“Out of necessity, science must remove data from its context in order to study it – but in the end, it’s only the context that gives the data its whole significance or value.” David R Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.
Medicinal trees of the native tropical forests is a subject dear to my heart and one I’ve been wanting to share with you for some time. Do you realize that only 1% of the medicinal plants of the tropical forests have been discovered and studied? The majority of these plants are discovered by ethno-botanists in the rainforests directed by shamans of whatever tribe is in the area of study. Samples of each part of the plant (bark, leaves, flowers, seeds, juice, etc.) are extracted, dried and pressed in a plant press. The samples are then taken back to the country the botanists came from where the plant compounds can be studied.
The drug companies can then create a synthetic version of the compound that is packaged and sold as the prescription medications that so many people in the world are ingesting, with many secondary effects.
Imagine if we insisted upon only natural plant medicines. A whole new value would be placed on the world’s tropical forests as a huge source of healing for all living beings. At the current rate the tropical forests will be destroyed before humanity is able to tap into this vast “green pharmacy”. The other 99% is awaiting us and within that is the cure for every sickness known or to be known.
Here are thirteen medicinal tree species found here in Costa Rica with photos. Some of you who live here will recognize them but be amazed at each one’s uses.
Aceituno Negro (Winged-leaved quassia) – Simarouba glauca:
Part used: Root, bark and wood
Medicinal use and preparation: The root, bark and wood can be used as a safe emergency treatment for poor digestion by soaking, decocting or infusing two to three segments of the bark or root in one liter of water, but it is hard to drink due to the extreme bitterness. Also called the “dysentery tree” because of its use as a treatment for parasites, diarrhea and fevers.
Cañafistula (Golden Shower Tree) – Cassia fistula:
Part used: the seedpod or capsule
Medicinal use and preparation: Used as a laxative by steeping a mature seed capsule in two liters of water. Drink ½ cup before bedtime.
Carao (Pink Shower Tree) – Cassia grandis:
Part used: Seedpods and leaves
Medicinal use and preparation: A syrup is made from the seedpod that is extremely nutritious and used to treat anemia and general malaise. A laxative and diuretic for constipation, edema, kidney problems, digestive problems is provided by the leaves. The leaf juice is used to treat skin problems like fungi.
Guapinol – Hymenaea courbaril:
Part used: leaves, inner bark, pulp surrounding the seeds and the sap
Medicinal use and preparation: The leaves and inner bark are used to treat hypoglycemia, stomach problems, diarrhea and diabetes. The edible pulp surrounding the seeds is high in vitamins and iron to help patients with anemia. The red sap from the tree trunk is used to treat respiratory conditions and in past times, tuberculosis.
Guarumo – Cecropia sp:
Five different species in Costa Rica
Part used: Leaves
Medicinal use and preparation: An infusion of two leaves in one liter of hot water, two cups per day to relieve asthma and as a decongestant. Not to be taken for more than three days.
The baby sloth at the beginning of this blog shows how great this tree is.
Guayabo – Psidium guajava:
Part used: Leaves
Medicinal use and preparation: We all know this fruit but few know the importance of the leaves of the Guayabo tree. It is an excellent medicine, making a decoction of the leaves to treat diarrhea and gum disorders.
Güitite (Wild Tobacco Tree) – Acnistus arborescens:
Part used: Leaves and stems
Medicinal use and preparation: Boil a handful of leaves in one liter of water for hemorrhoids or make a rinse to treat dandruff by soaking a handful of leaves in water overnight.
Higuerón (Strangler Fig) – Ficus glabrata and Ficus jimenezii:
Part used: White latex sap from the bark
Medicinal use and preparation: Make a cut in the tree trunk and collect the white sap. Mix one tablespoon of the latex in one glass of water and drink one glass before eating in the morning for three days to treat intestinal worms, especially whipworms.
Hombre Grande (Bitterwood) – Quassia amara:
Part used: Bark and wood
Medicinal use and preparation: The indigenous people of Central America have always used (and still do) the bark and wood of the branches as a stomach tonic and strength builder. The Maleku people also say it works like Viagra only it needs to be taken for a period of time. Also used to treat fever, parasites and diarrhea in an emergency.
Jinocuabe (Gumbo Lindo) – Bursera simaruba:
Part used: Bark
Medicinal use and preparation: Cutting a piece of bark approximately 4” X 6” (see photo above) and cook in 2 liters of water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink a few cups per day for no more than six days. This is an amazing treatment for upper stomach pain, such as ulcers and gastritis. It seems to cure these afflictions.
Jocote (Purple mombin) – Spondias purpurea:
Part used: Fruit, leaves, bark and the gum resin
Medicinal use and preparation: The fruit is used as an antispasmodic and diuretic and a decoction is made from the fruit for healing wounds and mouth sores. Syrup from the fruit is made to treat chronic diarrhea. The bark is used to remedy ulcers, bloating, dysentery and mange. Treat cuts, sores and burns with an infusion of shredded leaves as a wash. The gum resin can be blended with fruit juice for jaundice. Amazing, eh.
Madero Negro (Rat Killer tree) – Gliricidia sepium:
Part used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal use and preparation: The leaves are used as a wash for lice, mange and other skin problem. The flowers are edible and can be used as a treatment for diarrhea. We have used the mashed leaves as a repellent for chiggers in the field.
Pau d’Arco or Roble Savana (Pink Trumpet Tree) – Tabebuia rosea or impetiginosa:
Part used: Inner bark
Medicinal use and preparation: This is the most amazing and miraculous medicinal tree of the tropics. A slightly bitter taste, great for excesses. Read on to see what I mean. Chop or shred the inner bark and dry in the sun. When completely dry use a small handful and boil in one liter of water for ten to fifteen minutes. Drink one to six cups per day for acute and chronic afflictions. It can also be taken encapsulated. A tincture can also be made and used for sore throats and wounds. Used to restore the immune system and treat anemia, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, boils, cancer, candida, colitis, colds, constipation, coughs, cystitis, diabetes, diarrhea, emphysema, dysentery, eczema, fevers, flu, gastritis, gallbladder problems, infections, liver problems, lung problems, leukemia, relief from pain, parasites, prostatitis, pyorrhea and wounds.
Saragundí – Senna reticulata:
Part used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal use and preparation: A tea from a handful of the leaves in one liter of water is used as a laxative and diuretic. Fungal infections of the skin, especially ringworm, are treated with the fresh leaves by mashing them and applying to the affected area. A handful of the flowers boiled in one liter of water are used to treat urinary problems. A tincture is made by soaking a handful of chopped leaves in 250 ml of vodka or other clear liquor in a capped glass jar for one week, shaking once per day, and has been used to treat female infertility.
Zorrillo Real (Firebush or Redhead) – Hamelia patens:
Part used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal use and preparation: The active compounds in the leaves have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Only use externally! It is used to treat many skin problems from sores, bruises, rashes and itches to bites, stings, burns and fungal problems by boiling down several handfuls of leaves and flowers in four liters of water until it is half the liquid amount, straining and applying to the affected area. The crushed leaves are applied to the bot fly larva that burrows under the skin and by mashing the leaves one can apply to the forehead to relieve migraine headaches.
I hope you have enjoyed this extensive and educational blog. Much work has gone into it, something I’ve been waiting to do for many months.
Most of the information on the medicinal trees in this blog came from my friend Ed Bernhardt’s book, “Medicinal Plants of Costa Rica”. He is the founder and director of the New Dawn Center in San Isidro del General, doing great work teaching and practising organic gardening here in Costa Rica. Please check out the link above to read about Ed’s amazing work these past 30+ years.
Has this information convinced you yet of the importance of preserving and restoring our Earth’s tropical forests? I’m hoping it will inspire you all to comment or ask questions. Let’s get a forum going, we can create that on our new website if you wish. But more than studying, talking, teaching or considering……………….
LET’S GET PLANTING!!