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


Mistletoe health benefits: for panic attacks (or kissing under)

European mistletoe is a welcome sight to most, an infestation to others

European mistletoe is a welcome sight to most, an infestation to others

The mistletoe, or to be precise the European mistletoe (Viscum album) is also known as European white-berry mistletoe, common mistletoe, all-heal and masslin. It is not related to other plants called allheal. It is also not closely related to American mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) or dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium pusillum), but all three of them are in the same family.

Mistletoe is sacred to modern Pagans. It is also believed to have been sacred to the Druids, though this may be a Victorian invention. It is hung up at Christmas as a plant to kiss under, though there is no biblical text relating to this; a berry is picked for each kiss.

Mistletoe is an evergreen hemi-parasitic* shrub. 1m (3′) x 1m (3′), It likes to be in full sun or semi-shade and usually grows on trees 20 years old or more, especially apple, hawthorn, lime, oak and poplar. Mistletoe is sacred to modern Pagans. It is also believed to have been sacred to the Druids, though this may be a Victorian invention. It is hung up at Christmas as a plant to kiss under, though there is no biblical text relating to this; a berry is picked for each kiss.
*  partly parasitic, but gets some of its nutrients from other sources apart from the host

Propagation is hit and miss. Obtain ripe berries in late Fall or early Winter, make wounds in the bark on the underside of a strong branch of the tree/s you wish to use and squash the berries into them.

Harvest leaves and young twigs just before the berries form and dry for later use.

Because of the potential side effects, this plant should only be used internally under the guidance of a herbal practitioner.

Do not eat berries or leaves. If 6-20 berries or 4-5 leaves of this plant are eaten, a visit to your local emergency room (casualty) is advised. Possible symptoms of overdose, which appear within 6 hours, are nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure and dizziness. American mistletoe is more toxic; even a single berry or leaf may cause serious symptoms. Ingestion of American mistletoe may cause ataxia or seizure in young children.

NB: Mistletoe is not suitable for use by pregnant or breast-feeding women or children under 12 years. Do not exceed the dose recommended by your practitioner.

Mistletoe is anti-cancer, antispasmodic, diuretic, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), nervine, stimulant and a vasodilator. It is used for anxiety, high blood pressure, cancer of the stomach, lungs and ovaries, convulsions and epilepsy, headaches, internal hemorrhage, palpitations, panic attacks, to improve concentration and promote sleep.

Externally, it is used to treat arthritis, chilblains, rheumatism, leg ulcers and varicose veins.

Approved in Germany for rheumatism.

This is the point where I normally advise you to grow your herbs organically, and this is still the best advice I can give you. However, in this case, there’s not a lot you can do for mistletoe apart from growing the tree it’s sitting on using organic methods. On no account spray mistletoe with any pesticide! Information on organic methods can be found on the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy
A product called mistletoe essential oil is on sale. However, it does not contain any mistletoe but is in fact a blend of essential oils of anise, coriander, fennel, clove, oregano, peppermint and wormwood.

This post is a slightly adapted extract from “Sacred Herbs for Healing”, which is a Kindle book. If you’d like to buy a copy (or borrow it free if you’re an Amazon Prime member) please go to Sacred Herbs for Healing or search for it by putting B00ASMJFR4 in your local Amazon’s search box.


Maidenhair Fern health benefits: for hair loss, coughs and colds

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

The black maidenhair fern likes growing on cliffs

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

There are several maidenhair ferns. The one known in Britain by this name is Adiantum capillus-veneris. It is also called avenca (a name also used for the Northern maidenhair and the fan maidenhair), black maidenhair fern, ladies’ hair, Southern maidenhair, Venus maidenhair and Venus’ hair fern. It is a true fern, even though it bears little resemblance to ferns like bracken. It is not related to ginkgo, sometimes called the maidenhair tree because of a superficial resemblance of the leaves.

The Northern maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The fan maidenhair

The Northern maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum, is also sometimes called the five-fingered fern or rock fern. It’s a much more familiar fernlike shape, as can be seen from the second picture.

The fan maidenhair, Adiantum tenerum, is also called the brittle maidenhair and has leaflets which are very roughly diamond or fan-shaped, quite similar to the black maidenhair, but lighter in colour.

There are many other maidenhair ferns in the genus Adiantum, but the one covered in this post is the black maidenhair fern (top), which is the most useful from a medicinal viewpoint and will be referred to simply as maidenhair fern from now on. It is a small plant, and slow growing, and reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) or a little more, though individual fronds can reach a length of 50cm (20″). These have been used as a garnish for sweet food, and also dried for tea.

Maidenhair fern is found growing wild across many continents, including North and South America, Africa, south eastern Europe and the Ukraine, Nepal and Turkey. Though not listed as a habitat in GRIN Taxonomy, it’s also found in Britain and many other warm temperate and tropical places, including Australia. It likes to grow on cliffs, rocks or in rocky crevices, often by the sea. It requires a semi-shady position and well drained neutral to alkaline soil.

Maidenhair fern is not frost tolerant and prefers a humid atmosphere, but it is often grown as a houseplant. If you choose to do this, stand the pot on a tray of shingle or large gravel, which you can keep topped up with water to provide the humidity it requires.

Both leaves (fronds) and roots (rhizomes) are used. Leaves are best used fresh, but can be dried for later use.

Many ferns contain toxic substances, but there is no record of toxicity relating to the maidenhair fern. However, due to the family history, it may be best for anyone suffering from a life-threatening condition to avoid using it. It is in any case not suitable for use during pregnancy. However, maidenhair fern is one of the oldest recorded herbal remedies, and it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t have noticed if there was a problem, given that it has been used across the planet for thousands of years and is still used in many places today, though rarely in modern Western herbalism.

To make a standard infusion, put 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried into a warmed pot. Pour over about 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Put the lid on and stand for at least 10 minutes up to 4 hours. Strain before use.

To make a decoction, use about 15 grams (a half ounce) of grated rhizome to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water in a small pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Strain before use.

To make a poultice, crush the herb to a paste, adding hot water if necessary. To make the necessary pulp, you can add flour, cornflour or bread, mixing well so that the herbs are evenly distributed. Moisten a bandage in hot water and wring out, then spread the surface with the pulp and apply this to the area to be treated.

The fresh or dried leafy fronds are antibacterial, anticandidal, antidandruff, anti-fertility, antitussive, antiviral, astringent, contraceptive, demulcent, depurative, diuretic, emetic, weakly emmenagogue, emollient, weakly expectorant, febrifuge, galactogogue, hypoglycemic, laxative, pectoral, refrigerant, stimulant, sudorific and tonic.

Research in the 1980s found an anti-fertility (contraceptive) effect in rats; an extract prevented implantation, and thus conception. A 1989 study in Iraq showed that maidenhair fern is effective against E. coli, Staphylococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas and Candida. A French study demonstrated its antiviral properties atainst Vesicular stomatitis. A study in Belgium in 1993 confirmed earlier research which showed that a water extract had an anti-hyperglycemic effect (lowered blood sugar levels).

The tea or syrup is used across the world as a soothing expectorant to treat bronchitis and respiratory disorders in general including colds and asthma. Another use which seems almost universal is as a treatment for hair loss (alopecia) and dandruff. Throat conditions such as laryngitis are also treated with maidenhair fern in many places. It is also used to promote or regulate menstruation, and in Brazil, as a childbirth aid.

A decoction is used in the Peruvian Andes for alopecia, gallstones, and jaundice.

Externally, it is used as a poultice on boils, bee stings, eczema, snake bites, and wounds. A paste made from the leaves is used in Nepal to treat headaches and chest pains by applying it directly to the area; a poultice would seem to be the easiest way to achieve this to avoid a potential mess!

As usual (even though you probably won’t be growing it yourself), if you do have the facilities and decide to grow this plant, avoid chemicals and other non-organic methods, so you can ensure that your remedy is not contaminated. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Tea health benefits: for auto-immune conditions, the heart and tooth decay

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea is helpful for anyone suffering from an autoimmune condition

Tea, which grows as a bush and is cultivated in many parts of the East, is familiar to everyone. The tea plant is sometimes called Assam tea, black tea, China tea and green tea, though these names are usually reserved for the various beverages made from the leaves (which also include sencha, matcha, oolong tea, white tea and pu-erh tea), and often to the processes used in production. The latin name is Camellia sinensis (syn. Camellia bohea, C. thea, C. theifera and Thea sinensis). It is not related to the tea tree.

The tea bush is an evergreen shrub, reaching a height of 13 feet (4m) and spreading over 8 feet wide. However, as it is only the tips which are used, it is usually kept trimmed to a more manageable size.

In common with other Camellias it will not grow in alkaline soil and is virtually allergic to lime and chalk, to such an extent that care must be taken when sourcing water to be used for it. It prefers a semi-shady position on well drained moist soil. It is not very hardy, surviving at temperatures as low as -20ºC (-4ºF) – zone 8 – in its native area, but only down to around -10ºC (-4ºF) elsewhere.

The parts used are the very young leaves and leaf buds of bushes over 3 years old, which can be harvested throughout the growing season and dried for later use. This is called green tea. You can also use good quality commercial green tea, which is readily available.

Green tea is different from other kinds of tea on the market, because the leaves are not fermented during processing. This makes green tea the most natural type of tea, and it is also the one which contains the highest levels of antioxidants (polyphenols) and other constituents.

To make tea using loose leaves, allow 1 teaspoon per person plus “one for the pot” in a pre-warmed teapot. Cover with boiling water and leave to stand for several minutes before use. Many people add milk and sugar, or a slice of lemon to black tea, but green tea is usually served without milk. Do not use artificial sweeteners as these contain noxious chemicals.

Tea is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese herbalism. Studies have shown that regular tea drinking protects against heart disease and also tooth decay! Use internally to treat diarrhea, amebic and bacterial dysentery, hepatitis and gastro-enteritis, as a diuretic, stimulant and heart tonic. You can use the leaves or teabags as a poultice to treat cuts, burns, bruises, insect bites, swellings, tired eyes etc. Cold tea can be used as a wash for the same purposes and for sunburn.

There have been many studies into the properties of green tea, and these indicate that green tea is effective against auto-immune conditions including ALS (Lou Gehrig`s disease), cancer and heart disease. Anybody suffering from an auto-immune condition (which includes many chronic diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as more serious problems) would probably find that drinking 2-4 cups of green tea a day will help. It certainly can’t hurt!

I offer many types of tea, including supplements in my online shop.

If you wish to grow it yourself for herbal use do ensure that you follow organic methods to avoid the corruption of its intrinsic components by foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.


Alfalfa health benefits: to stimulate appetite and lower cholesterol

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Alfalfa flowers can be yellow, light or dark violet

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is also known as buffalo grass, lucerne, lucerne grass and purple medic. There are also a number of subspecies which all have common names on a lucerne/alfalfa/medic theme. It’s in the same family as melilot (sometimes called sweet lucerne), but they are not closely related.

Alfalfa is a perennial which reaches a height of around 3 feet (1 meter), a member of the family Papilionaceae (or Leguminosae), all of which have the ability to extract nitrogen from the air. Because of this, it is often used as a green manure. It also makes a good forage crop, its nitrogen fixing giving it the ability to grow on poor soils. Although it requires good drainage it is otherwise not fussy about situation and tolerates drought, though in common with most other green plants it will not grow in full shade.

Researchers have found that alfalfa should not be eaten or used in herbal medicine by anyone who has suffered from lupus (SLE) at any time, even if currently dormant. Not for use by anyone with any other auto immune disease (this includes some you may not realize, such as asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and more). Not suitable for use during pregnancy or by anyone trying to conceive. Even those who are healthy should not eat large amounts as it can cause liver problems and photosensitization.

Alfalfa is usually considered a salad vegetable, in the form of alfalfa sprouts, but it has many medicinal properties.

To make a standard infusion use 3 handfuls of fresh herb or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

To make a decoction use 30g (1 ounce) of fresh root or 15g (a half ounce) dried root to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) of cold water in a non-aluminum pan. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and reduce to half the quantity, then strain off the alfalfa and discard.

The standard infusion is oxytocic (promotes uterine contractions) and has an estrogenic action useful for fibroids, menopausal complaints and pre-menstrual tension. It can also be used to treat anemia and jaundice, to lower cholesterol, stop bleeding/hemorrhage, promote weight gain and as an appetite stimulant, an aid to convalescence, a diuretic, gentle laxative, stimulant and tonic. The juice is antibacterial, emetic and can be used to relieve pain caused by gravel/small stones. A decoction of the root is used to lower fevers.

I offer alfalfa seeds and alfalfa 500mg tablets in my online shop.

Because it’s a legume which fixes nitrogen with its roots (often used as a green manure), there should be no need to use anything other than organic methods when growing alfalfa, which is important to avoid corruption of the essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic alfalfa visit the Gardenzone.


Vervain health benefits: for pain relief and as a birthing aid

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Vervain is sacred to Jupiter and Venus

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Vervain, Verbena officinalis, is also known as European vervain, common vervain, common verbena, enchanter’s plant, herb of the cross, holy herb, Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, mosquito plant (which is a name also used for American pennyroyal), and (in common with blue vervain) simpler’s joy and wild hyssop. It is not related to hyssop or lemon verbena. I’ve also seen it called blue vervain, but the true blue vervain is a related, but different plant. Even more confusing, blue vervain is sometimes just called vervain. Take my advice, and always stick to the Latin name!

Vervain is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia (as far as the Himalayas). It is a hardy perennial, reaching a height of around 2 feet (60cm), which requires well drained soil, but is otherwise not fussy as to type. It will grow anywhere except in the shade, and will tolerate wind, but not sea winds. Harvest the aerial parts of the plant in Summer as it comes into flower, and dry for later use by spreading in a single layer and leaving somewhere out of the sun and with some air flow (not enough to blow it around). Turn the herbs over now and then until completely dried, then crumble and store in a labeled, airtight container.

Vervain is sacred to both Jupiter and Venus, and was once strewn on Jupiter’s altars, used in love rites and worn for protection in High Magic evocations. The druids also regarded it as a sacred herb. It has a very long pedigree as a herbal remedy.

As it is listed in Chinese herbalism as the 12th most potent anti-fertility herb (out of 250), don’t take it if you are trying for a baby, and as it is a uterine stimulant, vervain is best avoided during pregnancy until close to term or preferably actually in labor.

Vervain is an incredibly useful herb with many useful properties. It is a stimulant, tonic and detoxing agent, enabling it to treat nervous exhaustion, depression and anxiety. It removes blood clots. It is antibacterial (can be used to treat infections), analgesic and effective against certain cancers (according to preliminary research).

Make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh leaves, flowers and stems or 30g (1 ounce) of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water, and leave to infuse for 3-4 hours. Strain and store in an airtight, dark-colored container in a cool place or refrigerator. Label the bottle, but do not keep for more than 2-3 days before use. Take 85ml (one third of a US cup) in the morning on waking to treat any of the conditions mentioned previously.

The same infusion can also be used externally to treat eczema and rashes, wounds, neuralgia, cuts and sores and as a mouthwash or gargle to treat gum disease or sore throat.

Vervain’s most important use is for matters connected with the reproductive system: to encourage menstruation, to increase lactation, and as a birthing aid (both by stimulating contractions and acting to reduce the pain). This seems entirely appropriate for a herb dedicated to Venus, the goddess of love.

The Bach Flower Remedy vervain is used for over-enthusiasm.

I offer vervain Bach flower remedy in my online shop.

As with all plants grown for medicinal use, vervain must be grown organically to prevent adulteration of its intrinsic properties by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic vervain visit the Gardenzone.


Roman Coriander (Black Cumin) health benefits: for abscesses and hemorrhoids

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

A close relative of love in a mist

A close relative of love in a mist

Roman coriander, Nigella sativa, is also called fennel flower, although it is no relation to either fennel or coriander and does not look like them. It’s used as a spice in many countries, where it is known by various names, including onion seed, kolonji, black seed and black cumin (not related to cumin or onion, either, lol). It’s closely related to the cottage garden flower, love in a mist (Nigella damascena), and is a member of the buttercup family.

Note that the name black cumin is used for this plant in Bengali-speaking parts of Asia. In other parts, the plant referred to by this name is black caraway, which is completely unrelated.

Roman coriander is a hardy annual which likes full sun and well drained soil. The seeds are the part used, collected when ripe.

A standard infusion is made with 2-3 teaspoonfuls of crushed seeds to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to stand for at least 10 minutes and strain before use.

The standard infusion can be used to treat digestive disorders, including colic, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”), and worms. It’s also used in India to increase lactation in nursing mothers. The seeds, ground to a powder and mixed with sesame oil, can be used to treat abscesses and hemorrhoids (“piles“).

In India, an oil is extracted from the seeds (called black onion seed in India) and used to stimulate milk production, as an emmenagogue and stimulant. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy due to its estrogenic effects. I offer black cumin seed and black cumin (Roman coriander) seed oil in my online shop.

As has been mentioned throughout, it’s very important that herbs grown for medicinal use are not grown with chemicals, and Roman coriander is no exception to this rule. To find out more about growing organic Roman coriander, visit the Gardenzone.

Aromatherapy

Not generally used in aromatherapy.