When I hear foreigners talk about Dominicans in terms of health, it’s often to talk about what they think we lack or need to change. They come armed with statistics about diabetes, heart disease, and cholesterol. Yet as “holistic health” becomes a buzzword in the “developed” world, here natural medicine is and always has been a mainstay. So to channel my inner-hipster: we were into that stuff way before it became cool.
Both of my parents are Dominican-born-and-grown MDs. When I was a child they opted, whenever possible, to resolve my ailments using the natural medicines de la patria or the Dominican panacea: Vivaporub (Vick’s Vapor Rub). For us, I suspect, it was a way to stay connected to the homeland as well as a way for my parents to legally “practice” medicine since they were never allowed to do so in the United States.
Offering remedios is a way that we practice community care, buy into each other’s health, and pass down the medicinal wisdom of our grandparents—and yes, meddle a bit. Tell a group of Dominicans you are feeling unwell and more often than not you will be bombarded with natural ingredient remedios to cure anything from the common cold to parasites to low blood pressure.
So without further ado, here are a few remedios dominicanos from our grandparents to you.
FOR… Gastrointestinal issues such as dehydration, and to treat parasites and amoebas.
This Caribbean squash is cousin to the pumpkin. It can be prepared as a soup, tea, or chilled drink. The seeds can also be toasted and eaten. For the tea or chilled drink, boil the leaves. For soup, boil the flesh and puree in a blender with plenty of garlic, onions and ginger, which are also known to treat gastrointestinal issues.
FOR… A digestive aid, to stimulate the appetite, and reduce flatulence.
Add two spoonfuls of basil into a cup of boiling water and remove from flame. Steep for ten minutes and drink once a day. Can be sweetened with honey.
Cabbage Leaf Vapour
FOR… Sinusitis, stuffed nose due to cold or allergies.
Bring a chunk of cabbage to a boil. Turn the flame off and drape a towel over your head. Bend over the pot and inhale the steam through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Guava and Bell Pepper Juice
TO… Boost the immune system, and treat dengue and anemia (it is said to raise platelets).
There are two alternate ways to make this. The first is to wash and roughly chop one pound of guava fruit and two bell peppers. Boil the guava for five minutes and then allow to cool. In a blender, blend the guava with the bell peppers and add sugar to taste. The second is to simply blend the ingredients without boiling the guava.
Hibiscus Flower Infusion
TO… Lower blood pressure, treat indigestion, and is also a diuretic.
These flowers are known as Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) or flor de cayena in the Dominican Republic. Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove form flame. Add a handful of flowers to the pot and cover for ten minutes. This infusion can be drank hot or cold, and can be sweetened with honey. Less is more as these flowers tend to be quite strong!
FOR… Indigestion or to treat respiratory ailments such as cough, colds, and catarrh depending on the preparation.
For indigestion combine the juice of one or two limes (depending on their size), a teaspoon of backing soda, and a pinch of salt. I usually don’t bother with the baking soda, but it can be added for particularly bad indigestion. -OR- Smash a piece of ginger and boil in two cups of water, with the juice of one lemon and a little honey. Reduce to one cup. Cover and let cool. A spoonful of this concentrate a day improves digestion.
For coughs and colds: Boil a cup of water and pour over the juice of one to two limes (depending on the size), sweeten with honey and drink while hot.
FOR… Excessive menstrual bleeding or constipation depending on the preparation.
For excesive menstrual bleeding make a mango leaf infusion by boiling 6-8 mango leaves in 1 litre of water until it reduces to 1/2 litre. Strain and allow the liquid to cool. Sweeten with honey if desired. Drink one cup 3 times a week.
For constipation eat the flesh of an under-ripened mango.
Orange Blossom Infusion
Put a few petals into a one cup of hot water. Steep for ten minutes, strain, and sweeten with honey.
TO… Treat ear pain.
Put four oregano leaves in a bath marie until the leaves release their liquid. Keep liquid in a clean container and apply three drops in affected ear.
TO… Treat intestinal parasites.
Chew a four-inch piece of papaya leaf. Chew slowly and thoroughly before swallowing. Can be followed with a glass of warm milk -OR- grind a handful of papaya seeds and ingest. The seeds can have a bitter unpleasant taste so you can sprinkle it on something tasty or blend into a papaya smoothie.[
TO… Treat bloating or bad breath/halitosis depending on preparation.
To treat bloating first set 1/2 litres of water to boil, add 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley and let boil for 5 more minutes. Remove from flame, cover, and let sit for half an hour. Drink two cups of this a day.
For bad breath simply chew a handful of parsley leaves.
TO… Treat diarrhea.
This fibrous vegetable works by hardening your stool but is also yummy. Click the image for a recipe (add corn and some pieces of longaniza or other sausage for a tasty version—but only if you’re not experiencing upset stomach as well since the meat can cause further discomfort).
TO… Treat diarrhea.
Wash a handful of rice until the water runs clear (this step might not be necessary in countries where rice isn’t covered in talc and pesticides, etc). Some say to toast the rice others say it’s not necessary. Fill a pot with eight cups of water and reduce down to four cups of liquid. Drain, and add 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoons of salt and drink.
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