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Herbal Remedies of the Dominican Republic

This guide introduces the herbal remedies commonly used in the Dominican Republic as well as the Dominican diaspora

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In our daily lives, we all use natural remedies whether in the form of teas, balms, ointments, or soaps. Some plants we often use for these include peppermint, coffee beans, aloe, chamomile, and so on. Many of us just don't realize that the common remedies we use have their origins in traditional herbal medicine. The aforementioned plants play a role in the natural medicine of the Dominican Republic as well as many more.

The Dominican Republic is a country situated in the Caribbean on the island of Hispaniola where they share a border with Haiti. The culture and customs are a rich mixture of different influences including West and Central African culture, the native Taíno culture, and European culture.

This guide will introduce some of the more common plants and herbs used in Dominican alternative medicine as well as how they are used.

*Note: the uses for the herbs and plants are based on surveys and most have not been studied enough for there to be any evidence that these natural remedies work for the conditions listed. This list is a reflection of the historical and cultural uses of these plants.

List of Plants & Herbs

Plant name (Spanish)

Plant name (English)

Species name

Uses

Aguacate

Avocado

Persea americana

The leaves are meant to be prepared as a tea and are thought to treat arthritis and cramps.

The seeds can be pulverized and mixed in boiled water where they are reported to be used as contraception (Note: many Dominicans believe the seeds to be somewhat poisonous, but there is no research to support or deny the claim).

The avocado fruit is ingested raw and often served alongside several traditional Dominican meals. The fruit is believed to lower cholesterol, treat osteoarthritis and plaque psoriasis.

Other health conditions and effects Dominicans have reported avocados to have:

  • abortifacient
  • diabetes
  • intestinal parasites
  • intestinal worms
  • vaginal infections

Alquitira, Tuna de España

Prickly pear

Opuntia ficus-indica

Only the red fleshy fruits at the top of cactus are consumed. They are often used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, liver and heart problems, and kidney disorders.

The gel from the stems can be used as topical treatments for healing wounds. 

Anamú

Guinea hen-weed

Petiveria alliacea

The roots and leaves can be used for teas or tinctures. It is very bitter and potent so it is used often for ailments such as arthritis, muscle pain, back pain, and aches. The tinctures are commonly applied topically and are used to combat headaches.

Culturally, this plant is often used in women's health where drinks are made to address conditions concerning pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause as a result of its believed blood purifying qualities.

Aniseto

Cake bush

Piper marginatum

The roots, leaves, and stem are often used to make a tea. The plant is very similar to anise so if one is not able to find this specific plant, anise can be substituted. It is often ingested to combat gas, uncomfortable stomach pain, and other conditions affecting digestion.

Apasote

Wormseed

Chenopodium ambrosioides

The leaves can be used for teas or crushed and heated to apply topically. It is believed to help with intestinal parasites, gas relief, asthma, conjunctivitis, and can be used as an antiseptic.

Some use the leaves to create an essential oil, however, it is highly potent and flammable so it is strongly advised against. It can attack the nervous system and even lead to paralysis if applied too much or ingested (>10mg in adults).

Berenjena

Eggplant

Solanum melongena

The edible fruit of the eggplant is said to combat diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol. The eggplant is often cooked however when used for medicinal purposes, the water of the fruit is extracted because some Dominicans believe it can increase metabolism.

Berro

Watercress

Nasturtium officinale

The leaves, stems, and flowers of this plant can be used raw, made into a juice, or extracted into a syrup. It is commonly used when one has a cold or flu because it is reported by Dominicans to clear congestion. The raw leaves can also be used in daily cuisine by including it in salads.

Bija

Annatto

Bixa orellana

The seeds of this plant are often ground into a powder and made into a tincture or tea. It is believed to be helpful for postpartum, anemia, ovarian cysts, breast cysts, fibroids, and menstrual cramps.

Cacao

Chocolate

Theobroma cacao

The cocoa butter from the plant is often used to make salves for moisturizing the skin. Its seeds can be roasted to make chocolates for consumption while the leaves are used for its diuretic purposes.

Cancharagua

Sweet broom

Scoparia dulcis

The leaves of this plant can be chewed raw to help with cough and is traditionally brewed in teas to possibly treat a wide variety of ailments:

  • most traditionally, diabetes
  • inflammation
  • malaria
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • fevers
  • and to induce labor

Diente de león

Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale

The leaves of this plant can be eaten raw as in salads, or blended to make juices. The leaves and roots can both be used to create teas. Overall, it is believed this plant can heal the liver and help with reproductive disorders.

Guanábana

Soursop

Annona muricata

With this plant, the leaves are often used to prepare a more complex tea and is mixed with cinnamon bark, cherry leaves, and bitter orange leaves in order to treat colds and the flu. There are other variations of tea the leaves of this plant are used in in order to treat musculoskeletal problems, hot flashes, to relax as a sort of sedative, and as a diuretic.

The fruit itself can also be consumed and is a good source of potassium and vitamins B1, B2 , and C.

Hinojo

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

The seeds of this plant can be used in conjunction with similar medicinal plants to create teas. These are used for digestive problems, inflammation, allergies, gas, and sinusitis.

An essential oil can be extracted from the fruit whether fresh or dried from then it is used as an antibacterial agent and to treat respiratory infections.

Jagua

Genipap

Genipa americana

The fruit of this plant is cut into small pieces and de-seeded then placed in a pot with water and sugar for several hours to days. The resulting water is then drunk in order to combat inflammation, menstrual problems, infections, and some intestinal parasites.

Juana la Blanca 

Woodland false buttonweed

Spermacoce remota

The juice of the root is believed to treat malaria and act as a contraceptive. 

Boiling down the leaves is thought to help treat diabetes, headaches, and act as a diuretic.

The seeds themselves can be chewed and are considered a stimulant.

Lechosa

Papaya

Carica papaya

The fruit often eaten raw or made into shakes and juices in order to treat gas, stomach pain, heartburn, and aid in digestion.

Limoncillo

Lemongrass

Cymbopogon citratus

This herb is commonly used in teas in order to help with stomach problems as well as asthma, flu and cold symptoms, and hot flashes.

Llantén

Plantain

Plantago major

The leaves of this plant can be eaten raw, used in teas, or crushed and liquefied into a juice or to use as a topical treatment. It is used to heal wounds and bug bites while it can also be consumed to treat conditions such as stomach aches, vaginal infections, high cholesterol, and liver problems.

Manzanilla

Chamomile

Matricaria recutita

The flower of the plant is often dried and steeped in hot water either alone or with other herbs to create teas and is best known for its calming effects. Other reasons Dominicans consume this tea is to lower blood pressure, alleviate menstrual cramps, improve blood circulation, and combating insomnia.

Nigua/Noni

Noni

Morinda citrifolia

The fruit is usually blended into a juice and is used to try and treat high blood pressure, inflammation, boost the immune system, and help with weight loss. 

Orozul

Aztec sweet herb

Phyla/Lippia dulcis

The leaves of this plant are boiled in water to create a decoction to combat flu and fever. 

Ozúa/Juana la peluda/Berrón

West Indian bay

Pimenta racemosa

The leaves of this plant are boild in water to create a decoction that is used to regulate blood pressure, diabetes, and lessen the pain of a tooth ache.

The essential oil extracted from the leaves is used topically to disinfect and act as an astringent.

Piñón de hoja ancha

Poison nut

Jatropha curcas

The leaves can be made into a tea and is meant to treat fevers, vaginal bleeding, jaundice, malaria, and other infections. The leaves can also be crushed and applied topically to treat wounds.

The fruit is believed to help with eczema and other skin problems, arthritis, and act as a laxative.

Rompe zaragüey 

Communist pacha

Eupatorium odoratum

The flower of this plant is boiled into tea to help manage diabetes, act as an anti-inflammatory agent, and has antioxidant properties.

The plant can be crushed and applied externally to treat wounds, burns, and skin infections.

Sábila

Aloe

Aloe vera

The gel inside the leaves is commonly used for skin relief from burns, cuts, abrasions, wounds, and fungal infections. The gel can also be added to water for several hours then strained while others just blend the gel and water together in a blender. Once it's mixed, it is drunk to treat the common cold, the flu, and respiratory infections.

Uña de gato

Cat's claw

Uncaria tomentosa

The most commonly used parts of this plant are the inner bark, branches, and roots that are then made into teas or tinctures. It is then traditionally used to treat osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and menstrual disorders.

Verbena

Porterweed

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis

The leaves and stems of this plant are used to make a tea that is meant to reduce anxiety, calm any stomach problems or disorders, treat diarrhea, and alleviate some symptoms of menopause.

Yerba/Hierbabuena

Mint (any)

Mentha species

Any kind of mint herb is used including the leaves, stems, and flowers to brew as teas. It is believed that these teas can help with diabetes, stomach aches, abdominal pain, anxiety, stress, and indigestion.

The leaves of the plant can be crushed with a mortar and pestle and applied onto burns or minor scrapes.

Mint essential oils are now popular as well and are used to relieve headaches and reduce stress.

Yerba/Hierba mora

Black nightshade

Solanum nigrescens

The entire herb is used to create teas in combination with other herbs and plants where it is meant to treat allergies, help with conditions that typically affect women, and purify blood.

 

Additional References

Balick MJ, Kronenberg F, Ososki AL, Reiff M, Fugh-Berman A, O’Connor B, Roble M, Lohr P, Atha D. 2000. Medicinal Plants used by Latino healers for women’s health conditions in New York City. Economic Botany 54: 344-57.

Crommett, Marisa K., "Communicating Health Care Options: Dominican Herbal Remedies in the Dominican Republic and New York City" (2011). Honors Theses. Paper 619.

Ososki, A. L., Lohr, P., Reiff, M., Balick, M. J., Kronenberg, F., Fugh-Berman, A., & O’Connor, B. (2002). Ethnobotanical literature survey of medicinal plants in the Dominican Republic used for women’s health conditions. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 79(3), 285–298. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0378-8741(01)00376-2

Yukes JE, Balick MJ, Kronenberg F, Reiff M, Johnson K. 2002-2003. Urban Ethnobotany Project, Phase III - Dominican herbal remedies for women's health. Unpublished field notes. Manuscript on file, The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY.