“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
Herbal Healing Back in Manila
By Prosy B. Montesines
Published in The Philippine Inquirer and Asia News Network
Sunday, Sep 27, 2009
MANILA, Philippines – Something’s growing, literally all over Metro Manila: Plants with healing properties.
They’re sprouting from even the most unexpected places – roadsides, curbs, cracks on walls and streets and even in patches of earth that don’t look like they can sustain life.
Botanists and gardeners say the wind and the birds scatter the seeds and spores that sprout into these plants.
All that the public needs to know now is how to recognize these plants for what they can do: Heal the sick.
The high costs of prescription medicines and the organic, back-to-nature trend have rekindled among urban residents a keen interest in herbal plants, much like the time people ate into the health food boom.
This herbal renaissance has prodded people to learn and understand the benefits of nature in relation to their health and well-being.
‘Life begins the day you start a garden’ is a Chinese proverb that rings true for Florencia Gozon Tarriela, a corporate executive and resident of Pasig City.
She works as chair of the board of the Philippine National Bank, but moved by her love and passion for natural farming, she devotes most of her weekends developing an herbal sanctuary in her 5-hectare garden in Antipolo City.
Called Flor’s Garden, it serves as a laboratory designed to substantiate a campaign that she and her husband, corporate lawyer Ed Tarriela, wage to help promote healthy living among Filipinos.
They believe that the propagation and development of some 12,000 species of edible and medicinal wild plants growing in the country will reinforce their battle cry: ‘No Filipino should go hungry!’
Her own researches on the medicinal potential of wild and common plants are conducted in the ‘Hardin ng Buhay’ section of her garden.
She gets information from books, seminars, lectures, and meetings with botanists, traditional medicine specialists and farming experts.
She also learns through the ailments of other people, including her workers who experience healing with the use of simple herbal remedies such as poultices, salves and decoctions for wounds, aches, coughs, colds and fever.
According to her, the leaves of the guava tree (Psidium guavaja) and damong maria or mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris Linn.) can be used as poultice for healing wounds. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) has strong antioxidant, antifungal and antiviral properties, while alagaw (Premna odorata Blanco) and lagundi (Vitex negundo) can help relieve fever and colds, cough, bronchitis and gas pains.
Few people are perhaps aware that dusol (Kaempferia galanga L.), that oft-ignored and trampled-upon stemless plant growing along pathways and in open grasslands, have medicinal uses.
Fely Sabio, a coordinator at Flor’s Garden, and Tarriela herself witnessed its healing power when a worker accidentally got a wooden splinter embedded in the skin of his hand and suffered an infection.
When a series of medical treatments failed to alleviate the infection and surgery was the only option left, the worker tried using a poultice of dusol. To the amazement of everyone, the tiny but stubborn splinter was finally dislodged and the infection subsided completely.
Dusol leaves are also a folkloric medicine for rheumatism and sore throat. Mixed with oil, it is said to be effective also in the treatment of dandruff.
Mayana (Coleus scutellarioides) is commonly used as an ornamental plant because of its attractive purplish flowers and blotched leaves, but herbalists say this fleshy herb can cure bruises, sprains, headaches and sinusitis.
Katakataka (Bryophyllum pinnatum) is named so because of its astonishing and mysterious characteristic: Even when a leaf is detached from the plant, its edges or notches develop, making the leaf capable of growing on its own when planted in fertile soil. Folks use this juicy herb as a poultice for boils, infections, sprains, eczema, burns and carbuncle.
Takip-kuhol (Centella asiatica), also known as Indian pennyworth or gotu kola (although studies show it has no cola or caffeine content) is said to be rich in vitamin B and commonly used in the treatment of colds, tonsillitis and bronchitis.
Hyssop, an aromatic plant belonging to the mint family, has served as an antiseptic and astringent since the Biblical times, while catmint or kabling (Anisomeles indica Linn) relieves rheumatism, bone pain, fever, abdominal cramps, gas pains, eczema, and toothache.
Two rare herbs found in Flor Garden are stevia (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni) or sugar leaf and kadok (Piper sarmentosum). Because the leaves of stevia taste sugar-sweet, people with diabetes or high blood pressure can use it as an alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners, according to Tarriela.
Kadok may be seldom seen in the country, but in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is a common plant used in traditional medicine and cooking (the subtly peppery taste of the heart-shaped and glossy leaves adds zest to omelets and other viands). A study conducted by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) shows that extracts from Kadok leaves have anti-oxidant properties.
According to the World Health Organization website, 80 percent of the population in some Asian and African countries count on herbal treatments for their primary health care.
Once dismissed as arbularyo myth, herbal healing has attained a higher cultural status as a healthy alternative to using expensive prescription medicines, even as some medical authorities continue to express reservation about its efficacy and safety.
Clinical researches, however, have shown the potent healing properties of some herbal plants, categorizing them into folkloric and scientifically validated. In fact, the Department of Health has named 10 herbal plants as scientifically validated herbal medicines.
These are sambong (Blumea balsifera) for the treatment of urinary ailment, edema and prevention of the formation of kidney stones; akapulko (Cassia alata L.) for fungal diseases; niyug-niyogan or Chinese honey suckle (Quisqualis indica L.) for intestinal worm; tsaang gubat (Carmona retusa) for diarrhea and stomachache; ampalaya (Momordica charantia) for diabetes mellitus; lagundi (Vitex negundo) for coughs; ulasimang bato or pansit-pansitan (Peperonica pellucida) for rheumatism and gout; garlic (Allium sativum) for high cholesterol and high blood pressure; guava (Psidium guajava L) for diarrhea and as a disinfectant for wounds; and wild mint or yerba buena (Mentha cordifolia Opiz) for nausea and muscle aches.
Now sold in drugstores and health shops, they come in capsules, tablets, teas, syrups, and salves.
Industry of the Future
The Chamber of Herbal Industries of the Philippines reportedly targets $1 billion in export of herbal products to the United States and the Middle East by 2010.
With the profusion of edible and medicinal plants in the country, the natural ingredients or raw materials industry promises to be the industry of the future.
Continuing scientific studies on the application, efficacy and safety of folkloric herbal medicines will therefore mean two good things for Filipinos: Good health and wealth.
Like Flor Tarriela, city folks should really think big of getting back into herbs.
Ryan Drum, noted botanist and author of the book ‘Planting the Future,’ underscores the urgent need to go herbal quite succinctly: ‘Down with lawns, up with herbs.’ ♦
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