Natural Health Remedies

Skeptical or credible?

Imagine . . . . . no quick stop at the pharmacy for drugs on your way home from a doctor visit.

In remote places of the world as well as in rural parts of underdeveloped nations where doctors are in short supply, local healers or shamans treat the area’s ailments. Techniques and treatments may seem unorthodox; however, they often prove to be effective. Anthropologists who study indigenous peoples record such unbelievably magical results that even in their re-telling tales they witness, the cures defy explanation.

Many of these treatments for physical ailments use derivatives of the roots, leaves, bark, and stems of local plants and trees native to the area. Physical conditions they treat range from mild gastro-intestinal distress to measles and malaria or even surgical procedures.

If you think these practices sound archaic, you would be wrong. Eugene Linden (on p. 217 The Ragged Edge of the World) talks about a 1992 United Nations event celebrating the “Year of the Indigenous Peoples” where healers and shamans were invited to share their knowledge.

It seems that even presently in the modern world these alternative, sometimes homeopathic methods are finding renewed interest. Even today many doctors in rural areas of developing countries still use these local remedies with their patients.

Admitting that I know nothing about the natural organic substances that have helped people tolerate, recuperate, or heal from illnesses for thousands of years, I am nonetheless fascinated by this phenomenon. They have probably existed as long as people have inhabited the earth. My question is always, “How in the world did early civilizations know which flowers, leaves, roots, and bark helped which ailment?” I suppose there must have been a big learning curve and lots of trial and error.

What further intrigues me is that these homeopathic substances continue to be used today. In some cases they are packaged and sold in health food stores and on the international market. In western countries where new drugs constantly need to be developed, tested, and FDA approved to replace the ones that become tolerant to the infections they are designed to fight, maybe we should not discount some of the plants that have been helping people successfully for many years without side effects.

In El Salvador we stumble upon a few examples of some of the old natural remedies people continue to use. When we meet Santiago’s mom, both temples are covered with large, thick leaves begging the question, “Why?” He responds, “For her migraines.” I ask, “Does it work?” and he nods his head. Being a migraine sufferer myself, I am ready to ask where she got them and take a few dozen along with me. I can’t even figure out how she keeps them in place.

Several tropical trees in El Salvador provide healing powers to those who know which ones and which parts to use. We see the Guanacaste tree frequently up in the volcano areas and find out it is used to treat lung infections and the common cold. (Extract from its bark is used as a soap substitute.)

Another tree rich in Vitamin E yields branches which the locals use as a blood thinner. You have to wonder how they know what dosage is correct since too much of a vitamin can have negative effects.

The fast- growing Moringa tree, commonly referred to as the drumstick tree because of its appearance, has been used by people of India and Pakistan for over 4,000 years for high blood sugar and digestive issues. People in certain areas in Central and South America promote its seeds for their high protein and its leaves for their vitamins, calcium, and potassium. In short, it is an excellent source of nutrition and contain all eight essential amino acids and iron which boost the immune system. It is also used for water purification and hand washing.

See another take on it in Linda’s Blog at:

The pink Madre Cacao blossoms we find blooming high in the volcano areas in January are boiled into a tea with eggs, sugar, spices, and oil, creating a beverage which local children love. I don’t know if they use it for medicinal purposes or not.

Pink blossoms of Madre Cacao are boiled into a tea
Gathering leaves of “medicine tree”

Leaves of “the medicine tree,” resembling those of a North American willow, are also boiled into a tea to lower blood pressure. Our friend gathers some up in the volcano area to take to the city for his friends suffering from that affliction.

One of the tastiest favorite fruits of many Salvadorans is the coveted annona (soursop) growing on trees and sold at local markets when ripe. The bark, leaves, roots and fruit of this spiky green exterior fruit with its white pulpy interior is being extensively studied at major U.S. medical centers for its many medicinal properties. Medical uses include coughs, asthma, liver issues, intestinal parasites, anti-inflammatory, diabetes, and cancer. We had to chuckle at this annona tree filled with shoes. Our friend tells us the local legend is that throwing shoes/workboots up into the annona tree will guarantee a more abundant harvest.

Besides the leaves and bark of trees, people gather a variety of local herbs and plants to infuse in teas to fight infections — such as pulmonary infections or colds –arthritis or liver problems. Mint fights bacteria in the digestive tract. I read that in some places in South America tea brewed with squash blossoms treat parasites.

I find these local health care practices of all very curious. Obviously they must be effective. These people rarely need to resort to a doctor’s care.

For many years members of my own family swear by a local family’s product of mostly organic ingredients for any stomach-related distress. They include spirits of peppermint, camphor, and cinnamon, rhubarb, and ether (now removed). When my daughter was pregnant, she took the bottle to her OB/GYN asking if she could continue using this helpful elixir. “ETHER?!” He couldn’t believe it was bottled and sold in liquid form! And the other funny part is that you could purchase it at a small local meat market like it was a black market item.


    Afflicted with Hope / is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.