Words By Tremayne St. Kitts
Whether you grew up in the Caribbean or have roots embedded in the culture, old school home remedies using some of Grandma’s surrounding foliage were most likely a bittersweet part of your upbringing.
Cannabis (aka Marijuana)
Of the plethora of tropical herbs available, marijuana happens to be in the spotlight in connection to the islands. The recent news about Jamaica’s changes in the legal dealings with cannabis have been met with quite a bit of sarcastic shock considering the popularity and history of recreational and religious use not only in Jamaica, but throughout the world.
For Rastafarians, the cultivation and consumption of cannabis is as much a part of their practices as harvesting crops for food – agriculture being an essential point in their philosophy – and therefore, Rastas view the laws that prohibit the use of the drug as a form of religious oppression.
As Rastas well know, the consumption of the herb has a great many healing properties and benefits depending on the specific strain and the method of consumption; despite the stigma that has become attached to it. Marijuana has been known to treat and control seizures, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, can ease the pain caused by multiple sclerosis and arthritis and slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
The methods of consumption of cannabis include:
- Inhalation: including smoking and vaporizing, this is the most popular method, and the quickest way to experience the effects of the psychoactive ingredient, THC. Inhaling the smoke can have a significant effect on the heart and respiratory system. Vaporizers draw out the active ingredients without burning the leaves, which is less agitating to the throat than smoking.
- Ingestion: most have heard of pot brownies, but the same soothing effect is also felt when consumed as an herbal tea. Although recipes and doses of the herb can vary, this method generally takes longer to take effect, but produces a longer lasting high than most other methods.
- Topical: applying medicated lotions, sprays or creams infused with cannabis to the skin can treat psoriasis, arthritis and joint pain, however the user will not feel any psychoactive effects because the THC content is considerably low in such products, and does not enter the bloodstream.
Cerasee: The Bitter Herb
This fruit-producing plant is prevalent not only in the West Indies, but around the world. Cerasee (aka Bitter Melon or Caraili in Trinidad) is a bitter-tasting herb with many uses. As it is common in tropical climates, the herb may be a garden variety available to you in your own backyard. There are recipes in African, Asian and Caribbean cultures that enjoy the fruit through different preparations, including as a seasoning or as a side dish.
Most in the Caribbean are accustomed to boiling of the Cerasee leaves to consume as a tea, or purchasing packaged Cerasee (packaged teas usually in lower concentration levels), sold in many grocery stores. But it can also be used topically to treat rashes, sores, and other skin ailments such as eczema.
Containing active nutrients (vitamins A and C, phosphorus, alkaloids, iron), the bitter melon is also known to treat a multitude of illnesses – constipation, colds, menstrual cramps, abdominal pains, etc. – and serves as a detoxifying agent to cleanse and purify blood in the body. It is purportedly used to improve glucose tolerance and lower sugar levels for individuals with diabetes, although findings are not definitive.
The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute and the University of Miami recently discovered that extract from the Cerasee plant deadens or kills cancer cells, particularly leukemia, but have yet to conduct studies on cancer patients.
Alternatively, the consumption of this “bush-remedy” is met with warning. Scientific studies at University of West Indies-Mona suggests that it is potentially toxic and can cause adverse effects if mixed with other medicines and drugs. Gastrointestinal problems and cardiovascular issues after ingesting Cerasee were reported in the past few years.