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Bring back sweet broom and bitter bush

Published: 
Monday, October 6, 2014
Compton Seaforth speaking about the use of herbs and herbal medications at the symposium. PHOTOS: CORI BAYNES

Generations ago, when you had a cold, your grandparents would more often than not go in the backyard and come back with a handful of bush, boil it and command you to drink. 

Those mixtures may not have been very palatable, but they were almost certain to do the trick, as your cold would be cleared quite quickly. 

Fast forward to present day and in this age of pharmaceuticals, the handful of bush has been replaced by a box of tablets. 

Children are no longer given “bush tea” because many parents simply have no knowledge of the old home remedies. 

To this end, the Caribbean Yard Campus recently hosted a three day symposium from September 26 to 28 titled Sweet Broom and Bitter Bush, which was geared at educating the public about the different types of indigenous medicines. 

On the first day at the Lloyd Best Institute, there was a panel discussion on the theme Traditions of Caribbean Indigenous Medicine (Ethnomedicine) which featured contributions from different cultural traditions including the First Peoples, African-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean and Spanish. 

The following day, everyone participating in the symposium journeyed to the nature trails at Aripo to engage in the collection, classification, identification, recording and storing of plant specimens. 

The event climaxed on the third day at Santa Rosa with the preparation of teas, decoctions, rubs, potions and other traditional herbal medicines. 

Speaking on the first day, Cristo Adonis, medicine man of the Santa Rosa First Peoples lamented the fact that the younger generations have not been taught the values and techniques of indigenous medicine. 

Noting that the secrets of bush medicine lay mostly with the elderly, Adonis said that society needs to care more for the senior citizens and stop “locking the teacher out of the classroom.”

Describing the art of preparing bush medicine as spiritual, he explained that in order to have good medicine from plants, people need to respect everything around them and keep their surroundings clean. 

Representing the Yoruba faith, Ifa priest Babalorisha Olatunji Somorin described food as the first source of medicine, explaining that the food people eat can directly affect their overall health and well being. 

Using the hog plum tree as an example, Somorin said that in his country, depending on the method of preparation, the leaves of the plant were used to both enhance a person’s memory as well as relieve aches and pains. 

“A plant has different essences and ways to tap into these essences whether it be by boiling or soaking in alcohol,” he explained. 

Drawing reference to pharmaceuticals, he continued that most modern medicines stemmed from the knowledge of plant medicine. 

“Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food.”

“It is all about what we eat, drink and expose our bodies to. There is something out there to prevent whatever ailment. It is up to you to tap into it,” he said. 

Professor Compton Seaforth whose presentation was entitled Science in the Service of Folk Medicine, outlined the classification and identification of medicinal plants. 

He blamed the various environmental enhancement organisations for contributing to the lack of knowledge of common medicinal plants. 

“The problem is that weeds growing in your backyard or on the roadside are hard to meet these days because of the work of Cepep and URP,” he said. 

“So young people growing up are likely to be less familiar with these bush remedies because their parents themselves have less opportunity to show them these plants that are growing.” 

Noting that medicinal plants are grown in other countries worldwide, and people use nature to their benefit, he continued that such a lack of knowledge could cause people to believe that growing plants is not necessarily good for the health of the nation. 

“So there are a lot of losses for young people growing up today where the environment doesn’t engage even the older people and the best solution to this is education.” 

“It means for example that starting from primary school, the computer could be used to show pictures of plants more often than before since you can’t find them outside and description of their uses not just for medicinal value but their food value.”

“Education is really what the whole country needs to recognise the usefulness of the resources.”

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