At one time, residents in the BVI depended on natural remedies to treat illness, rather than over the counter medications. If you complained of an ache or pain, older folks would often recommend a healing plant. Can you believe this is still practiced today?" These bush remedies can be found in our backyards, along the roadside and even in our beautiful Botanic Gardens. Nancy and Jack Fuller Jr., who had lived here in the BVI saw the need to maintain this treasured piece of history by donating a medicinal garden atthe JR O'Neal Botanic Gardens.
Walking through the garden's lush green shrubs, splashed with a little color here and there, one must be prepared for an educational tour. Botanic Gardens staff member, Julie Fonseca, is always happy to explain the medicinal uses of the plants found here. Some plants are used for one or more purposes, she explains, adding that most of them are usually brought to a boil to drink, or placed on the skin for soothing purposes. Among these are black wattle, apple bush and most commonly soursop whose leaves are used to reduce fever. Basil, eucalyptus, black wattle and maiden apple are preferred for a cold. Julie also pointed out that flowers of the low spreading periwinkle, or stinking toe, are boiled and used for diabetes. The Painkiller – morinda citrifolia or noni – bears a fruit that is green and turns yellow. It carries a foul odor and is blended with fruit juice for better taste. It is believed to support the immune system and is an aid for arthritis. The leaves from the tree are warmed (not boiled) over a frying pan and tied around the troubling joints.
One strong and determined man who is keeping the herbal tradition alive is Mr. Ishmel Fahie. Known as the rubbing doctor or setter, he has treated visitors and residents In both the USVI and BVI. He said, "this blessing was passed down from his ancestors." If anyone is experiencing pain or has a displaced joint, the man at Brandywine Bay is highly recommended. Mr. Fahie mixes winter green alcohol with melted Crisco lard. He then rubs the area until the blood begins to flow, eventually putting your joint back into place. Mr. Fahie was also known to treat animals with broken legs, using a crocus bag to bandage it, while wetting the foot every morning until it got better. He also recommends different bushes to treat health disorders.
Raised around agriculture, Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer Arona Fahie Forbes remembers going early in the morning with her late father Joseph Fahie to shift cows and sheep in the pastures that he owned. To provide for his family he also grew cash crops, such as tomatoes, corn, fruit trees and ground provisions. Virgin Islanders have a tendency to plant by the moon, as did her father. Coming back from college, she tried to convince him otherwise, but he passed away before she could prove this with eggplants they planned to grow.
Arona has learned to cherish and preserve nature. She continues to grow a number of natural herbs. She says over the counter medications contain natural herbs, but have added properties for preservation which may sometimes cause side effects. Among the herbal plants that she is familiar with is the maiden apple bush, also known as the lizard food which increases the appetite. She adds that the stinkin' weed has been used for asthma; the seeds from the plant are crushed and boiled giving it a coffee scent.
Lemon grass, which is very popular among local teas, grows about three to four feet tall, and has to be kept trim in order to sprout more. To cure a variety of ailments including fevers, arthritis and digestive problems, it can be used green or dried. No harsh chemicals are to be sprayed on these plants, and they should be sufficiently watered.
Some of these favorite medicinal aids can be found in our supermarkets or drugstores as teas, seasoning, or healing oils. So next time you need a lift or a cure, try one out as a tea to soothe your bones or relax your mind.