Caribbean Healing in Cahuita
“Look over there… you can see some papayas growing in the tree. Did you know that their seeds are very good for stomach problems?” I am a bit astonished by Fernando’s words, my guide for today. As I walk in Cahuita through his ‘Medicinal Plant Sanctuary’ named Alma Verde, I think about the countless time I have thrown away those seeds. And, probably just like many other travelers or expats, I could use them very well from time to time.
This is not the only natural treatment today I’ll learn about from Fernando. Born in Cahuita, Fernando is an expert when it comes to medicinal plants and local wildlife. At the very end of the western dirt road of the cute town near Playa Negra, you find his lush piece of paradise. Here Fernando planted many kinds of medicinal plants, trees and flowers on over 20 acres of land. All of those attract many amphibians, birds and butterflies too. Though all the plants are labeled, Fernando offers tours in his own garden to point out their benefits.
“Yes, you could say every plant has a purpose”, Fernando acknowledges. “Just as every human does”. I just learned that vanilla beans grow inside a plant that looks like ivy, and is attached to another tree. Vanilla is apparently one of the scents that can make people happier; some even use it as an antioxidant. Above all I think it’s fascinating that this little burnt matchstick has such a nice and strong taste and is used everywhere.
As we move on Fernando tells me that the fruit and the tree trunk of the breadfruit also sells very well worldwide. “It’s one of the active ingredients of viagra, because it increases the blood flow”, he explains casually. In general, Fernando also seems to know very precisely what substances are selling well in Holland, where I come from, and surrounding countries in the form of pills. Note to self; if you’re up for it, without a doubt you can make a lot of money selling the extracts of plants.
We see some coconuts, which are good for the kidneys, before we walk through an open bar. “We had a party last night”, Fernando jokes as he sees me looking at the huge amount of empty bottles. Later on I learn he works with both traditional and non-traditional doctors in order to create new medicinal drinks. It surely looks like a potions lab in here.
“Here, smell this one”. We continue the tour and Fernando gives me a tiny leaf. Whew, this does smell oddly familiar, but I’m not sure if I’m too happy about that… “This one is used for the old spice scent”, says Fernando to end my mental quest. Indeed, unmistakably that was what it reminded me about.
I have to admit that I’d wish I had the natural expertise that Fernando possesses. When I ask him where all of this knowledge comes from, Fernando tells me it’s basically already inside of us. All right, well in my case I’m not too sure about that. But when we head on to some weird looking roots on the ground, I finally recognize something; turmeric and ginger, ha! “Very strong healing powers, they have for example anti-inflammatory and antioxidant purposes”, supports Fernando. They are positioned next to the cinnamon plant; of which the dried branches are another stomach reliever.
A couple of meters further I get to taste something sweet: stevia. It is derived from a tiny plant and one of the natural sweeteners that is becoming more popular in Europe too. Fernando is already using it since decades. “I think it is better than sugar, which is basically poison”. I try not to think about the oreo-cookies earlier that day.
At the end of the tour I take a look at some volcano shaped lodge, while Fernando is making a cup of tea with herbs from his garden. What the hell am I staring at, I’m wondering. “That’s the herbal sauna”, shouts Fernando from out of the kitchen. And indeed it is. As I peek inside and the steam warms my face, I figure out you could probably sweat the hell out of yourself in this cabin. Fernando explains that the sauna works as a detox chamber. Tell him whatever pain you have and he will put some corresponding herbs from the garden inside the sauna. Thus, according to my guide, this aromatherapy can help you eliminating toxins, enlarging your lung capacity, reducing your stress level, or whatsoever.
It’s time for another hot intermezzo, since tea is ready. Fernando brings a homemade chocolate brownie on the side, made with cacao out of his own garden. Cahuita used to be famous for its cacao beans, but nowadays there are only a couple of places left where the cacao tree is growing. I can tell Fernando planted his tree with success, since the brownie is absolutely delicious.
Tea Time’s up! As I say goodbye to Fernando and drive back home, I feel a bit sad leaving this hidden oasis. While avoiding the potholes on the dirt road, my head is spinning around with all of the new learned medicinal information. I wonder if this natural knowledge will stay with me. And whether the papaya seeds really will help me out next time.