Return to Roots: Medicinal Plants in Everyday Life
Much like many parts of rural Africa (continent-wide), Jamaica has seen its reliance on traditional healers (especially throughout its colonial history) who prescribe medicinal plants for the poor, the remote, the desperate, the curious, and importantly, the believers, in need of physical and oftentimes psychosomatic care. Whether used as a preventative measure or for treatment and healing, plants revered for their nutritional and medicinal properties have been traditionally used, and continue to be used, in Jamaica.
Jamaica’s traditional practice of using herbs is the sum total of knowledge of our African ancestors – and later, other ethnic groups – whose insights into identifying the root cause of illnesses, coupled with great skill at identifying and utilizing appropriate herbs and other medicinal plants, created a creolized traditional medicine. Characterized by the Myal Man, Jamaica’s traditional healer relies on beliefs, experiences, and practices, to diagnose and treat various illnesses. Oftentimes, instruction is also given to prevent the reoccurrence of the illness or malaise, as well as to improve the matter in case of “mild” relapse.
Over time, adherents of traditional “bush medicine” have learned to become lay practitioners themselves as a result of the generational handing down of knowledge of the curative powers of our medicinal and aromatic plants. Consciously or not, many Jamaicans nowadays tend to have at least one medicinal herb or plant where they live, such as the aloe vera plant, lemongrass (fevergrass), or a mint for which a drink or tea can be made. Medicinal plants are especially useful to have to treat common ailments such as headaches, bellyaches, fatigue, and insomnia, as well as the pariah of mosquitoes and their bites.
Additionally, our use of medicinal plants has not solely been for the purpose of healing, recovery from illness, and general wellness and wellbeing, but also for dietary use, as well as for aesthetic purposes. Jamaicans have had a longstanding love affair with the aloe vera plant, leaf of life, and tuna, which are regarded as “all-purpose plants”, and which have been used not only for the promotion of general