Bush Medicine

Medicinal Herbs, Trees and Plants of The Bahamas  Before modern medicine developed laboratory drugs, our ancestors all over the world used herbs and weeds for health. In many parts of the world today, they are the only treatment available and sometimes work better than manufactured drugs. Many plants exhibit the “Doctrine of Signatures” which is a concept that there is some physical characteristic about a plant that signals what it could be used for on the physical body. One great example of this concept is the red peeling bark of the Gumbo-Limbo tree.

In developed countries many store-bought medicines originate from “Nature’s Pharmacy.” When you use aloe vera gel for sunburn, you are benefiting from bush medicine. The active ingredient in aspirin comes from willow bark, a Native American healing plant. Over 25% of the worlds commercial medicines come from plant based chemicals found in the tropical regions.  Below are just some of the Natural Remedies found in The Bahamas.

Warning: The information contained on this page is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be an endorsement of any of the remedies mentioned. Be very careful using any “Bush Medicine”
Native to Africa, aloe vera is commonly cultivated elsewhere. The clear gel found inside the plant’s leaf and the crystalline part found alongside the leaf blade, which contains aloin, are both used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. The clear gel is a remarkably effective healer of wounds and burns, speeding up the rate of healing and reducing the risk of infection. The brownish part containing aloin is a strong laxative, useful for short-term constipation. Aloe is present in many cosmetic’s formulae because its emollient and scar preventing properties.
Arrowroot  is native to South America and the Caribbean. The local  people use its root as a poultice for smallpox sores, and as an infusion for urinary infections. Arrowroot is used in herbal medicine in much the same manner as slippery elm (Ulmus Rubra), as a soothing demulcent and a nutrient of benefit in convalescence and for easing digestion. It helps to relieve acidity, indigestion and colic, and is mildly laxative. It may be applied as an ointment or poultice mixed with some other antiseptic herbs such as comfrey.
Cats will rub and sometime ingest the plant, and then act “drunk” or “wild” for up to an hour or more. No lasting toxicity is reported. Humans also have their moods uplifted and it is supposed to improve mental clarity and alertness. Aids in pain reduction.


Gumbo Limbo
While exploring the Bahamas, you may see a large tree with red shaggy bark that peels off in paper-thin strips. That’s the Gumbo-limbo tree, and its bark is a common topical remedy.   Strips of bark are boiled in water and then used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes or drunk as tea to treat backaches, urinary tract infections, colds, flu, and fevers.  It is very important ingredient in the aphrodisiac Bush Tea called 21 Gun Salute.

The tree is a member of the same botanical species as frankincense and myrhh, both representatives of the worlds oldest medicines. It is also the source of that very, very soft and light wood used for making toy airplanes and boats. In that form it is called balsa wood.

Note: Most Bahamians don’t call it the Gumbo-limbo tree. Rather they call it Gamalamee, or Kamalamee It is also called the Tourists Tree. Tourists get burned and peel, much like the red peeling bark on this tree. And the tree is the cure!

Jumbie Plant (wild tamarind)
In the Bahamas the Jumbie Plant (wild tamarind) is used mostly to nourish cattle, but is good for human ailments, too. As with most bush medicine, you boil the leaves from the plant and brew into a tea. If you’ve had a stressful day, a cup or two of the brew will calm you down. If, on the other hand, you’re suffering from flatulence, the tea is said to have a calming effect on your stomach Some Islanders drink the tea to strengthen their hearts.


Love Vine
If it is an aphrodisiac you are looking for, then the Love Vine could be the plant for you. Apparently this vine can be found not-so-lovingly attached to other plants, which it eventually kills. As with most of the local remedies, the vine leaves are made into a tea.


The Periwinkle plant has historically been used throughout the Caribbean to treat a wide assortment of diseases. It was used as a folk remedy for diabetes in the Bahamas for centuries. Juice from the leaves is used to treat wasp stings and other insect bites. The plant can be boiled to make a poultice to stop bleeding. It has been used as an astringent, diuretic and cough remedy. In Central and South America, it is used as a homemade cold remedy to ease lung congestion and inflammation and sore throats., an extract from the flowers is used to make a solution to treat eye irritation and infections.

If you’ve had a hard day at work and have aching limbs, the bruised, boiled leaves of the Periwinkle can be applied, giving much sought-after relief

It also had a reputation as a magic plant; Europeans thought it could ward off evil spirits, and the French referred to it as “violet of the sorcerers.”

Picao Preto
Picao Preto, a small annual herb with prickly leaves and yellow flowers, is considered a weed in many places.  But in the Bahamas, it has a long history of producing herbal curatives, and virtually all parts of the plant are used.  The people of Exuma grind the sun-dried leaves with olive oil to make poultices for sores and lacerations.   Leaves are balled up and applied to toothaches, or plastered to the head to soothe a headache.
Sea Grape
Sea Grapes are said to be especially good if you have an upset stomach.
Children used to eat them as a sweet treat, but now the most of the local children prefer candy
Calabash Tree
It is said that the fruit of the Calabash Tree when roasted is a good treatment for menstrual cramps or to induced childbirth and that the leaf can be used in tea to treat colds, diarrhea, dysentery and headaches. The shells are often used as bowls, musical instruments or carved by artisans into interesting artifacts


Lemon Grass
Native from Sri Lanka and South India, lemon grass is now widely cultivated in the tropical areas of America and Asia. Its oil is used as a culinary flavoring, a scent and medicine. Lemon Grass is principally taken as a tea to remedy digestive problems diarrhea and stomach ache. It relaxes the muscles of the stomach and gut, relieves cramping pains and flatulence and is particularly suitable for children. In the Caribbean, lemon grass is primarily regarded as a fever-reducing herb. It is applied externally as a poultice or as diluted essential oil to ease pain and arthritis.
Brought from the New World to Spain in 1563, sarsaparilla was heralded as a cure for syphilis. In The Bahamas, the herb has traditionally been used to treat a variety of skin problems. Sarsaparilla is anti-inflammatory and cleansing, and can bring relief to skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis and general itchiness, and help treat rheumatism, rheumatoid, arthritis and gout. Sarsaparilla also has a progesterogenic action, making it beneficial in pre-menstrual problems, and menopausal conditions such as debility and depression. In Mexico the root is still frequently consumed for its reputed tonic and aphrodisiac properties. Native Amazonian peoples take sarsaparilla to improve virility and to treat menopausal problems.
Lignum vitae
One of the most versatile native Bahamian plants is the Lignum vitae (Guiacum officinale, tree of life, or as many old folk call it “Nigly Whitey”). It is the national tree of the Bahamas.  Its glossy leaves are a rich green, and its abundant flowers range in color from purple to blue.  Virtually all parts of the tree are valuable, particularly its heavy, dense wood that was once used commercially in construction, until the tree became scarce.  Its resin, called guaiacum, is obtained from the wood by distillation and is used to treat weakness and strengthen your back.
Hurricane Weed
Called both Gale of Wind Weed and Hurricane Weed, the botanical name for this is small annual herb Phyllanthus amarus.   It is also called the “stone breaker plant” because it has been used for generations to eliminate gallstones or kidney stones.  In the Bahamas, this plant is used for poor appetite, constipation, typhoid fever, flu, and colds. It’s a popular herbal treatment because it has no side effects or toxicity.   Phyllanthus amarus has been the focus of a great deal of research in recent years because its antiviral qualities may even be useful in treating hepatitis and the HIV virus.