In the book,
Traditional Medicinal Plants of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, "Old Man’s
Beard" (Tillandsia recurvata) is described as an
unusual herb that "grows into a tangle of curving stems" and "anchors itself
onto surfaces." It sports delicate purple flowers and climbs on trees, shrubs and telephone
wires at lower and middle elevations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Beard" was used traditionally to treat arthritis and diabetes. "Iron Root" (Ruellia
tuberosa), on the other hand, is a perennial herb with "up to 18 fleshy, finger-like
roots," that soothe the "joint pains, nerves and strained muscles" of our people in
years gone by.
"In the past,
our parents and grandparents often had to rely on the available flora for everyday remedies to
strengthen the immune system, heal the sick, remove internal parasites or cast away evil
spirits," says Kwame Garcia, acting director of the Cooperative Extension Service of the
University of the Virgin Islands, in the foreword of
Traditional Medicinal Plants of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. "Indeed, recognizing
and understanding the many uses of plants was once critical for their survival," adds Garcia.
My generation, for
the most part, was reared on store-bought aspirin and doctor’s
prescriptions. But cousin Nen Bea, (pictured on the home page of this site), was still anchored in
that world of herbs, infusions and poultices up until the time of her death. She was fearful of
being jailed for practicing her craft, however, and only shared her knowledge of herbs with people
she trusted. "We have to peep and dodge," she explained.
Bea distrusted the medical establishment. She also spurned coffee and cocoa and "drank bush
(herbal teas) from Sunday to Sunday."
boy," she once told me with a smile, "these herbs are properly dutiful for our
Audio Clip: Discussion
about oral history that has been “archived” in songs.