Healing Secrets of Mayan Medicine

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In the past decade, the National Cancer Institute has tested nearly 2,000 rain forest plants for anticancer and anti-AIDS activity. Hundreds of drugs have been developed this way, including vincristine (Oncovin) for leukemia and paclitaxel (Taxol) for ovarian cancer.

For the past several decades, Dr. Rosita Arvigo of Chicago has lived in the rain forest of the tiny Central American nation of Belize. There, she and Michael Balick, PhD, associate director of the New York Botanical Garden, have studied medicinal plants, including those used by the late Don Elijio Panti, a 103-yearold “medicine man,” who was legendary among the Maya of Belize.

Unlike modern drugs, these plants have been proven over thousands of years of use to be effective and safe. They are available at grocery stores, health food stores and garden centers.

Caution: Plant remedies should not be used by people who are allergic to that plant. Anybody who notices heart palpitations or skin rash from a medicinal plant must stop its usage. Recently, we asked Dr. Arvigo about these plants and how we can put them to work in our own lives…

• Basil

Basil tea relieves fever, indigestion, anxiety and insomnia. Lab tests have found that basil oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Boil a handful of fresh leaves (or two tablespoons of dried leaves) in two cups of water for five minutes, then strain. Drink hot before meals or at bedtime.

• Lemon grass

Among the Maya, lemon grass tea is widely used to reduce fever. It is also effective against coughs and colds. Lemon grass causes perspiration and promotes the excretion of phlegm.

For treating fever in an adult, boil one mashed root and 10 leaves of the plant in three cups of water for 10 minutes. Drink hot, go to bed and wrap up warmly. For fever in children, boil 10 leaves in three cups of water for 10 minutes. Give the child one-half cup of tea six times daily.

• Marigold

Taken as a hot tea, the larger, yellow varieties of marigold are great for treating colic. Marigold tea also relieves fever, stomach pain, flatulence and headaches. To make tea, boil two or three flower heads in one cup of water for five minutes. Let the tea steep for 10 minutes. Give baby spoon full of the warm tea.

Herbal bath: Boil a double handful of marigold flowers and leaves in a large pot of water for 20 minutes. Let the water cool, and then pour it into a plastic baby tub. Bathe the infant for 10 minutes, then wrap him/her warmly and put him to bed.

• Oregano

This herb is widely used in Belize as a remedy for upper respiratory tract infections. It also relieves indigestion. Oregano can be taken in tea form or fresh or dried oregano leaves can be added to soups, stews and sauces.

To make tea, pour three cups of boiling water over one-half cup of fresh-picked leaves or three tablespoons of dried leaves. Let steep for 15 minutes, then strain. Drink one cup before each meal.

• Periwinkle

Although periwinkle contains potent anticancer compounds, it’s best used as a remedy for sore throats.

Place nine pink flowers in a pint of water, and soak in sunlight for three hours. Sip the resulting tea all day long when you have a sore throat or cold.

• Red rose

This garden favorite makes a cooling tonic for hot, humid days. It also helps cool fevers and prevent diarrhea. For children: Boil one red rose and nine leaves in one cup of water for five minutes, then steep for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. For adults: Boil three roses and nine leaves per cup of water.

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