The Origins & Uses of Bush Medicine in The Bahamas
Bush medicine in The Bahamas has played an important role for Bahamians throughout the country’s history. Using indigenous plants in The Bahamas for medicinal purposes is a huge part of The Bahamas’ past and continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Many plants have powerful healing properties, some known to many and some that will be completely unfamiliar. However, before we learn about different species and their benefits, we should understand the stories and cultures behind them. Today, natural remedies are being increasingly sought after because they rarely have the side-effects that people fear from synthetic or pharmaceutical alternatives.
Amerindians, Ciboney, Lucayans, Tainos, and Arawaks inhabited The Bahamas about 800 years before Christopher Columbus, the first European of record to have discovered and made landfall in 1492 at San Salvador. While some argue to Columbus’ claim to fame, others fight over his actual landfall. We will discuss that later. From the eventful first tourists up to the 1700s, The Bahamas were sparsely populated until the arrival of Englishmen, by way of Bermuda, along with their slaves, West Africans, and Americans inclusive of Native American Indians during the mid-1700s and 1800s.
With such a diverse mix of cultures, a lot of different practices slowly began to establish themselves on the islands. In the early 1900s, there were very few doctors if any on some islands to serve the growing population therefore, many Bahamians continued to use native plants to cure their ailments and illnesses anyway. This was despite the disapproval of clergymen and the colonial government at the time. The exact origins of the discovery and uses of the plants can be traced back to some cultures especially, those of West African heritage as discussed in Bush Medicine of The Bahamas.
Everything about The Bahamas is diverse; from the history to the people and even the plants and their remedial powers. Most are either brewed in a tea for drinking or added to water to bathe in. Here’s a brief list of bush medicine in The Bahamas and their healing properties:
- Aloe Vera – well known and used throughout the world, Bahamians also use the aloe vera plant’s gooey insides for its ability to soothe burns or sores on the skin. The meat of the plant is also used to alleviate sore throats and cleanse the inside of the body.
- Cerasee – made popular by the Jamaican tea varieties, Cerasee is believed to slow the growth of cancer cells but is also used to aid digestion, fever, and as pain relief. The plant has also been used to treat arthritis when taken in a small dose daily for a few weeks.
- Shepherd’s Needle – ironically, this prickly plant can be used to treat rashes and other stings or burns, as is White and Red Sage.
- Bay Geranium – not only does it help slow beach erosion, but Bay Geranium is also used to treat cold and flu symptoms, as well as cleansing the stomach. As a stronger medicine, this is taken in small doses for only a few days.
- Breadfruit – does wonders for the organs, improving high blood pressure, diabetes, and even kidney disease.
This is just a small list of the bush medicines that we use every day in The Bahamas and their benefits when used in individuals. However, mixing various plants together creates different and new remedies. The Seven Man Strength concoction mixes seven different plants to create a natural and healthy energy drink, and it is even used to increase libido and fertility.
Only 1% of all the plant species in the world have been scientifically tested to identify their medicinal properties. Today, the medical community is looking to Indigenous wisdom more and more in an effort to discover the potential benefits of plant medicine that has been used in our culture for centuries.
If you’re looking for things to do in Grand Bahama Island, then have a first-hand experience of Bahamian bush tea on our Bush Tea & Culture Tour where we explain the different varieties and their benefits. We even provide the opportunity to taste and smell them alongside a delicious Bahamian pastry, nothing like your typical Freeport shore excursions. As our society continues to modernize, a lot of the knowledge and traditional practices are being lost. So, come on one of our tours to keep the history and authentic culture of The Bahamas alive!