Take the time to identify the miracle plants of Panama


By Ilene Little

It seems I cannot go anywhere in Panama without tripping over many plants whose medicinal qualities can change a person’s quality of life.

I am lucky to live on Isla Saboga where we have access to papayas, mangos, coconuts, lemons, cashew nuts and bananas growing wild in our yard. I am just beginning to educate myself on the abundance here of medicinal plants.

The fruit of the Bitter Melon plant.

The fruit of the Bitter Melon plant.

This week, a tourist pointed out a plant called Bitter Melon (pictured) growing along the path I walk daily across Isla Saboga in the Pearl Islands. The tourist touted the plant as a treatment for everything from cancer to insect bites.

The scientific name of Bitter Melon is Momordica Charantia, and it also goes by bitter gourd, bitter squash or balsam-pear. The Bitter Melon plant, seed and fruit extractions are sold in capsule, powder and tincture forms in many health food stores in the United States.

According to documented studies, the leaf and stem of the Bitter Mellon are said to be effective in the treatment of HIV and herpes and bacterial infections like salmonella. The fruit shows promise for the treatment of intestinal parasites. The plant is used topically to treat wounds and infections.

Natural health practitioners use derivatives of the plant to treat ailments and health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, tumors and cancer and even the common cold, viruses and the flu.

However, some of the contraindications and drug interactions are equally important.

Beware the amateur medicine man/woman

By all accounts, the whole plant, its seeds and its leaves are powerful medicine when ingested; but it is not a plant you should casually pluck off the vine and make tea out of without first doing some due diligence.

There is so much written about this plant; the qualities, tribal and herbal medicine uses, contraindications and possible drug interactions, that I think one must be careful when experimenting. Any plant this powerful should be treated with respect and caution.

If you are a gardener, however, or a true advocate of alternative medicine, this is a plant worthy of your attention and perhaps cultivation.


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