Radhica De Silva
Millions of people around the world are spending exorbitant sums to decelerate ageing with the hope of living a long and healthy life, but in the Caribbean isle of Dominica, people have found the secret to longevity.
Recognised as having one of the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world, Dominicans are trying to capitalise on their longevity by increasingly offering to the world the use of herbal medicine to maintain the fountain of youth instead of surgery.
The island’s thrust into medicinal tourism ties in with its stated goal of building an economy that is sustainable and one that is in keeping with its goal of a green economy.
Morris Smith, 61, fondly known as Rudy who owns Islet View Restaurant, uses the aromatic mountains of Dominica to generate his livelihood.
During an interview, Smith said the central mountain ridge in Dominica offers an array of medicinal plants which form part of Dominica’s cultural norms and beliefs.
“We call it drinks of medicine and they are very popular here,” Smith said. Standing in front of a shelf with an array of glass bottles filled with medicinal rums, Smith said the most popular is the gouroflie.
“It is a special creeper bush that grows in the mountains. It is very good for the cold and we add a little bit of lime, honey or sugar. Lots of people coming from the airport drink it and they always say thanks for curing them,” Smith said.
Smith also earn revenue by offering tourists speciality presidential rums. “We also have our President of the US rum, the Trump, Obama Rum and even Hillary rums. All of these are made with local spices and they are very good for you.”
Smith said both T&T and Dominica have similar herbs.
“We use a lot of noni and neem. We also use the mazemawe, a sensitive grass which closes up when you touch the leaves. Drinking this like tea is good because it cleans up your veins. We also use basil leaves which are good for sleeping and we have bitterwood which is great for inflammation. We use chuke chuke for colds and all of these herbs are used to make different types of rums.”
There are also herbal aphrodisiacs which is made with mesamawe and bois bande.
“This is good stuff and helps men with erections. It is good for joints and you can get it for EC$5 a shoot. It is very potent. Spice is very good for men. We also made a drink called Ladies Revenge made from local cherry and spices. We have another drink called Under the Table, the properties of which cannot be revealed,” Smith said.
For the babies, Smith also creates a punch made with Tanya, sweet potatoes and arrowroot which assists in growth and development.
Decima Sharplis Valentine, owner of Seaworld Guest House said residents also utilise herbs in their cooking.
“We use peppermint, basil and other types of seasoning. We make callaloo, plantain and saltfish. Green bananas and saltfish, real creole food prepared using several methods of cooking. We use lots of medicinal herbs and not processed seasoning. Our natural remedies were passed down from generation to generation,” she said.
Nigel Seraphin, who makes his living from tourism, said medicinal knowledge should be shared because everyone needed a chance to live a long and happy life.
“Every time you come to Dominica you extend your life. It is a relaxed and happy place. You get healing and energy here. Dominica is very close to nature and anywhere you turn you will see green. Our hot waters are a fountain of youth. We have the highest number of centenarians in the world. The cuisine is always fresh and locally grown. You can drink from any natural stream you see. We have 365 rivers on the island. We have a lot of snakes but in Dominica but none of them is poisonous,” Seraphin said.
According to a report released earlier this month, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation is reporting that Dominica’s tourism sector rebounded in the first quarter and grew by a whopping 86.7 per cent when compared to last year. It must be remembered that the island’s economy, including its tourism sector was devastated by a hurricane in 2017.
In selling their herbal product Dominicans say part of the secret to good health lies in the medicinal mountains of the island which juts out of the azure oceans between Guadeloupe and Martinique. There are 22 mountainous peaks in Dominica, each of which flows with fauna and rich lush vegetation. The mountains offer more than 300 types of medicinal herbs which are used to make rum punches, therapeutic rubs, green teas and aphrodisiacs.
The island has 12 volcanoes, nine of which are active. The islanders say the volcanic properties offer healing powers to residents and visitors through warm sulphuric springs, healing black volcanic sand, bubbling hot beaches, a Boiling lake, a champagne reef, cascading waterfalls and 365 rivers which snake through Dominica’s 754 square kilometre land space.
secrets: Snake oil popular
Tour guide Randy Darroux shares his knowledge about Dominica’s herbs when he guides visitors around the hilly country.
“I grew up with my grandmother Cathrine Seraphine who died last year at the age of 100. She used leaves for everything. Herbal medicine is a Dominican speciality. Our parents were educated about this and they would ensure that all the children know what to use,” he said.
“Eating fresh food and drinking freshly squeezed juice also adds to long life,” Darroux added.
However, he said there were many herbs whose medicinal properties were still unknown.
“The papaya leaf and mango leaves have a lot of medicinal properties. Those who have kidney problems can drink beetroot blended with ginger and aloes. This will clean up the kidneys,” Darroux said. He added that oils are made from plants and animals which also aids in longevity. The most popular of this is snake oil.
“We stew the snake fat to get the oil out of it and this is very good as medicine. When you have bones or muscular pain you can use it as a rub,” he said. Asked whether snake oil could be ingested orally, Darroux said it was very fresh and most people had difficulty consuming it.
“Castor oil, neem oil and noni oil are also produced as medicine along with coconut oil. The most popular oil known to Dominicans is the Oil of Ojas or the oil of everything which is made from 20 different types of oils and is sold for US$20 for a bottle,” Darroux said.
Foraging in the forest for medicinal plants is not difficult as they grow in such abundance.
Meanwhile, Kenrick Augiste, a member of the Kalinago nation said medicinal herbs were long used to care for their sick. A century ago it was unheard of for Kalinagos to go to hospitals as they lived in the dense rainforests and woodlands of the island.
“One of the most popular herbs we use are the leaves of rosy periwinkle to treat diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, eye irritation, infections, diaphoresis and menstrual pains,” Augiste said.
“In many different parts of the world, rosy periwinkle is used to treat a vast array of ailments, including diabetes, dengue fever, dysentery, insect bites/ stings, indigestion, dysmenorrhea, sore throat, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, Hodgkin’s disease and cancers.”