Jamaica is a land rich in many areas: rich lush vegetation, amazing people, and a culture like no other. Our island is filled with hidden gems of all kinds – most of them are right around us. Nestled right in the tropical belt, Jamaica is perfectly positioned to offer an overwhelming array of indigenous and sustainable plant life. We have such a wide variety of flowers, trees, fruits, herbs and spices that it is inevitable that Jamaicans look to these natural resources for use in everything, from healthcare to food preparation to beauty.
Use in Folk and Modern Healing
“Jus’ bwile likkle cerasse and drink it man!”
The use of natural products in Jamaican life is far from a new phenomenon. Many of us would have grown up picking mint and ginger from the garden for our elders to mix into tea that we would reluctantly drink to cure some ailment, and many of us can attest that that cup of tea did, in fact, provide us with some relief. More and more Jamaican researchers and entrepreneurs have been looking to our natural products in recent years to better understand how they work, and identify potential for commercial advantage.
A comprehensive report was compiled at the UWI of all the natural products research conducted. This report indicated that “At least 334 plant species growing in Jamaica have been identified as having medicinal qualities” and this was in 2001! Imagine how many more Jamaican plant species have been investigated since then. Institutions such as the Natural Products Institute, Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Scientific Research Council and others have pioneered the research of natural products and their applications. While it is important to remember that we have not yet reached a place where natural products can fully replace more harmful and expensive treatment methods, it is the hope that continuing research can get us there.
Some researchers have been able to capitalize on this research by developing revenue earning products for public consumption. For example, Dr Henry Lowe created Eden Garden Nutraceuticals to create a line of nutraceuticals, wellness teas and porridges from natural sources. (Nutraceuticals are basically products made from food sources that supplement your diet and provide additional health benefits, such as drinking moringa to help regulate blood sugar.)
Many other Jamaican entrepreneurs have similarly taken their own initiative to create products from the plants around them. There are many brands producing natural Jamaican oils, hair products, soaps, skin care products, air fresheners, cleaning products, pretty much everything you can think of! Because the resources are naturally occurring and easy to obtain, the commercial potential from the natural products sector is truly mind-blowing and any Jamaican can take advantage of the opportunity.
Ready To Explore Jamaican Natural Products?
Here are 7 common Jamaican natural products and what they’re good for:
- Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis/Arthrospira maxima) – yea we’ve all heard the Chronixx song. But what is this spirulina? Spirulina is a type of algae/seaweed (relax, it’s ok) that falls among a handful of “superfoods” due to its many nutritional benefits. It’s rich in vitamin B and antioxidants, so it strengthens the immune system and even has cancer fighting properties. You can buy spirulina in powder form and add it to your tea (or any other beverage).
- Guinea Hen Weed (Petiveria alliacea) – recently a large amount of Jamaican research has begun surrounding guinea hen weed and its properties. This herb is an extraordinary source of tons of compounds, like flavonoids, steroids, and sulphur compounds, all of which boost the immune system. Early research has shown the potential of guinea hen weed for fighting cancer (prostate cancer in particular), so it should be interesting to see how this research continues to develop. You can buy the powdered form of the plant and mix it into a tea to get some of this miracle herb in your diet.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – turmeric, a main ingredient in curry powder, is a root containing a compound called curcumin. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant, so it lowers blood pressure, improves heart health and had even been found to improve liver damage. Turmeric is also used in skincare as a skin lightening compound. Research in Jamaica is just starting to pick up to figure out exactly how curcumin works in the body. In the meantime, you can incorporate turmeric into your life by adding it to your food or skincare products.
- Medina (Alysicarpus vaginalis) – we can thank Chronixx again for hearing about this one. Medina is a vasodilator, meaning it thins the blood, making it easier to circulate within the body. This can especially help men get the blood flowing to…particular areas…so it’s usually suggested for sexual virility. Medina can be powdered and mixed into beverages, similar to spirulina.
- Leaf of Life (Bryophyllum calycinum) – another plant I’m sure we’ve all heard of is the Leaf of Life. This plant has been reported to cure everything from asthma to migraines to sprains to infections. Similar to many other natural products, research on the exact properties of leaf of life is also increasing. Leaf of life can be brewed into a tea or applied topically to cuts and bruises for healing.
Island Herbs & Spices. (2018). Jamaican Herbs for Medical Healing. [online] Available at: http://www.islandherbsandspices.com/jamaican-herbs-for-medical-healing/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
Mitchell, S. and Ahmad, M. (2006). A review of medicinal plant research at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, 1948-2001. West Indian Medical Journal, 55(4).