10 Medicinal Plants of Belize that Can Save Your Life
Bush Medicines of Belize
Thousands of trees, plants, fruits, roots, and vines can be found in the pristine rainforests of Belize which have been used traditionally for medicinal purposes.
Before modern medicine developed laboratory drugs, our ancestors, the world over used herbs and weeds for health. Using a combination of medicinal plants and prayers, shamans and healers treated both the physical and spiritual ailments of their communities.
Today the knowledge is all but lost; however, scientific communities from the western world have shown a new interest in the medicinal properties of tropical plants. For example, the National Cancer Institute started the Belize Ethnobotany Project, which has sent of 2,000 species back to the NCI to be studied for cancer fighting properties.
The Belizean government has also recognized the importance of these plants, and in 1993 set aside 6,000 acres for the Terra Nova Medicinal Plant Reserve to transplant potentially valuable plants from areas of jungle in danger of development.
At the moment, many Belizeans continue to use rainforest plants for medicinal purposes in the same way the Maya did thousands of years ago.
Here are ten medicinal plants that are widely used by the Belizean population;
Native to Africa, aloe vera is commonly cultivated elsewhere. The clear gel found inside the plant’s leaf and the crystalline part found alongside the leaf blade contains aloi that can be used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
The clear gel is a remarkably effective healer of wounds and burns, speeding up the rate of healing and reducing the risk of infection. The brownish part containing aloin is a strong laxative, useful for short-term constipation.
Aloe is present in many cosmetic’s formulae because its emollient and scar preventing properties.
Scientists have discovered that the aloe vera juice and extracts are effective for a variety of conditions. These include wound healing acceleration in humans, antiviral activities for herpes simplex 1 & 2, treatment of water burns and anesthetic activity for treatment of insect stings in humans.
The fruit of the Calabash Tree when roasted is a good treatment for menstrual cramps or to induce childbirth. The leaf can also be used in tea to treat colds, diarrhea, dysentery and headaches.
Medical Researchers have found out that the seed has been effective as an abortive and the fruit pulp can be used to force menses, birth and afterbirth. Scientists also recommend that it is best not to use this plant while pregnant.
For over two thousand years Chinese Medicine has recommended ginger to treat a number of health problems. The influx of Chinese immigrants to Belize has resulted in the addition of Ginger Root as a bush remedy to combat all forms of nausea and vomiting, including appetite loss, indigestion and motion sickness.
Comparisons between ginger and prescription or non-prescription drugs for motion sickness relief have been conducted, and similar effectiveness was seen between ginger and drugs. It is also taken to relieve toothache pain, loosen phlegm, to relieve gas, sore throats, headaches, ulcerative colitis, some types of menstrual pain, arthritis pain, as well as fevers and aches caused by colds and flu.
Gumbo Limbo (Kamalamee)
While exploring the Belize, you may see a large tree with red shaggy bark that peels off in paper-thin strips. That’s the Gumbo-limbo tree, and its bark is a common topical remedy. Strips of bark are boiled in water and then used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes or drunk as tea to treat backaches, urinary tract infections, colds, flu, and fevers. Young leaves rubbed on skin exposed to poison wood can prevent reaction and will sooth itching and speed recovery.
The tree is a member of the same botanical species as frankincense and myrrh, both representatives of the world’s oldest medicines. It is also the source of that very, very soft and light wood used for making toy airplanes and boats. In that form it is called balsa wood.
Note: This tree is also known as the Gamalamee, or Kamalamee tree. It is also called the Sunburned Tourists Tree. Tourists get burned and peel, much like the red peeling bark on this tree. And this tree provides a cure!
Jackass Bitters is a well-respected plant that has been used widely in traditional Central American medicine. It has yellow flowers and bitter-tasting leaves which contain a potent anti-parasitic agent (sesquiterpene dialdehyde) that is active against amoebas, candida, giardia and intestinal parasites. Traditionally, the herb is taken internally as a tea or a wine or used topically to bath wounds and infections, or as a hair wash to get rid of lice.
Native from Sri Lanka and South India, lemon grass is now widely cultivated in the tropical areas of the Americas and Asia. Its oil is used as a culinary flavoring, a scent and medicine. Lemon Grass is principally taken as a tea to remedy digestive problems diarrhea and stomach ache. It relaxes the muscles of the stomach and gut, relieves cramping pains and flatulence and is particularly suitable for children. In Belize, lemon grass is primarily regarded as a fever-reducing herb. It is applied externally as a poultice or as diluted essential oil to ease pain and arthritis.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
In the Bahamas, this plant is called “Mother-In-Law’s Tongue” because once it gets started, you can’t get rid if it! The color pattern on this stemless plant resembles the skin of a snake. Following the “Doctrine of Signatures” this also indicates one of its uses in bush medicine: For snakebite! Rashes and skin sores can be helped by bathing them with water in which the leaves have been boiled. Some people place leaf juice in water for chickens, which helps prevent diseases.
Soursop / Guyabano (Annona muricata Linnaeus)
To reduce fever, a tea made from Soursop leaves can be taken internally. Leaves added to bathing water has the same effect. The crushed fresh leaves can be applied on skin eruptions to promote healing. A poultice of young Soursop leaves is applied on the skin to alleviate rheumatism and other skin infections like eczema. The tea has also been used as a wet compress on swollen feet and other inflammations. The juice of the fruit can be taken orally as a remedy for urethritis, haematuria and liver ailments.
Other uses: A thick tea can be used to kill bedbugs and head lice. Mixing pulverizing Soursop seeds with soap & water is an effective spray against caterpillars, armyworms and leafhoppers on plants.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum sp.)
There are several species of this flowering shrub found throughout the world in warm temperate to tropical climates. Our Belizean St. John’s Wort is common in the savanna areas and easy to find at The Belize Zoo. It can grow on dry, disturbed soil, and benefits from fire ecology, growing quickly and robust after savanna fires.
Scientific research has found that certain species of St. John’s Wort were an effective antidepressant in the treatment of mild and moderate depression.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Wild yam has been used for menstrual cramps and discomfort, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach cramps and pain from gallstones. ailments.
Women in Mexico, for ages, ate the tuber of the Wild Yam as a birth control method. Scientific research has found that the tuber of Dioscorea does contain steroids. These same steroids were then synthetically developed and are used in the manufacturing of birth control pills.
Want to know more about the plants and herbs used in traditional Maya medicine? Then check out our Maya Rainforest Medicine Trail at Chaa Creek.
Chaa Creek blog