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

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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.

Asafoetida health benefits: herbal anti-viral being tested on Pandemic Flu

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Asafoetida, foul-smelling by name and nature

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Asafoetida or asafetida, Ferula assa-foetida (syn. Ferula scorodosma), is also called devil’s dung and food-of-the-gods.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia it is “probably the most foul-smelling of all herbs” (Plants for a Future describes the smell as “like stale fish”), which accounts for the first two common names. The third may refer to its use in Hindu cooking instead of onions and garlic – where food is cooked which is to be used as puja (an offering to the gods), onions and garlic may not be used, but a little asafoetida (called hing) is added instead, which once cooked apparently tastes quite similar to the banned alliums.

Asafoetida is a half-hardy perennial which reaches a height of 6’6″ (2m) and a spread of 5′ (1.5m). Soil type is unimportant, so long as it is well drained and not shaded.

Collecting the resin from the root for medicinal use involves scraping, slicing and scraping again. Although I’ve given information about the plant, since it is so foul-smelling and so difficult to extract the active portion, you may wish instead to buy your hing ready prepared. It is sold in airtight containers so as to prevent the smell escaping (!) in many Asian grocers. If you can’t find it, you may be able to find a supplier by asking at a Hare Krishna temple, if there is one in your area (they use it as a substitute for onions and garlic, for religious reasons). You can then add it to a curry or other meal, and take your medicine that way!

Alternatively, I’ve done a bit of research, and found out that asafoetida tablets are sold under the name “Candida Digest” manufactured by Planetary Herbals – which is available on both sides of the Atlantic. You can order it from at a good price (they also ship to international addresses) – and if you haven’t shopped there before use the discount code SEQ765 to save $5 off your order. This is probably the best option – you don’t have to cope with the smell, and you can take it at any time of day, not just dinnertime!

So what is asafoetida used for? Like many of the herbs I’ve covered so far, it has many uses, but the one that is most interesting is its use against pandemic flu. It was used in 1918 to fight Spanish flu, and now scientists are testing it against H1N1. Poorer countries were worried that they would not be able to obtain sufficient supplies of the antivirals Tamiflu and so on, so they started looking into other possibilities. A research team at Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan headed by Yang-Chang Wu has discovered that asafoetida contains compounds which kill the virus in test tubes. Further work is needed before it is certain that it will work as effectively in the human body.

Other uses for asafoetida include treating chest infections, whooping cough, asthma and bronchitis, flatulence (“wind” or “gas“) and lowering blood pressure.