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HomeNewsArchivesUVI Prof's Article Shares Local Lore of Medicinal Trees

UVI Prof's Article Shares Local Lore of Medicinal Trees

April 30, 2009 — Did you know people on St. Croix and Trinidad have traditionally used leaves from the native Silk Cotton Tree in baths and as a poultice for sore feet and sprains? That the juice from the leaves of indigenous Lignum Vitae has been used for generations to soothe the stomach and the plant's resin to treat sores and small wounds?
University of the Virgin Islands professor Robert Nicholls has published an article on traditional cures made from local trees in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Botanical Council. The article is something of a follow-up to his 2006 book: Remarkable Big Trees in the U.S. Virgin Islands: An Eco-heritage Guide to Jumbie Trees and Other Trees of Cultural Interest. (See: "New Book Gives V.I. Big Trees the Royal Treatment.") He acquired a lot of information about the medicinal functions of some of these trees while researching that book, but left it aside because the amount of information would have overwhelmed and changed the book's direction, Nicholls said Thursday.
Both projects aim to heighten public awareness of the cultural importance of certain trees and how they were used by the forbearers of today's Virgin Islanders.
"A lot of what I am doing is really aimed at conservation," Nicholls said. "I am hoping to create a positive attitude toward trees in general and the big trees in particular. The young will become their custodians. I think it is important for young people to value their environment, and making them conscious of the uses and value of these trees to previous generations I hope will help them make a personal connection."
Nicholls' research shows traditional cures like gargles, poultices, compresses, teas, inhalants and lotions were prepared from the roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, resin and bark of a wide array of local trees. He discusses remedies traditionally obtained from lignum vitae, bay rum, silk cotton, tamarind, sandbox, white cedar, West Indian locust, West Indian cedar, genip and West Indian mahogany trees.
Some trees have spiritual elements associated with them as well as medicinal uses. The territory's often enormous Silk Cotton Trees are sometimes called "jumbie trees," Nicholls writes. Jumbies are ghosts in Virgin Islands' tradition.
"Some Crucians remember a Silk Cotton Tree shrine at Estate Mount Victory that was tended by local medicine man John Dubois from the 1940s and 1950s," Nicholls writes. "Dubois would dispense herbs and enact cures there. The shrine later fell into disrepair but was rehabilitated in the 1990s. Nowadays, it contains Christian and other elements, including a figurine of the Biblical character Lazarus."
The article, with 14 color photos of trees used for medicine in the Virgin Islands, is available at the Botanical Council's online store. The online version of the Council's journal is called HerbalGram. Scroll down to HerbalGram81 for the most recent edition, with Nicholl's article.
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April 30, 2009 -- Did you know people on St. Croix and Trinidad have traditionally used leaves from the native Silk Cotton Tree in baths and as a poultice for sore feet and sprains? That the juice from the leaves of indigenous Lignum Vitae has been used for generations to soothe the stomach and the plant's resin to treat sores and small wounds?
University of the Virgin Islands professor Robert Nicholls has published an article on traditional cures made from local trees in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Botanical Council. The article is something of a follow-up to his 2006 book: Remarkable Big Trees in the U.S. Virgin Islands: An Eco-heritage Guide to Jumbie Trees and Other Trees of Cultural Interest. (See: "New Book Gives V.I. Big Trees the Royal Treatment.") He acquired a lot of information about the medicinal functions of some of these trees while researching that book, but left it aside because the amount of information would have overwhelmed and changed the book's direction, Nicholls said Thursday.
Both projects aim to heighten public awareness of the cultural importance of certain trees and how they were used by the forbearers of today's Virgin Islanders.
"A lot of what I am doing is really aimed at conservation," Nicholls said. "I am hoping to create a positive attitude toward trees in general and the big trees in particular. The young will become their custodians. I think it is important for young people to value their environment, and making them conscious of the uses and value of these trees to previous generations I hope will help them make a personal connection."
Nicholls' research shows traditional cures like gargles, poultices, compresses, teas, inhalants and lotions were prepared from the roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, resin and bark of a wide array of local trees. He discusses remedies traditionally obtained from lignum vitae, bay rum, silk cotton, tamarind, sandbox, white cedar, West Indian locust, West Indian cedar, genip and West Indian mahogany trees.
Some trees have spiritual elements associated with them as well as medicinal uses. The territory's often enormous Silk Cotton Trees are sometimes called "jumbie trees," Nicholls writes. Jumbies are ghosts in Virgin Islands' tradition.
"Some Crucians remember a Silk Cotton Tree shrine at Estate Mount Victory that was tended by local medicine man John Dubois from the 1940s and 1950s," Nicholls writes. "Dubois would dispense herbs and enact cures there. The shrine later fell into disrepair but was rehabilitated in the 1990s. Nowadays, it contains Christian and other elements, including a figurine of the Biblical character Lazarus."
The article, with 14 color photos of trees used for medicine in the Virgin Islands, is available at the Botanical Council's online store. The online version of the Council's journal is called HerbalGram. Scroll down to HerbalGram81 for the most recent edition, with Nicholl's article.
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.