Leaves of Life: Four Bush Medicines to Beat That Holiday Cold

December 3, 2015

Words by Tishanna Williams


Before pharmacies, there were grannies. Those who grew up in a household with an elder, or simply had access to persons knowledgeable on natural remedies, can easily throw their mind back to the times when the backyard was the pharmacy, and various concoctions were forced down your throat under the watchful eye of an adult. Every Trini knows that, although they are never the most pleasant to consume, when modern medicine can no longer handle the level of flu you are dealing with, it’s time to turn back to the bush medicines of old. We’ve linked some elders from Trinidad to find the most popular bush remedies for the flu.

PLEASE NOTE: As with most of nature’s remedies, there is still a lot unknown about the full works and side effects of plants. The following are common in Trinidad, but you may wish to contact a medical expert or your granny of choice for more info.

Scientific name:
Hibiscus rosa sinenis – double

According to CNN, “multiple studies back up the blood pressure-lowering abilities of hibiscus, including one published in the Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences.” In Trinidad, the old folk have another function for its less common counterpart, the double hibiscus. According to grannies, boiling the flower itself is a great way to deal with a cough that won’t seem to go away. Considering there are various ‘hibiscus and lemon’ or honey cough drop DIY recipes online, granny may be onto something. It is also quite a beautiful flower to look at.


Scientific name: Bryophyllum Pinnatum

From regenerating itself from both stem and leaf to its ability to grow anywhere, is there anything that this plant, also known as Fey Lougawou in Haiti and Leaf of Life in Jamaica, can’t do?! In the Caribbean, people tie the leaves to inflamed bumps and heads when suffering from a headache; the plant is a common answer for many other issues as well, especially among elders. It’s even fast becoming known among herbalists and naturopaths in the US. Scalding a leaf in hot water and allowing it to cool before drinking is a good way to deal with a pesky cough. Of course, this must be repeated throughout the day for results to be seen.


Scientific name: Chromolaena odorata

According to Granny, this is best prepared by pounding the leaves in a clean cloth, and mixing the paste with salt and a little water — or rum — to fill a few tablespoons that are taken before bed. Though not bitter like other concoctions, it does taste like bush and salt so don’t expect the most pleasant of flavours. This is a known bush medicine among the Trini Grannies and, if you grew up in a household with one of them, better believe, you’ve had it.


Scientific name: Salvia officinalis

Black sage tea is a common thing in Trinidad again among the elders as well as in the states to some extent. The herb is used for both medicinal and spiritual purposes, but in times of flu, the tea is also used to deal with a pesky cold and cough. Another less than great tasting blend, black sage is a staple among Trinis in times of flu.

Scientific name: Neurolaena lobata

If you are a Trini and have never heard of this… we don’t know what to do with you. If you’ve heard of it, and managed to avoid it… you are our hero. Say the word ‘Zebapique’ to a knowing Trini, and you will probably witness an automatic recoil as if you’ve mentioned some sort of torture apparatus. And honestly, it might as well be. Zebapique (also known to some as “Jackass Bitters,” or Tres Puntas) is extremely bitter, yet said to be as potent as an expectorant that Trinis swear by it.

Boil a few dried leaves, allow to cool and, if it is your first time, drink a little at a time — to ensure you don’t suffer any side effects. If you are truly brave, soak it in puncheon for a few days or weeks, and take a shot as needed. Some claim it causes them to bring up the mucus almost immediately. No matter how it works, after a while of expectorant that after a certain period of ‘minding a cold’, it will be the only answer.