Home Cures - A Barbadian Tradition

by Jackie Faine & Craig Burleigh - June 1976

Published in Hers Magazine –
Vol 1 No. 7 July / August 1976


“Just then she start to name the different weed, and I was really more than glad,
I can’t remember all she call, but these were a few she had. 


She had the Manpeabber, Womanpeabber, Tan–Tan, Fall–back, and Lemon–grass, Minnie–root, Gully–root, Granny–back–bone, Bitter–tally,  Lime–leaf and Caroon ......"


These words were sung by a local performer, Lonnie Rock, about fifty years ago; the melody describes the various bushes that were used medicinally, a part of our culture that is slowly disappearing.

Leon Thorpe, Seamoss Entrepreneur, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba June 1976 h2-01-25-sepia

Leon Thorpe, Sea-moss Entrepreneur, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba June 1976

Leon Thorpe & Son, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba 06-1976-h2-01-34-sepia
Leon Thorpe & Family, Seamoss Entrepreneur, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba 06-1976-h2-01-32-sepia

The Caribs were skilled in the art of mixing remedies, and used certain poisonous plants for combat purposes. Their more passive foes, the Arawaks, do not seem to have taken such an occupation as seriously.

With the arrival of the early settlers, and the slaves from West Africa, home curing was expanded; they intruded on the wild vegetation for their mixtures.
The  nature of such "potions", being easily dispensed at the will of its maker, changed extensively and differed markedly from the West African concoctions.

Thus, the Bajan cult had a definition of its own. The  tradition still exists and some people are considered experts.

Leon Thorpe, Seamoss Entrepreneur, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba 06-1976-h2-01-27-sepia

Leon Thorpe, a sea-moss trader who lives in Cleavers Hill, St.Joseph, was informative and gave us some knowledge concerning the varied bushes brewed for their healing effects.

He showed us dried leaves of the English Plantain, and informed us that it was valuable for its cooling effect on the body, which aided restful sleep in hot climates such as we experience on the island . He added that it had a cleansing action when consumed as tea. Its brewing is similar to that of the common Indian tea, and Leon remarked that all bush teas were made up in this manner.

Home Cures of Barbados

Dog Dumpling

Home Cures of Barbados

Aloe Barbadensis 

Home Cures of Barbados

Cochineel

The view from Maud Mayer's home, Cleaver's Hill - in the foreground is Christmas Bush 06-1976-h2-02-12-sepia

The view from Maud Mayer's home, June 1976

Home Cures of Barbados

Maud Mayers collects Cerasee (momordica charantia) bush to make herb tea

Some bushes may be steeped and used as rinses—such as jasmine–which has a soothing effect on sore eyes. A large group of bushes are used as cooling agents and seem to be beneficial to the skin. These teas cool over-heated blood, which is a symptom of bad blood. 

The drink Mauby, made up of the bark boiled in water for an hour and flavoured with vanilla essence and sugar, serves as a cooler as well as a cleanser and thirst quencher. He mentioned Cure-for-all, which not only cools and cleans, but affects all ills.

Leon described the bush teas as remedies for colds, all of them maintaining this ability; we discovered that this term, "cold", applied to any ailment associated with pain other than cuts, bruises and burns – a head cold could be a headache of any source.

External injuries require poultices, some being made up by taking cloth and tying leaves around the affected area. As an aside, he mentioned that if you had a sprained wrist, you could use the skin of a conger eel and tie it around the area

Being closely linked with the sea and well learned of seamoss, Leon told us of its qualities. Rich in vitamin 'A', iron and iodine, it has great nutritional value and "helps with the brain". lt assists healing after operations such as tonsillectomies, and also keeps the system clean, not staining the stomach like tea and coffee.

Mentioning that it was a stamina drink for active people, he advised that the more relaxed person would become fat if he used it on a daily basis. It is good nourishment for pregnant women and maintains the reproductive organs. He humoured, "This can be a problem", and "Sea-moss can put you in jail if you drink too much".

Maud Mayers, Home Cures Expert, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba-06-1976-h2-01-38

Maud Mayers, Home Cures Expert, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba June 1976. In the background her son Tom's fishing boat nears completion.

Leon said that aloes and cochineel, two cactus-like plants, are well used for poultices. He suggested that we should consult Maud Mayers, a woman who lived further down the hill, as she could tell us more about the subject. He managed to amuse us as he quoted "Tan-Tan, Fall-back, Lemon-grass . . . . .Bitter-tally, Lime-leaf . . ."


Maud is a frequent user of poultices, which she creates herself; the art has been passed down from her parents. She knows that poultices can be made up at what she calls "The Doctor Shop", but is content to make home-made recipes using aloe or cochineel gel mixed with Cornmeal. This is heated before it is applied.


Maud recounted an actual experience when she  helped a young lady who had a lump on one of her breasts as a result of  nursing her baby. The woman had been attending a doctor, but the ailment still troubled her and he suggested a poultice.


On the first day, Maud attended to the breast with grave concern and concentration. Making up a poultice using cochineel and cornmeal, she positioned it in the area so that the inflamnation would "draw" at the correct place and secured it with a bandage of clean cloth. She warned that the positioning should be done with extreme care as an incorrect placement can often cause the infection to "draw" at the wrong place and so worsen the inflamed area. Maud maintained that this was a common mistake among less experienced practitioners of the art.

Maud Mayers, Home Cures Expert, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba June 1976Maud Mayers, Home Cures Expert, Cleaver's Hill, Bathsheba June 1976

Much pain was experienced by the "drawing"on the first day. The "pack" was removed and replaced with a fresh mixture after a cleaning, this process being repeated twice a day over a period of five days.

The lady missed an appointment with the doctor so as to continue the treatment. On the fifth day, Maud applied pressure to the breast and pure milk was available. Maud remembered, "When I went, it (the breast) was like glass".  

The doctor was amazed as the girl related her curing and permitted her to nurse her child. Apparently, the lady, who now lives abroad, has had no further trouble nursing her subsequent children.

Maud insists that cleanliness is of utmost importance when healing any wound. Nearby, the sea is a popular spot for surfers and every once in a while she is faced with one of these sportsmen who has been cut by the skeg of a board or by the underlying coral of the reef.

She remembers washing and placing poultice into a wound on a man's calf. The cut was about 3 inches long and one inch at its deepest point and the gape was "like pork cut for seasoning". She used heated leaves to cover it; there was a speedy recovery.

The fishermen and women of the nearby Tent Bay wait for the return of the fishing boats with their catch

The fishermen and women of nearby Tent Bay wait for the return of the fishing boats with their catch

Maud is of the belief that it is unwise to bathe in the sea with a cut that has been sustained there. She said that one of the surfers had been cut in the sea and she wamed him not to bathe until it had healed. However, the surf was good and he disobeyed her with painful consequences that night, including delirium.

Aloe is not only useful for cuts, but Maud's surfing friends use it as protection against sunburn, rubbing the gel freely on their skins. It is also good for people who suffer from sinus troubles to eat the gel, but it is very bitter and pungent in smell.

Maud praises aloe as an animal feed. "Aloe makes a beautiful cow, if you feed it that every day", and she has seen a dog that has been fed on it and remarked on its shiny coat.

Maud keeps livestock and "anything that the animal eats can be boiled for tea". She told us the various names of bushes that she drinks, showing a variety that grew on her land. Christmas bush was a popular one for its pleasant smell, and is used to make tea as a dried or green bush. Also, guava, cure-for-all, and sage were good as teas. "Sea-moss is something else", and Maud explained, "It is good for the kidneys and nerves".

The Forbidden Fruit, known also as Adam's Fruit or Cain Fruit, grows on a shrub from which Pain-cure leaves are obtained. Maud assures us, "I do not eat that"; however, she does use it for healing purposes. Recently, she had a bad fall, trip-ping over a water pipe. The  immediate step was to take a hot bath; then, she prepared the Pain-cure leaves, boiling them in water. She added a small amount of methylated spirits to the warm water and rinsed her sprained arm to make it "sweat". The swelling went down eventually.

Maud Mayers prepares to cook flying fish June 1976

Maud Mayers prepares to cook flying fish June 1976

Unfortunately, this accident caused her to use her left hand, which had once been broken and attended to by a doctor. The large amount of strain from house-work made it painful for her, and her daughter took her to the doctor to have it re-examined. Maud admitted that she does not seek professional advice, and the last time, other than this, was six years ago.

She does not take tablets and provides herself with home remedies. Proud of her heritage, she considers herself a doctor and remembers telling a young man who misunderstood her stern firmness, "All good doctors are rough".

Ill association with Obeah has given a disreputable name to some folk medicine, and it is often mocked. With the advancement of modern science and the circulation of synthesized drugs the tradition of folk healing is a dying art.

A fisherman wades ashore at Tent Bay with a heavy catch of flying fish.

A fisherman wades ashore at Tent Bay with a heavy catch of flying fish.

  • I first met Maud Mayers in early 1969 when Gary Moreno (Oregon surfer) and Annette Hughes visited Barbados for the first time (after the World Surfing Championships in Puerto Rico) and with Maud’s help rented the Devonish’s house on Cleaver’s Hill right next door. Being a surfer and becoming friends with Gary and Annette we were often hanging out and visiting her.

    What a remarkable lady! Always ready for a good laugh – I remember while doing this article Maud and Jackie were in her gallery and I was down in front taking a few pictures – who told me to cross the territory of her tied up billy goat? All of a sudden a good butt in the butt lifted me many feet further along, but I did land on my feet! – we all had a great laugh.
    Please add any memories that you have of Maud or Leon.

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