Under the Weather? Have Some Tea!

As a young girl living in a Haitian household, I was made no stranger to the herbal remedies and alternative medicinal practices of our eclectic culture. Anyone of Haitian descent can tell you that their visits to the Doctor and consumption of over the counter medicine were limited because in our culture, herbal medicine is the way to heal the body and soothe the soul. Growing up, my grandmother was my doctor, and her cabinets and backyard full of plants, herbs, and spices served as my over the counter medication. 

The most common remedy that you will find in Haitian households is the drinking of tea. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb with a cup of tea at hand! In our culture, tea is believed to cure just about any ailment or sickness you may have, from an upset stomach to a lingering cold or flu to everyday life struggles! Overwhelmed with school work? Drink some tea. Stressed out? Drink some tea. Boyfriend getting on your last nerves? Drink some tea!

Growing up, whenever I was sick or dealing with aches and pains, my grandmother always had a hot brew of natural medicine specialized just for me. I even remember times when she would go right out to her backyard, inspect certain plants, and when she found the right one, she’d pull the leaves off and before I knew it the house would fill up with such a sweet aroma. One of my favorite, as well as one of the most common teas in our culture, is Haitian Ginger Tea or “Te Jenjanm” in Creole. It consists of ginger root, cinnamon as well as the star anise spice and is used to aid in digestion as well as cure nausea and stomach aches. Another popular, but not necessarily tasty beverage is “Te Gaz” or Tea for Gas in English. It consists of garlic, clove spice and salt and as the name states, is made for curing gas as well as stomach aches caused by gas. The first time I ever had “Te Gaz” is when I complained to my grandmother about a stomach ache. She quickly ran to her drawers and pulled out garlic and cloves and boiled them.

She set the cup in front of me, threw some salt in and told me to drink. By this point, I was very hesitant because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to be the sweet tea I was used to. I mean, who wants to drink garlic water? But my grandmother being the no nonsense woman that she is, didn’t leave until I drank all of it. After a couple of nose plugs and quick gulps, I waited for it to work its magic, and after a short period of time, my stomach ache subsided.

But of course, tea is not the only remedy that Haitians use in times of ill-health. Another common practice is the use of “L’huile Maskriti” or Castor Oil which comes from the castor bean. Almost every Haitian can tell you that they always had a small brown bottle of this magical oil sitting in their kitchen cabinets. This oil is most commonly used for muscle aches and strains and is massaged into the skin, but it can also be used to ease the symptoms of the common cold or flu. I remember one time when I was younger, I was sick with the cold and stayed home from school. My grandmother noticed my misery and pulled out a brown bottle that I had never seen before, poured oil into her hand and before I knew it, she was smearing it all over my face and unfortunately my glasses (Like I said, a no nonsense woman), and told me that it would make me feel better. Although I do not remember if it helped much, that was the first of my many experiences with “L’huile Maskriti”. Now that I am older and away from my family I have learned to appreciate the use of herbal remedies more than ever and I think it is a practice that many people should consider. Nowadays, rather than run to the pharmacy when I’m sick, I call up my grandmother and ask her what I can brew up with the ingredients that I have and she never disappoints!