Bringing Home the Caribbean Sun and Spice – The Ginkgo Tree Herbal Course Student guest blog
*** Before I begin, I wish to acknowledge Grenada’s indigenous peoples’ the Caribs and the earlier population of Arawaks. I am grateful also to the 100,000 people who call Grenada their home, many who graciously welcomed me into their Caribbean paradise. ***
After years of ‘hate-liking’ my sun-kissed smiling friends’ pictures on social media of them someplace warm, while I shivered at home in minus seemingly a million-degree weather — it was finally my turn.
That someplace warm was Grenada.
A beautiful set of islands, called Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, situated between Trinidad and Tobago to the south and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the north.
Before you ‘hate-like’ me back, hear me out. I promised Penny to bring back some sun and spice to share with you all.
As I write this from a cozy perch back home and drinking hot tea, I see the land still blanketed in white snow but bathed in warm February sunshine. You’re welcome, Ontario! Spring-is-a-coming!
As for bringing the spice, Grenada is affectionately known as the Spice of the Caribbean. And, oh did Grenada deliver!
My plant antenna went up from the moment I stepped off the plane and started our hour-long, winding drive north to our quaint, off-the-beaten-path beachfront chalet at Petite Anse.
Not purely out of curiosity, some awareness was for safety!
The 345 square kilometers of volcanic-origin soil produces vistas of lush rainforest plants and trees, supported by a network of majestic waterfalls and waterways that drain into the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
I drank up (literally, in many cases) all I could learn about these tropical plants during my short visit. Some well-loved herbs I got to know a little bit more, and some became my new friends.
I can’t possibly share all of the health promoting plants that I got to interact with during my stay. For many, I am sure, I was completely oblivious — to whom I also offer my humble gratitude for their healing powers.
The following provides some highlights, with a brief Materia Medica for each.
A few rays-of-sunshine, if you will . . .
Aloe (Aloe vera spp.)
Aloe grows in abundance everywhere in Grenada! Lovingly tended to in gardens and grows wild along roadsides. If I had known, I wouldn’t have packed that bottle of Aloe I bought in Canada that inconveniently exploded in our suitcase en route. Sigh.
Parts used: External leaf-rind and gel found inside the thick, fleshy grey-green leaves. Can grow up to two feet tall, sometimes larger (If you have the opportunity, check out the Aloe plant in Richter’s greenhouse. It’s massive!).
Constituents: Sugars, Polysaccharides, Alonins, Anthraquinones, Resin
Actions: Cathartic, Demulcent, Emmenagogue, Reproductive (Female), Tonic (Liver), Vermifuge, Vulnerary
Systems affected: Digestive (Liver, Pancreas, Kidneys, Spleen, Stomach), Cardiovascular, Reproduction (Female), Skin
Preparation and Primary uses: The soothing, cool gel (fresh or dehydrated) is used for external burns, sunburns, rashes, ulcers, bed sores and for cosmetics (e.g., anti-aging, reduce scarring). The yellow-ish powdered rind or gel (taken as a capsules, juice or tincture) can be taken internally to regulate liver functions (a strong laxative, purgative when needed) and can help alleviate PMS, regulate hormones and increase menstrual flow for women. Caution: Can be harmful if taken internally in excess over the long-term.
Cocoa (Theobroma cacao)
At Belmont Estates farmers harvest Cocoa, or Kakaw, in the mornings before the sun gets too hot using a knife attached to a long bamboo stick or simply climbing the tree.
The whitish-pulp, inside the pod, tasted sweet with a hint of citrus and surprisingly a lot like Earl Grey Tea. Our guide pointed us to two nearby trees: An Orange Tree and a Bergamot Tree. The roots do talk!
Parts used: Seeds, called beans, and the fatty-substance, called butter, inside a football-size fruit that changes colour from white, to yellow, to red then purple. The fruit grows directly on the trunk of the tree that grows 13 to 26 feet tall.
Constituents: Protein, Fibre, Essential fatty-acids, Antioxidants (Flavonoids, Bioflavonoids), Alkaloids (Proto-alkaloids, called Theobromine and Theophylline), Mineral-rich, e.g., Potassium, Calcium, Iron
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Tonic
Systems affected: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Nervous, Reproduction (Female)
Preparation and Primary uses: Chocolate! A bar of chocolate can only be called chocolate if it contains at least 25 per cent ground Cocoa. To gain health benefits, recommend eating chocolate 80 per cent or higher in Cocoa to avoid consuming high amounts of sugar. Nibs (dried, Cocoa bits) are extremely nourishing, a popular superfood. The fatty-substance is used to make Cocoa butter, for cosmetic and moisturizing creams, and can be consumed in small amounts for the antioxidants. Shells of Cocoa beans are used in garden mulch. Slightly simulating due to the alkaloid content, but also relaxing due to the flavonoids. Used (provided low in sugar) over an extended period of time can: promote heart health (e.g., lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol), may protect against cancer, and can support women through female cycles and menopause. Although cautioned not to eat chocolate every day, Susun Weed gives women full permission not to feel guilty and eat as freely as our bodies desire!
Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Mrs. Sorrel introduced herself to me on the third breakfast of our visit. Mango juice disappeared from the breakfast table (a shortage of mangos this time of year, due to it being the end of their rainy-hurricane season) and Sorrel juice appeared in its place.
My husband took a large gulp, turned up his nose and slid the mostly full glass to me saying, “Here, you drink this. You’d like it. It tastes like tea!” It sure did. If you enjoy drinking Hibiscus tea, then you’ve already met the fragrant, sour flowers of Mrs. Sorrel. (The meaning of ‘Sorrel’ is sour, no wonder The Hubby didn’t like it).
One must be careful not to mistaken Hibiscus sabdariffa for other plants of similar name: Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) native in Europe and Asia or Sourwood/Sorrel Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) found in the eastern/southern United States. Or there’s Europe and Asia’s Garden/ Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) but not to be confused with the vegetable (R. rugosus). And not to forget the bright-red flowers of the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis found in Belize and Asia.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is known as the Sorrel of the Caribbean and has unique medicinal properties.
Parts used: Calyces — ranging in color from green to red to deep red to almost black — of the white-yellow flowers on a woody shrub growing to eight feet tall. Cultivated in gardens but also grows wild along the roadside and in forests. A member of the Mallow family.
Constituents: Phytonutrients (e.g., Anthocyanins, Flavonoids), Polysaccharides (Mucilage), Vitamins (e.g., Vitamin C, Beta-carotene, Calcium, Iron).
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Anti-microbial, Demulcent, Diuretic, Hypotensive, Immunomodulation, Tonic (Cardiovascular)
Systems affected: Cardiovascular, Metabolism
Preparation and Primary uses: In addition to being used as a refreshing drink to quench tropical heat, it is also used medicinally prepared as teas, tinctures or a powder. It can promote heart health (e.g., decrease blood pressure, reduce cholesterol) and modulate blood sugars in type 2 diabetes — provided consumed without large amounts of sugar. Due to the high iron content, can be used to support iron deficiencies.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Grenada is the world’s second leading producer of Nutmeg and its products, after Indonesia. True to its botanical name, I could smell Nutmeg all around me: garnished on top of hot and cold drinks, in our desserts, and as fragrance in our room.
In Canada we appreciate Nutmeg for its flavour and aroma in our baking, but in Grenada it is prized just as much for its restorative powers. Stop in any local pharmacy or grocery store, you will find abundance of Nutmeg not only in its whole form or finely ground, but also as a medical spray or ointment.
Parts used: Dried seeds and mace (seed covering) inside a pear-shaped, pale-yellow fruit. From a tree that grows to about 25 feet tall, with whorled branches and dark green, glossy leaves.
Constituents: Lignin, Sterin, Starch, Gum, Volatile oil (Safrole, Myristicin)
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Carminative
Systems affected: Digestive, Cardiovascular, Nervous, Skin
Primary uses: As a culinary spice, can help digestion and relieve nausea. Used as an essential oil in soap, ointments, massage oil for its stimulating aroma. Although not used as much medicinally in the West, it can be used topically for muscle aches, cramps. It can also temporally alleviate pain caused by chronic pain ailments, such as arthritis or rubbed on gums for a toothache. Only under medical supervision, can Nutmeg be used internally over a longer period of time to relieve chronic nervous disorders and heart problems. Caution: Contraindicated in pregnancy, for people with acid reflux.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked health-promoting elements on the planet: Saltwater. Although technically not an herb, oceans and seas are dynamic with life covering about 70 per cent of the earth’s surface. With the effects of climate change and the dangers of flooding and intense tropical storms, we are required to approach with deep reverence and respect.
Withstanding tsunami caution-signs found along the seaside, Grenadians adore their beaches. With Saltwater containing the same 84 minerals, vitamins, trace elements and amino acids found in our bodies, who wouldn’t?
In the Caribbean, going for a ‘Sea Bath’ is considered a cure all for almost anything: colds, congestion, joint pain, stress. Just dunk your head in the ocean, they say, and come out a whole new person. No wonder in-landers try to mimic the sea going to expensive spas and getting those mineral facial wraps and sea salt foot scrubs, soothed by recorded sounds of rolling ocean waves. I’m relaxed and calm just writing this . . .
Whether or not you can go and experience the Spice Island for yourself, Grenada and the Caribbean’s healing natural elements are not all that far away. All you need to do is lovingly brew a pot of tea or Cocoa, sprinkle on a bit of Nutmeg, take a Saltwater bath and close your eyes . . . and find your beach.
Grenada & Caribbean Sources:
National Portal of the Government of Grenada: https://www.mgovernance.net
Lime & Dine: Grenada Tourism Authority — Booklet
Arvigo, Rosita and Michael Balick. Rainforest Remedies. Pages 7 (Aloe vera) and 93 (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis).
Brinker, Francis. Herbal Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Pages 251-252 (Myristica fragrans).
Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Page 591 (Myristica fragrans).
Hoffman, David. Holistic Herbal. Pages 171-172 e-book (Aloe vera).
Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs. Volume 2. Pages 645-647 (Oxalis acetosella).
Mase, Guido. The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants. Pages 229-233 (Theobroma cacao).
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. Pages 79 (Myristica fragrans), 84-85 (Aloe vera).
Vermeulen, Nico. The Complete Herb Encyclopedia. Pages 196 (Myristica fragrans), 254 (Rumex acetosa and R. rugosus), 289 (Theobroma cacao).
Weed, Susun. New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way. Approaches for Women 30-90. Pages 29-30, 38, 43, 136, 199, 202, 208, 211, 215 (Theobroma cacao).
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Pages 65-67 (Aloe vera), 257 (Oxydendrum arboreum).