SOME weeks ago, this column dealt with folk remedies used in Guyana and particularly herbal folk remedies including tree barks. It was pointed out that little research and chemical analysis of the majority of folk remedies used in Guyana had so far been undertaken and though a herb or “bush” may contain a drug used to treat an ailment, the user does not know the quantity of the drug in the “bush” he or she is using. This results in the “bush” being helpful to some users but of no help to others. For example. some local herbalists may prescribe congo pump for diabetes but as far as we are aware, the cure effected by that bush has been almost nil.
Some herbalists and a few users of “bush medicines” contacted us and reminded us that there were some folk cures which Western Medicine had recognised. This was indeed true but the vast majority of such recognised herbal remedies were included in ancient pharmacopoeias, especially the Ayurvedic. Among these, for example, were turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and others. With these herbs which Western Medicine has recognised, there have been chemical analysis and the drugs they contain have been isolated. Turmeric, though not a prescription drug as yet, has been widely recognised and used for many types of ailments including cognitive deterioration (Dementia; Alzheimer’s) and as a painkiller. The four “herbs” mentioned above together with Mint and Tulsi (Sweet Basil) are well-known in Guyana and their medicinal usage is growing.
The literature on turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and garlic are quite voluminous but there is far less on Mint and Tulsi. Indeed, there is more on these two herbs in Ayurvedic than in Western writings. In this offering, we will highlight Mint and Tulsi.
There are 15 to 20 species of mint including spearmint and peppermint. In Guyana, the most common species used and grown is peppermint and research and analysis have been done on this plant. The main recognisable drug it contains is menthol. The oil extracted from the mint plant is used in toothpaste, gum, and a variety of beauty and other industrial products. Our focus will be primarily on its medicinal use and to a lesser extent on its culinary use.
Like Tulsi, Mint could be grown in plant pots, in the yard or gardens and they proliferate plentifully so there is no need to buy the imported product. They could be used both dried and fresh.
In Guyana, Mint has been used mostly for medicinal purposes and to a lesser extent for cooking. Mint tea has been used to treat colds and fevers and has often been combined with other herbs such as lemongrass or Toyo and its taste turns out to be quite pleasant. With its menthol, a natural aromatic decongestant, it is also able to break up phlegm and mucus and bring relief to colds and sore throat. It is also widely used in Chinese medicine in its peppermint extract form, an example being Shilling Oil and Tiger Balm, two popular products used externally.
Crushed in lukewarm water with a pinch of salt, it is used as a mouth wash and breath freshener. Strong mint tea is used as a pain reducer and could be crushed with a small amount of spirits and tied to the forehead to relieve headaches. Many would merely use it in its peppermint oil form.
As a relief for gas and indigestion, flatulence and Irritable bowel syndrome, mint leaves and stems are often eaten or made into a very strong tea. As a treatment for calming insect bites, rashes and other such reactions crushed mint leaves mixed with a bit of coconut oil is applied to the affected skin.
Tulsi (sweet basil) has been in use for thousands of years and is an important Ayurvedic cure. It is used in Hindu religious ceremonies and is associated with Lord Vishnu, so regarded as a holy plant and has many spiritual traditions attached to it. Like Mint, it is used in cooking but they are the last ingredients placed in the food so that they would retain their taste and nutritional qualities.
It makes a tea which is used as a muscle relaxant, as an aid to digestion, to treat chronic pain, to protect heart and blood vessels and as a treatment for coughs and colds. It is an antioxidant and a natural antibiotic. It is used with oranges or lemons to make a drink as well as with ginger. It is used in various salads.
Tulsi and Mint are two herbs, two “bushes”, which Western Medicine now recognises and could be used with confidence since scientific research into them had been undertaken and they are never toxic. We would, therefore, reiterate that “bush medicines” should only be ingested if scientific research into them had been undertaken as in the case of Mint and Tulsi since this will eliminate any risk.