By: Sarah Hornsby
Published: 2017-12-04

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Figure 1. Brigitthe with Nursery of Cedar seedlings and seedlings from the Mayor. Source: Sarah Hornsby

From the ancient wisdom of indigenous people we inherit a healthier lifestyle for ourselves, our neighbors and the planet. In this article I share my journey with medicinal plants of Nicaragua, which started after my husband and I retired in Matagalpa.

First, the reforestation project:

The site of the reforestation project was purchased land in a secondary forest of the Arenal Forest Reserve. Overcoming soil contamination and inexperience in growing 5,000 seedlings from 19 native species were the first steps of the project. Preparation for planting of the trees entailed adding fencing and gravel; 1,500 ‘marsallana’ stakes (Dracaena fragrans, also known as massangeana or corn plant) to use as wind-breakers, the purchase of hundreds of coffee stakes, 1,200 donated seedlings and visits from government inspectors. 

A second nursery was established with the assistance of a local producer who contributed his extensive knowledge of trees, tropical seasons, and planting and harvest times. Hundreds of cedar tree seeds and coffee beans were planted for future use.  The moringa trees did not thrive. 

Finding resources for medicinal plants

My interest in medicinal plants grew from a rediscovered book on Nicaraguan Indian’s use of medicinal plants.  The book referenced many of the trees in our property. The vast knowledge and shared resources of Dr. Gloria Corrales, a medical doctor and specialist in medicinal plants, was invaluable to the success of the medicinal plants experiment. Additionally, she contributed a variety of medicinal plants to the project. 

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Figure 2. Deisi in Medicinal Plant Nursery. Source: Sarah Hornsby

In 2015, we visited Alan Bolt to see his reforestation work in Peñas Blancas, north of Matagalpa. Due to Alan’s interest and emphasis on ‘reclaiming’ the rainforest, we witnessed a flourishing forest where, fifteen years earlier, laid a ruined, overworked, treeless pasture.  Through his Center for Development with Nature,  we accessed a book he had compiled on Medicinal Plants in Peñas Blancas, including scientific studies of sixty-three plants and trees, with recipes of popular medicinal use of the plants that his Nicaragua Indian grandmother, and others, had made available to him.

Medicinal plant nursery

The theme for our first medicinal plant nursery came from Ecclesiasticus 38:4, ‘The Lord has created remedies that spring from the earth.  The prudent person makes use of them.’ With the assistance of Dr. Gloria and other experienced collaborators, we obtained and grew a variety of medicinal plants.

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Figure 3. Deisy, Sarah and Yamileth in the drying tunnel. Source: Jim Hornsby

Processing of plants

Plants are processed in a tunnel used for drying coffee. A removable, non-metallic hardware cloth is placed on top of frames.  As plants develop, they are carefully pruned and the leaves separated by type.  Each leaf is pulled and prayed over, thanking God for the use of the health giving properties of the plant, as was the custom of the Mayan ancestors. The leaves are turned as they dry.  Depending on the weather, size and density of the leaves, seeds or roots, they are left until crisp but not burned.  If moisture is left in the raw material, the leaves will mold when packaged.

Each kind of leaf is labeled and dated.  Dried, bagged leaves are not allowed to stand in the sun as the sweating bag creates humidity and the leaves mold when stored. Dried leaves, roots and seeds are stored in separate containers in a cool, dark room. They then are repackaged and labeled for clinical or personal use. 

Five Medicinal Plants of Nicaragua

Boldo (Boldus fragans, Peumus boldus)

Other names: Boldea Boldu. (Sosa) 
Parts Used: The bark and leaves
Medicinal use: multiple uses including cleansing the liver, blood and kidneys

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale; Erechtites valeriani folia)

Spanish: Diente de León 
Family Asteraceae
Other names: Achicoria, Silvestre, Chicora, Corona de Fraile (Bolt)
Parts used: all of the plant; leaves, root and dried root. 
Medicinal use: multiple cleansing and purifying uses

Lippia Alba (Lippia alba)

Spanish: Guanislama, Juanilama
Family Verbena
Other names: Mirto, Orozul, Quitadolor, Prontoalivio (Sosa, Uriarte)
Parts used: Leaves, flowers, and stems.
Medicinal use: calming effects

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

Spanish: mansanilla
Family Asteraceae.  
Other names: Caspi, Manzanero, Camamilo. (Uriarte)
Parts Used: All
Medicinal use: multiple uses including as a remedy for sleeplessness. 

Oregano (Origanum vulgare, Lippia graveolens, Majorana hortensis

Spanish: Oregano Menudo
Family Lamiaceae (Mint Family) and Verbenaceae, (Uriarte, Soza, and Dr. Gloria Corrales).
Parts used: The leaves, flowers and stems.
Medicinal use: coughs, inflammation, other uses. 

Nicaragua has a partial answer to addressing people’s need for affordable medicine. The project goals is for clinics to have gardens of medicinal plants in the communities they serve.

As I learn about, use and work with the plants, I am convinced of God’s provision and of the wonderful healing properties that plants freely give us.