Jamaican Herbs & Alternative Medicine

Jamaican herbs include indigenous species found nowhere else in the world and countless species brought to us by all the national groups who migrated or were brought here so we’ve got the lot. The examples I’m going to tell you about are demonstrative of this. Jamaica has woken up to the fact, if slowly, that it must safeguard and use this patrimony before the pharmaceutical conglomerates do it for us.

Are you visiting Jamaica? Well, once a place in the tropics is not your homeland, you are bound to come across 2 discomforts at least once and certainly we locals are afflicted from time to time as well.

1) Sunburn – slather on raw aloe vera (indigenous) gel. Any garden can grow it and any hotel employee can source you a bit. It keeps well even unrefrigerated so you can keep it in the hotel bathroom. Be careful of the stain. This plant has myriad other uses.

2) Diarrhoea – one teaspoon powdered bissy (ground, dried, kola nut brought from Africa) to one cup hot water up to 3 times per day for up to 3 days. See the doctor if no resolution after this time. This nut is known as Student Bisquit in Nigeria because it is a mild stimulant with caffeine but it is a detoxifer par excellence for any toxin from bacterial to other drug compounds.

3) Ganja (marijuana) brought to Jamaica from India or at least first regularly used by immigrant Indians. Jamaica has formulated 2 excellent prescription medicaments from this plant to treat glaucoma and coughs. It can be taken abroad in personal use quantities.

If you’d like more Jamaican and natural remedy tips and/or contacts, get in touch.

SCUBA, Your Brain, Breath & Alternative Mental & Respiratory Rehabilitation

Ever thought of SCUBA as mental and respiratory rehabilitation? And what’s the reason that brain, breath and lungs are linked in healing and recovery?  Well one organ is obvious, but I’ll just remind you that as an ‘end user’, the brain is the most voracious consumer of oxygen, 4 minutes without it and the brain dies, unless under hypothermic conditions.  Enter SCUBA, singing, yoga, tai chi and meditation…  All these activities have major physiological influence if indulged as forms of relaxation and breath work is at their core.

Do you have chronic sinusitis, allergies or ENT problems?  Do you have CONTROLLED asthma? Do you have BEGINNING COPD?  Are you depressed?  Are you a recovering substance abuser (yep! alcohol, drugs, nicotinic smoke)?  In all cases you must get medical and dive instructor clearance if you want to try SCUBA but if you’re eligible to participate and the idea of SCUBA appeals to you, you’re in for a long term treat.

I’m talking to you from sunny Jamaica so I’ll tell you that when I dived, I used to wonder why the world looked so wonderful when I came up after a half an hour floating around.  It had to do with improved gas exchange, the rhythm of the air and other movement, release of endorphins, soothing sound and three things common to SCUBA alone on a regular basis, the illusion of no gravity, the sea and often wonderful visual stimulation.  SCUBA, yoga, meditation, tai-chi and singing all involve a combination of at least 4 of the elements listed so let’s look at each of these elements and the ‘SCUBA specials’ as related to healing and recovery.

Comparing the 5 relaxation options, SCUBA and meditation are like going for a gentle walk and the other three are more structured so that they can feel like a gentle walk or a sprint. Now reach way back and think of yourself in the womb – you were floating around, completely relaxed and listening to and feeling the steady rhythms of your mother’s breath and your own and her heartbeat. This is the primal link to the effect on us of these 5 forms of relaxation.

Some integrative practitioners do prescribe singing, tai chi, yoga and meditation to clients but I haven’t met any who include SCUBA. I’m going to walk you through what SCUBA is good for, because apart from what it’s done for me, I know two recovering addicts whom I would call ‘recovered’ due to SCUBA – their lives have been completely turned around.   So if other forms of breathing exercise seem boring to you – again, after medical and instructor clearance – try SCUBA.

Air – it’s filtered pure air under high pressure, no allergens or pollutants.  When else do your brains and lungs get such a treat? The more you oxygenate a brain (I did not say hyperoxygenate!) that is depressed or addicted the better its chances of ‘rewiring’ itself. This is deep breathing for fun – they tell you breathe normally but both the environment and the air are pressurised so the effect is like deep breathing and you know they tell you to deep breathe for mental and respiratory rehab.

Sound – SCUBA produces what artists and sound people and scientists call ‘pink noise’, a rhythmic background sound – your own breathing – and it’s quite marked under water.  Other examples are the heartbeat and waves on the shore.  Hearing the sound of rhythmic breathing relaxes depressed or addicted brains when they are in an environment in which they feel comfortable and safe.  The pitch of the sound is all encompassing and seems to move in and out of your body with your breath.

Deep breathing exercise of the breathing apparatus – all the lung tissue, auxiliary apparatus and muscles get exercised in a non-stressful way that strengthens them and improves gas exchange over time, very important in early/controlled chronic lung conditions. Improvement of the condition can be marked. And remember your cilia…the little wisps in your respiratory mucosa that help move out the mucus…they really get a work out with deep breathing.

Floating – if you’re not an astronaut or skydiver, you will not find another way to experience 0 gravity and it is magical – on a regular basis an emotionally battered mind responds to this totally new experience and sensation – the mind’s usual thought tendencies about negative things and fixations get highjacked by complete change of environmental sensations.  The physical pains of depression in the limbs and joints can vanish.

Sight – the vast majority of your information comes in through your eyes and underwater this sense falls into the pattern of helping to highjack jaded thought, you never know just what you’ll see – some really lovely and exciting things never seen on land or finding things other people have dropped or lost.

The antibiotic sea and changing pressures – flush your entire ear, nose and throat and deep respiratory areas and kill bacteria with the salt and minerals – this can lead to decreased congestion, sinusitis and allergies.

Endorphins – the end result of all this stuff is the release of endorphins – our own natural pleasure chemicals, they attach themselves to our opioid receptors in the brain and help to encourage us into happier moods, healthier habits and decreased pain.


Into to Alternative Medicine…knees first

“Susan, I wouldn’t touch you with a 10 foot pole.  Unless the pain woke you out of your bed, I’d never cut your knees”, quoth the well known Jamaican orthopaed.

Right Rx, but where did that leave me?  Season was coming up and I’d be at it 4hrs/day, 6 days/week.  …But I couldn’t, the pain was knife like.

Waddled into my boss’s office.  “What’s up?  Why you look so miserable?”

“Can’t dance.”

“How you mean, ‘Can’t dance’?”

“Can’t dance.  Doctor says I have tight kneecaps.”

“Tight what?”

“Basically, when you stretch out my relaxed leg and wiggle the cap, mine won’t wiggle so when I exercise heavily the hot tissues in the joint have nowhere to expand and they hurt me.”

“Go see my wife.”

“Your wife?”

“Yes, ever heard of homoeopathy?”


“Go see her.”

We dancers…(pilots, race drivers, horse riders, some surgeons)..we’ll do anything to do what we love.

“Oh, you have one leg shorter than the other”, this housewife ‘doctor’ told me.

First person ever told me that and I’m not one of those who actually has scoliosis or contracture or hip drop, etc.  I was ‘goneometred’, splayed and measured…1/4″ difference …massive for hard dancing, especially en pointe.  Types like me are weeded out of Sadlers Wells, etc., one time.  Could have some effect on knee pain because right leg was longer and pain was worse in that knee.

“Do you dream vividly?”

“Eh?”  Was this woman nuts?

Two hours later I left with a little vial of ‘nothing’, made of a common mineral in such infintesimal quantities that I was told not to take it except on an empty stomach and not even trace amounts of caffeine, mint, perfume, etc., were to come near me. Eh?  Quantum physics.  Oh yeah?  Well off I went to the Bureau of Standards to get it measured.  Nothing in it.  Oh well, I’d just keep taking it, I had dancing to lose.  End of the week, no pain.  Never looked back and of course I altered how I danced too.  From there I moved on to other remedies and the sky was the limit…right up to the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital.

Homoeopathy is ‘reverse’ pharmacy.  The stronger the substance or nearer to the pure distillate the less potent it is as a cure of whole body systems or, may be a frank poison.  3x is an ointment, you shouldn’t swallow this, whereas MM (a thousand thousand) if correctly used can, for example, shift intransigent depressions without bad effects on the the central nervous system, via quantum physics it is assumed.  Seriously powerful.  I would not say I’m au fait with this level of practice.  We’ve only just started really testing the stuff as western science understands the word ‘test’. 

To say there are no side-effects is not really acurate.  If you ‘hit the right note’ and find the right remedy, the disorder can get a bit worse for a couple hours to a couple of days and then the curing starts.  The other well known reaction is that it is an instant soother and cure, my favourite reaction.  The patient just falls asleep and when he wakes up, voila…gone or hugely reduced distress.  Then too, like most medicaments, one homoeopathic remedy can be used for different things.  I had a patient had the usual monthly pain getting in the way of exercise and I gave her something that could also bring on late periods…useful substance if you don’t have a pregnancy test kit to hand…well, she wondered why she was cycling earlier and earlier…  Had to find another way to deal with the pain.

I can’t make you try anything but if you want to, try the substance that converts 90% of people, (it did me)….Arnica.  Made from the Leopard’s Bane plant… no athlete, exerciser or senior citizen should be without it.  Miraculous for bruising and blunt trauma.

The other thing I’ve been doing is finding Jamaican natural substances that work just as well as homoeopathic remedies (which have to be imported) and I’ve found quite a few, made from different plant stuff but just as effective.  So I thank my ‘alternative’ mentors, the University of the West Indies and now the University of Technology for introducing me and getting us the electives and courses that shine light on these practices.   If you walk into a pharmacy in any of the French West Indies, you’ll find one section for natural and homoeopathic stuff and one for ‘normal’ medicine.  The English Caribbean is a bit late, but waking up.  The Spanish Caribbean is another matter; an over the counter ‘wild west’ and, in Central America particularly, a stunningly vibrant herbal tradition.