Purpose: This blog explains various plants and how they are used medicinally.
This summer, I spent about 4 weeks living in a traditional village on a small, remote island in Fiji called Vorovoro. Having very limited fresh water and electricity was a huge adjustment to my life in America. It is very easy to see the direct impact my actions had on the environment. With smaller amounts of land, people, livestock, resources, etc., it became necessary to take care of those things in order to continue living on the island. As a result of these limited resources, sustainability isn’t an afterthought, but one of the most important aspects of island life.
Our group of students got the unique opportunity to learn how the Fijians traditionally have used some of the native plants in aiding many illnesses. Poasa, an elder man living on the island, was our tour guide, and Bale, a younger guy attending college in Fiji and working with us on the island, agreed to be our translator. Poasa can speak conversational English, but he could explain the medicinal plants in more detail when speaking Fijian.
We began our tour close to the kitchen, where they had planted a few papaya trees for convenience in case of a cooking accident. Poasa explained that there are 2 types of papaya trees; a male and a female. The male tree flowers, and the female tree bears fruit. Fijians use the skin of the male papaya fruit to aid in swelling, sores, and cuts. To prepare it, the skin is removed, added to boiling, salty water, and cooked for a few minutes. Morning and night, prepare the fruit’s skin and place it on the wound for healing.
Next, we moved to a medicine garden they had planted on the other side of the village. The first plant in the garden was called Uci. Fijians use the leaves from this tree to rub on children in order to ward off what they believe to be bad spirits. Another plant found in the garden was called dilo. This is used for cika, which is a condition of red, swollen eyes that create discharge and “boogers.” They squeeze the juice from the leaves really well, drain it, add the juice to a basin of cold water, and put the patient’s face into the basin or rub it into the eyes with a cloth.
For ear pain, a plant called “tongue of the lion” is useful. They prepare it by cutting a leaf in half, roasting it over a fire, and squeezing juice from the inside straight into the ear. This can be repeated as often as needed. The only plant I was familiar with that they used was aloe vera. This is used to heal topical wounds and bring up flesh after any type of injury to the skin, from scrapes and burns to warts and pimples. Simply cut a piece of the leaf and apply the jelly-like juice on the skin. The same piece of leaf can be used multiple times by cutting the dried end off. It can be covered by a bandage, and covered three times a day.
Kura, the next plant, provides useful leaves and fruit. When the fruit is ripe, it is cleaned and put in a bucket. Then it is mashed until there is enough juice, strained, and used as a drink that helps with hypertension and diabetes. The leaves can be used to cover boils or wrap around a sprained joint.
Found only in Fiji, the mako soi plant blooms a very expensive flower used for perfumes, soaps, fragrances, etc. The skin of the tree is scraped, and the juice is mixed with water and drank morning and night for 4 days to help with diabetes, hypertension, and even obesity. After all of this explaining, Poasa could have used the next plant he explained! Yaro is used for loss of voice and a chronic cough. Similar to several others, the leaves are juiced inside of water and drank morning and night. The skin of the yaro is also one of 7 plants used for women after giving birth. This post-partum concoction primarily treats a stomach sickness that women can get from lack of rest after giving birth, or going back to work too soon. The other 6 plants have various uses by themselves, such as to treat stomachaches and sore throat. This is where we strayed from the garden, and walked around the island to find the remaining plants. The sinu plant can be tricky. If you puncture one of its leaves, a white cream will ooze out that causes irritated skin and rashes. However, if you soak the leaves for about a day, the cream leaves and you can juice and drink the liquid. This drink cures cough, as well as weakness and fatigue. The last plant we got to learn about was called the kikilu. When the leaf is plucked and chewed, it tastes spicy, like a chili. The oil can be extracted and used for cooking. It is also used for bug bites, rashes, and as insect repellent. To prepare it, slice the leaves and dry them in the sun for a day. Add coconut oil to the leaves and dry the mixture in the sun for a day. The balm is then just applied topically as needed.
A thought that kept occurring to me throughout the whole tour was, “How in the world did someone figure out the many uses, medicinally and otherwise, of these plants?” My guess is that it comes from many generations of living and learning. Located in a tropical climate, the Fijians are blessed to have so much vegetation at their fingertips. On the medicinal tour, I learned the extent to which they make use of the natural resources found in their environment.
For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.