Our natural pharmacy: The knowledge and practice of traditional medicine in Belize is as diverse as its cultural heritage and botanical diversity. In an area that is not just home to more species of plants than most other regions on earth, but is equally rich in cultural diversity, the number of plants used for medicines in different ways by different people is mind boggling.
For example, the National Cancer Institute started the Belize Ethnobotany Project, which has sent of 2,000 species back to the NCI to be studied for cancer fighting properties. These plants can be seen in the wild at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary within 30 minutes of Dangriga. Sadly, even in the rural areas traditional plant knowledge is rapidly disappearing, as ‘modern’ western medicines are becoming more readily available (unfortunately skilled doctors who can dispense them appropriately are not). Modern medicine is considered more ‘progressive’ and becomes a status symbol.
However, luckily one usually does not have to search for very long before coming across a knowledgeable person, who may not exactly be a shaman, but who certainly knows at least some of the more commonly used remedies. There are traditional herbalists in villages such as May Center that can share the ancient Maya knowledge of rainforest medicines and herbal cures for both physical and psychological ailmets.
FEATUED PLANT AND HINT for TRAVELLER’s WITH SUNBURN. Keep your eyes open for the GUMBO LIMBO TREE (or “Tourist Tree”) This tree can be spotted throughout Belize with strips of flaking red bark used to cue many ailments. Strips of bark are boiled in water and then used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes or drunk as tea to treat backaches, urinary tract infections, colds, flu, and fevers. Young leaves rubbed on skin exposed to poison wood can prevent reaction and will sooth itching and speed recovery as well as ease sunburn.
In rural areas poverty and the remoteness of the communities have been contributing factors in preserving traditional plant knowledge. This knowledge was already ancient and well developed by the time the first Europeans set their eyes on what is now our home: Belize.
IX CHEL : Goddess of Healing
Come discover the secrets if the jungle here with us at Blue Marlin on one of our inland excursions!