Traditional Healing & Natural Remedies Used In Belize
Medicine, as we know it today, is a pretty recent feat of modern chemical engineering. There are pills to make you lose weight, kill sickness inducing bacteria, stop your watery eyes and sneezing from allergies and all manner of imaginative effects. It’s hard for people born in this generation to even imagine what it must have been like, kids probably think cough syrup and pills have existed from the dawn of time.
The truth is, people have been curing their ailments for quite a long time. Sometimes to disastrous side-effects (think Victorians and lead-based makeup), but some, like the Maya of Central America, effectively used what we now term today as “Traditional Healing” to cure themselves of many health problems. The kicker? They did it with jungle plants. A thing that’s still part of Belize Culture to date.
TIP: A tour of the Maya Medicinal Plant Trail will give you great insights into the world of Traditional Healing
Much of the belief system of traditional healing is that the earth provides everything we need. Naturally, if we need relief from a headache, logic dictates that nature would have a remedy and our only job is but to find it. Before the days of Chemical testing for specific compounds, most of this was guesswork, at least at first. It’s safe to imagine there were more than a few displeased guinea pigs throughout the course of history.
Yes, the same lemongrass all these millennials keep brewing into tea and sipping with honey, the kind that could grow wild in your backyard is one of those traditional remedies. It’s unclear if the use of lemongrass for cold/flu alleviation has always been general knowledge but it’s likely one of the easiest remedies to brew up and even if you don’t have a cold, it’ll warm you up and make you feel nice and cozy. While it’s considered generally good for you and said to be beneficial for other things in lesser degrees, lemon grass’ primary medicinal benefit is to fight cold symptoms when drunk as tea.
That is thick leaf oregano, not the type Italians grind up and sprinkle in their pizza sauce. widely called Mexican mint and sometimes even Cuban oregano this semi-succulent leaf was found to work wonders with earaches. The prep for this remedy involves heat too, roasting the leaf over an open flame for several seconds or on a comal until it’s reasonably warm or charred. You then squeeze the leaf and let the sap, that’s now warm enough to run like liquid, directly into the ear canal. It will take a couple minutes so be sure to stay leaning to keep the sap in your ear and be prepared for long-lasting relief.
If you managed to botch the procedure above, and by that we mean if you managed to get burnt while heating your oregano leaf… A plant that’s locally known as “Creole Gyal” (scientific name under investigation) is your quick fix. The prep here is simple, get a leaf, apply leaf to the affected area and fasten.
Allspice, the seed that’s also called Pimenta, Jamaica Pimenta, myrtle pepper, etc. comes from a tree. This tree is easily identifiable due to its broad leaves and distinctly pleasant aroma. We mean it, this tree, the leaves and its sap smell GOOD. If you’re human that is. Mosquitos seem to have an aversion to the smell which is pretty convenient since if you’ve found allspice, you’re likely in the jungle (at least in Belize) and if you’re in the jungle you’re likely to run into those pesky critters. In addition to the pleasant smell, and mosquito combative properties, the leaves alleviate tooth aches too. Pop off a leaf and tuck it near the epicenter and poof, organic oral analgesic gel.
Contribo, formally known as Birthwort is another [very] popular remedy in Belize and among bush doctors and natural healers. It’s primary uses are for immune system boosting and as an anti-inflammatory. Reports are that as well it’s an effective antibiotic. To use, this vine must be dried after which is soaked in water or alcohol to be drunk as tea or as a shot. Probably the most interesting, if not off-putting feature of contribo is that the flower produced by this plant smells like decomposing meat – creepy huh?
Jackass Bitters, despite its name, is very well respected in the natural remedy arena. It lives up to its name by tasting especially bitter when made into a remedy but the health benefits completely justify the hard swallow. Jackass Bitters is used as an anti-parasitic remedy which is only a testament to how bitter it is – even parasites flee… Okay, that was a bad joke. The compound sesquiterpene dialdehyde is found in this plant, for those of us who aren’t botanists or chemical engineers, sesquiterpene dialdehyde is a compound that kills parasites and is used in pharmaceuticals today. Make a Jackass Bitters tea, and say goodbye unwanted bowel guests.
Sorosi might be one of those wonder plants you hear about. It’s pretty widely revered all over Central America, grows wild and is said to combat side-effects of ailments linked to diabetes. A “blood cleaner” people call it anecdotally, it’s used widely to fight and prevent parasitic infections. Which would have made it invaluable to rainforest dwellers for this property alone. It’s also prescribed as a remedy for delayed or [extra] painful menses. The prep is pretty simple, as is the case with many of these remedies (once you know which ones to use). Simply pop off a few leaves and steep in hot water for about 10 minutes and presto.
We’re not licensed bush doctors here at Belize Travel blog, – though if you know where we could get a license for this sign us up! – so these aren’t all the plants with all the remedies, we listed only a popular few. There are published books on this sort of thing, so if we’ve piqued your interest, feel free to look up more!
The last Traditional Belize Healing Master
Don Elijio Panti
Don Elijio Panti was a Traditional healer who specialized in using Mayan Herbal remedies to cure ailments. He lived from 1893 to 1996, Yes 103 years. Be it because of Mayan longevity of the remedies themselves, Don Elijio lived a long life. He began to officially practice traditional healing in the 1930’s, which at this time of death would put him at over 60 years as a healer. Hailing from the village of San Antion, just a stone’s throw away from Chaa Creek and San Ignacio town, Don Elijio grew to local fame and in the 80’s even joined a venture into researching the treatment for HIV and certain cancers.
Don Elijio was and is very well respected and earned honors such as; “Distinguished Citizen Award” (University College of Belize), “Most Valuable Senior Citizen” (Help Age Belize), “Distinguished Contribution to Science” (The New York Botanical Garden), and Member of the Order of the British Empire” (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Belize) all in thanks for his many international contributions to the world of healing and medicine.
Today to honor him, two books detailing his life have been written, Rainforest Remedies: One Hundred Healing Herbs of Belize (1993), and Sastun: My Apprenticeship With A Maya Healer (1994). After his death, Elijio Panti National Park, was officially created in 2001 which encompasses an are aof 13,006 acres of land around where he spent his life.
Did you know of any of these plants? Did we miss any herbs that have helped you? Comment below!
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