The Bahamian Bush Medicine Legacy

Linda Rider

Martha Hanna-Smith is an educator who grew up on the 92 sq.-mile island of Acklins in the Bahamas.

As an artisan and educator, Hanna-Smith has been educating local inhabitants how to change their crafts into entrepreneurship for more than 40 years.

She functions with the normal elements of her homeland, like straw, shells, and sand, to make culturally pertinent art. Other specialties consist of her natural teas, jams, and jellies.

“I drank bush teas all my lifestyle, so which is all I know. I realized practically nothing about cocoa or Ovaltine, so I experienced to vacation resort to what we had in the backyard,” Hanna-Smith claims. “All of the plants, like the soursop and all of the other folks, were there, Home Decoration.”

She uncovered about herbs by observing her elders. If she saw a plant she didn’t recognize, she questioned to find out much more.

“I figured out a good deal from aged persons, just by asking inquiries and also observing what they employed,” she claims.

Inevitably, Hanna-Smith’s do the job with crops gained consideration, and she acquired a distinction for her analyze on bush drugs. In 2006, she published a reserve known as “Bush Medication in Bahamian People Tradition.”

Hanna-Smith has been instrumental in instructing about the health added benefits of bush drugs, developing community craft associations, and embodying and preserving Bahamian tradition.

“The apply of bush medicine was 1 of the lots of contributions of the Africans to this component of the earth,” Hanna-Smith says. “It’s regarded in the Bahamas as an African survival [necessity].”

She notes that bush medicine is connected to the transatlantic slave trade, and the plants utilized when slavery was in impact are among these even now applied these days.

“We think that Africans, when they had been transported here, introduced seeds and vegetation with them, and they handed on their information of these plants,” Hanna-Smith suggests.

Bush drugs is most frequently made use of to make tea, but it can also be employed for salves, poultices, and rubs. Some frequently used plants involve:

Fever grass is just one of the most perfectly-acknowledged bush medications and simply determined by its fragrance.

Recognised as lemongrass in other sections of the planet, it is applied to decrease fevers and boost peace. The flavor is equivalent to lemon peel, and the plant assists assist the immune procedure.

“Fever grass is one particular that you must clean meticulously since pet dogs love to pee on it and that can make you very sick,” Hanna-Smith warns. “Once washed, you can boil it, but some persons also crush it. And I uncover that process offers it far more energy.”

Cerasee has a reputation as a functional herb in the Bahamas. It’s used for common conditions, from tummy pains to colds, and it is also useful for diabetes.

Quite a few Bahamian older people have recollections of staying compelled to consume the bitter tea as unwell little ones.

Kamalame, also termed gumbo limbo, is known as the “healing tree.” Its sap can be employed to take care of skin reactions to other plants.

In her review of bush medicine across islands, Hanna-Smith generally found out various names for the exact vegetation.

For occasion, sapodilla, or dilly in the Bahamas, is acknowledged as neeseberry in Jamaica. A plant identified as blue vervain in Jamaica is known as blue flowers in the Bahamas.

“Our mom and dad utilized to use blue flowers every single Sunday morning to clear out their devices.” Hanna-Smith states.

In most circumstances, the utilizes of the plants are the similar across islands, but there were being some cases in which vegetation have been applied for reasons distinct from individuals known to Hanna-Smith.

Hanna-Smith notes that a lot of this understanding was retained by Obeah practitioners and witch physicians, who were being among the the enslaved people today residing in the Bahamas.

These had been, and however are in lots of situations, individuals acquainted with the medicinal houses of plants thought to have connections with the non secular entire world.

Even though these medicine persons had been typically critical to their communities, the expression “witch doctor” has rather detrimental connotations in contemporary parlance.

“We have a really rich record. In that period, 1600 to 1800, the Europeans and the Africans were here, and the Europeans did not agree with the use of this bush drugs,” Hanna-Smith claims.

The oral traditions of Obeah, Vodou, Santeria, and Shango are however generally practiced in the Caribbean, despite the colonial legacy that labels them as nefarious and even demonic.

These stereotypes can nevertheless be witnessed in well known society.

For instance, the 2009 Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” attributes a character named Dr. Facilier, an example of the distortion and villanization of Haitian Vodou prevalent in white tradition.

Why these types of unfavorable treatment method?

Apart from the spiritual clash of the colonizer’s religion, these traditions, and the plant medication that went with them, was a electric power that African folks experienced and retained while they had been enslaved.

Their expertise and, in numerous conditions, mastery of herbalism gave them the skill, to a certain extent, to handle and mend their possess bodies.

This is a proper Black individuals have generally been denied.

Practitioners understood which vegetation would heal wounds, simplicity belly aches, induce vomiting, and even have an affect on the reproductive method.

This authorized Bahamians to consider care of on their own and each other, even if they didn’t have entry to the similar professional medical care and procedure as white colonizers.

Even though some indigenous awareness of bush medication has been missing, Hanna-Smith thinks it’s essential for the custom to be passed on and continued by means of generations.

“We have some vegetation that are poisonous, and everyone wants to know to steer clear of them,” she suggests. “We need to have to know how to use the vegetation that are great. People today really should not die with this info.”

This conviction is part of what fuels Hanna-Smith’s function.

Bush medication isn’t a relic of the earlier.

It is a probable avenue to a brighter, additional empowered foreseeable future for the Bahamian persons — and a opportunity gateway to a specialised sector that Bahamians can produce making use of ancestral expertise.

This would not only lead to enhanced physical wellbeing, but also to financial effectively-becoming.

The two are undeniably interlinked.

Previously, other folks capitalized on the abilities of elders in the African diaspora. It is important for this details to be protected and utilised for the good of African men and women.

For Hanna-Smith, the long run of bush drugs appears constructive.

Bahamian learners are partaking in study assignments on bush medicine. And some academics are supplying assignments that have to have college students to discover vegetation and their medicinal uses.

Which include bush medication in formal training helps make sure the custom will be understood and practiced for many years to appear.

“I want to see my reserve in all Bahamian educational facilities and offered in grocery retailers,” Hanna-Smith says. “I want to see wellness centers wherever individuals can get the teas they need to have.”

She adds that she’s operating on a next e-book with far more vegetation and kitchen therapies.

Hanna-Smith notes that people generally take a look at the Bahamas and collect info on bush medicine. In many conditions, information is specified as well freely.

Then, they return to their nations around the world and capitalize on the knowledge of African descendants.

For instance, soursop has grown in recognition simply because of promises that it assists fight most cancers — though there is a absence of human scientific studies to confirm this.

This type of reactionary consumption distorts the accurate uses of the plant, turning it into a commodity that is eliminated from its organic and cultural context.

This can make it less complicated to manipulate public notion.

Soursop goods are more and more marketed as “cancer killing,” nevertheless this assert is not supported by the Foodstuff and Drug Administration (Food and drug administration).

Soursop is a meals and medicine staple in the Caribbean, and its increasing popularity puts it at possibility of becoming overharvested and starting to be endangered.

Hanna-Smith emphasizes the importance of receiving to know vegetation and herbs in your nearby ecosystem. She shares some tips, like:

  • finding out to identify crops
  • discovering the background of bush or organic drugs in your region
  • having to pay awareness to what local animals consume for clues

These methods can aid you grow to be more knowledgeable of the medicinal vegetation all around you.

You can start to check out native crops by:

At the similar time, training severe warning.

In finding out about plant medicine, it’s essential to spend consideration to the particulars. Right identification can be the difference amongst everyday living and dying.

For instance, Hanna-Smith shares that kamalame normally grows in close proximity to poisonwood, a plant that lives up to its name.

She recalls a time that someone died just after working with poisonwood, contemplating it was kamalame.

“If you use the mistaken plant, I will sing for you,” she suggests, implying that a funeral will soon adhere to.


Never eat vegetation you’ve identified based on an app, on the net dialogue, or e-book. These solutions are for training and exploration only. Genuinely finding out to establish plants can take time, in-depth analyze, teaching, and loads of exercise.

Normally confirm a plant’s identity with an herbalist, botanist, or other skilled skilled in advance of working with it for any rationale.

Bahamians like bush medicine, because it connects them to their land, their heritage, and their ancestry. It is a custom they rely on.

The custom of bush medicine served lots of Bahamians preserve autonomy over their bodies and their well being for the duration of the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

It carries on to be a way to honor the past whilst empowering the long run for the Bahamian individuals.

Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, women’s human rights defender, and writer. She’s passionate about social justice and group making. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, traveling, and talking to absolutely everyone and no just one at the identical time on Twitter.

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