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Bahamian Bush Medicine Through The Eyes Of An Expert

Glen C. Nairn

First Published: 2000-04-23

Bahamian practitioners of herbal remedies, like herbalists everywhere, believe that nature has a cure for almost any disease or ailment. One of the foremost local practitioners, Mildred Sands, affectionately called Millie Sands, is no exception.

Having witnessed the powers of bush medicine from as far back as her childhood in the early 1930’s and 40’s, she is bent on educating Bahamians, as well as tourists, on its virtues. (please see sidebar of herbal remedies below).

“Bush medicine is natural,” she says. “All you do is pull (up the plant) and boil – as long as you know the right bush to use for your compliant. Bush medicine goes back to Bible days. In our country, it’s a part of our culture, our heritage. When there were no doctors around our ancestors used bush remedies.”

Sands recalls her earliest memories of the use of herbal medicine her mother use to administer it to her father. She says, “My father couldn’t walk; he had rheumatism and I used to watch him get out there and work. I watched my mother, she’d give him some bush medicine to drink and bathe him in some.”

Then there was the case of a medical doctor who treated patients in the Augusta Street and Virginia Street area during Sands’ childhood. She says he almost exclusively used bush remedies, which she witnessed first hand when he treated her aunt.

The mother of eleven and adopted mother of several, grandmother of fifty, and great-grandmother of twenty, she acknowledges that she has had successes with curing her family of various aliments, including colds, fevers, bronchitis, and asthma.

About thirty-five years ago, Sands took her herbal remedies to a new height, so to speak, while she worked as a social hostess at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Paradise Island. In her quest to enhance her job offerings she was forced to come up with innovative measures, so she conducted weekly demonstrations on various aspects of Bahamian culture, including bush medicine. “Those days,” declares she, “were different, you didn’t go to school to prepare for a job, you had to learn on the job.”

Her fervour for demonstrations on “things Bahamian” piqued when The Bahamas gained independence from Great Britain in 1973, as she wanted to “express the culture of our country, to display our natural stuff.”

Nonetheless, one of her biggest challenges has been to convince many Bahamians that they ought to be proud of their bush medicine heritage, as too often they view its use as unsophisticated and are “ashamed to let others see them picking bush for fear they’ll be accused of working obeah.”

Despite this obstacle, herbal remedies continue to be highly popular. Among the most requested remedies Sands receives are those by men seeking answers for impotence.

A regular conductor of workshops to residents and tourists alike, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism she performs at local hotels – Atlantis on Paradise Island and Nassau Marriott Resort and Crystal Palace Casino and Radisson Cable Beach Resort. Highly interactive, her shows are peppered with lively anecdotes. And, not only are you urged to question the hostess, but you’re also treated to her homemade goodies, such as her famous coconut cream cakes. In conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, she also makes presentations abroad. She has lectured in a number of cities in the United States and Canada.

If for some reason you’re unable to attend her shows, watch for her on R. Roker’s Food Network on Channel 98 (Cable) on July 9th, 2000.

If you think you’d like to try your hand at bush medicine, Sands cautions that you shouldn’t try it by yourself make sure you have guidance from someone who is familiar with it to ensure that you choose the appropriate plant and the dosage. Hence the importance of counsel from experts such as she are invaluable. If your interested you can invite Sands to hold a group demonstration or obtain information from her by telephoning 341-3711.

Perhaps she’s what the doctor ordered!

Here’s a handful of the over 300 bushes and plants in Sands’ repertoire. Aloes – multifaceted: treats burns, wrinkles, and relieves mosquito bites. Bo’ hog Bush – increases appetite. Breadfruit leaves – control high blood pressure. Cascarilla Bark (Sweet wood) – relieves problems related with menopause. Castor Oil – laxative. Catnip (commonly pronounced capnit) – sinus, children’s appetite, colds, worm medicine. Cerasee – perhaps the “aspirin” of bush remedies: used to combat several ailments and diseases, including arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Five Fingers Bush, Madera Bark, and Love Vine – energy boosting drink and provides invigorating bath for the sick. Gale-of-Wind Bush – treats high fever. Life Leaf – asthma control and relief from chest cold. Pound Cake Bush – diabetes control and heart regulating. Sage – cures chicken pox. Sour Sop leaves – control high blood pressure.