and dry or distil for essential oil.

The test results I mentioned earlier were on short term memory, the type of memory which deteriorates most rapidly in AD. Further tests were planned, specifically on patients suffering from AD, but I assume these are ongoing, as I can find no reports of their results. [update: the 2003 study can be found here: Tildesley N.T., Kennedy D.O., Perry E.K., et al (June 2003). “Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers”. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 75 (3): 669–74. PMID 12895685.] Volunteers who took part in the trial were given capsules of either Oil of Spanish Sage or an inactive placebo. The Sage Oil capsules used in the study are manufactured by Power Health Products Ltd of York, UK.

Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, has been used as a brain tonic and memory aid for hundreds of years. John Gerard, a well-known herbalist of his time, wrote about sage in 1597, saying “It is singularly good for the head and brain and quickeneth the nerves and memory”, and Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal of 1652 says “It also heals the memory, warming and quickening the senses”.

Spanish Sage is not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy, or by anyone trying to become pregnant.

Make a standard infusion by using 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) then strain off the herb and discard. Take up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) per day, split into 3 doses.

Spanish sage is antiseptic, astringent, digestive, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic. Use the standard infusion as a brain tonic and to treat digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, menstrual problems, infertility, nervous tension and depression.

I offer Spanish sage oil capsules in my online shop.

All herbs grown for medicinal use should be kept free from chemicals of all kinds, including chemical fertilizers, to avoid adulterating the active ingredients contained within them. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Spanish sage is sometimes used in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding somewhere to buy it. It is used for skin care, respiratory and digestive disorders, depression and stress-related conditions. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years.

As with all essential oils, Spanish sage 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.