In Search of Pirate Treasure

Spanish Galleon used to transport gold

Spanish Galleon used to transport gold

Almost everybody I know has walked a beach while looking down for treasure. Some people treasure shells, others sea-glass and a unique group even searches for cod stoppers, those marbles used to seal carbonated beverages before crown caps were invented. A few, especially young people, openly admit that they are looking for pirate treasure. I won’t laugh because I personally believe that people have a better chance of finding pirate treasure then winning a big lottery and it doesn’t cost anything to look down at the sand while getting your exercise.

I hear stories of people finding valuable jewelry on the beach or in the sea on a regular basis and I pretty much have to accept it as true. This stuff is not the illusive “Pyrate Treasure” of old but items lost by careless tourists who should have left their expensive trinkets home because very few residents are truly impressed by bling. One friend walking on the beach found a $2,500 diamond ring so it occasionally pays off to be observant. He sold it to a local jeweler who probably resold it to a tourist for much more.

Moving upscale from observant people hoping to get lucky are those people who enjoy treasure hunting so much that they invest in a metal detector. I have met a few people who actually go on vacation with their metal detectors hoping to get lucky and pay for the trip so they can go on another vacation sooner. Another friend who has been doing this in tourist areas of St. Croix for a decade has found tens of thousands in Jewelery but the earliest treasure is from the Danish Colonial era and no pirate treasure.

By far the largest population of these dedicated amateurs with metal detectors I ever met was along the coast of the Outer Banks after a hurricane had passed and churned up the sea. In this area, hundreds of ships sunk over the centuries and some were certain to have treasure which might be washed up after a storm. In addition roving bands of outlaws used to create false beacons of hope on the islands by lighting fires along the dune ridge hoping to lure in ships which would run aground during storms. This is not really pirate treasure but gold and silver knows no name.

I once met met a vacationing treasure hunter with a metal detector on St. Croix and he was sort of a secretive non communicative person. He walked the beach for days and he did find a couple of pieces of interest to him, including something which appeared to be a two ounce lump of silver. Hardly enough to pay for his trip. I should have told him that his chances of finding any gold was zero to none. He was walking in the wrong place and rule number one is; if there were no pirates in the area, there will be no pirate treasure. He was walking a beach protected by an offshore reef with the water between the reef and the beach hardly deep enough for a canoe. There are no caves, or permanent markers like huge boulders along this portion of the coast so anything buried would be pretty much lost forever. Even the Amerindians in St. Croix never inhabited the area where he was walking because there was nothing there to attract them.

The big difference between amateur treasure hunters and professionals is the amateurs are hoping to get lucky while the professionals are more likely seeking wealth through knowledge. Mel Fisher was a chicken farmer from Indiana who followed his dreams. Not only that, but he had his whole family share his vision of underwater expeditions and hunting for sunken treasure. His first venture was the creation of the post World War II scuba diving industry in California and he had his Mother, Father and Wife work alongside him as the Fishers started a family and a business at the same time.

After he was firmly established, he decided to move to Florida and become a Treasure Hunter. He convinced his family and six of his friends that this was a great way to earn a living. He did not make this decision on a whim but only after diving on several wrecks and meeting and partnering with Kip Wagner who was already established in Florida and somewhat successful. Wagner had the local knowledge of Florida legends and lore that Fisher lacked and Fisher had the technical expertise that would help Wagner. Together they were very successful. As the salvage company grew and became successful, they hired an archaeologist to research records and provide more knowledge of how eighteenth century ships were constructed. They needed to know how the ships would come apart and scatter treasure over a large area when they sank.

During the 1960′s and 70′s, there were several Treasure Hunters in the Florida Keys and they got along with each other and socialized. At one party someone took out a copy of John S. Potter’s “The Treasure Diver’s Guide”, in which the Nuestra Señora de Atocha was described as one of the richest shipwrecks ever lost and the location was noted in the book. The Fishers were living in Islamorada which Fisher thought was near the site described in the book and he started searching for the wreck. Fortunately for him, he met a graduate student, Eugene Lyon, who was going to Spain to study the Spanish archives.

Fisher offered Lyon $10,000 and a share of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha treasure if he could find out where it was located. Lyon discovered that there had been a 1622 attempt at salvage and Fisher was diving in the wrong place. Based on the 350 year old record, the center of operation was moved 100 miles South West and the discovery and salvage of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha is now history. It was probably the richest prize ever found. Mel Fisher has since died but Dr. Eugene Lyon is a college professor and still looking for sunken treasure in the archives of history.

Perhaps the most interesting buried treasure discovered since then is the wreck of the Whydah discovered in 1984 in shallow waters off of Cape Cod. What makes this find unique is that it was a know pirate ship with unfathomable wealth. When the ship sank in a northeaster in 1717, Governor Samuel Shute commissioned Captain Cyprian Southack, a local salvager and map maker, to recover “Money, Bullion, Treasure, Goods and Merchandizes taken out of the said Ship.” Witnesses at the time said that the treasure on the ship had been divided into 180 lots or roughly one for each sailor. Total value bout $200 million at todays value for precious metals.

Barry Clifford was able to find the wreck because he researched the legends using the historical archives. He then relied heavily on Southack’s 1717 map of the wreck site and found the Whydah, which had been buried for 267 years covered with just five feet of sand below only14 feet of water. Historical research pays off and contemporary Treasure Hunters rely on the library and technology more than their diving skills to locate the treasure.

When I walk, I wonder about all that I am seeing. My love of our medicinal plants made me curious about the people who brought them to St. Croix. That got me to research the Caribs and ended up with the publication of my book, “Caribs:The Original Caribbean Pirates & Founding Fathers of American Democracy” which is available in a (Kindle Edition) and (Paperback Edition). Naturally, I now walk on the paths of the Caribs and Taínos.

Having completed that project and finding the evidence that the Caribs and pirates worked together, I have become curious about the pirates and am researching and walking along their paths. wondering what they did with the plunder they acquired. Even, if I never find any of their treasure, I will most certainly find enough information to make a good story to tell to everybody I walk with and I probably have enough for a book on the Pirate Treasures of St. Croix.

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Moses in the Rushes – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Moses in the Rushes

Moses in the Rushes

Moses in the Rushes (Tradescantia spathacea or Rhoeo spathacea) is on five continents as an ornamental or medicinal plant. In has been used in it’s native Mexico as anti-fungal and anti Cancer drugs and is still used in modern medicine as part of a treatment for cancer in that country. Naturally, it’s use was documented in the Mayan pharmacopoeia which people in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are working to reconstruct.

Throughout the rest of the world, it is sold as a potted ornamental and for a ground cover although some people in Asia use it for medicinal purposes. If the tiny three pedal flower looks familiar along with the purple underside of the leaf, it’s because the plant is a close relative to the “Wandering Jew” (Tradescantia pallida ). Despite being sold as a ground cover it is actually rather poor for that use, at least in the tropics. As a ground cover it does not grow fast enough or dense enough to completely stop airborne seeds from growing. Where there are large areas growing, there are also vines, shrubs and trees that need to be weeded.

Now if that is not bad enough, the really ugly part is it is poisonous if eaten in large amounts and Moses-in-the-cradle causes rashes and other reactions if it contacts your skin. Unlike poison ivy, this plant does not attack everybody.

Skin Rash from Plants

Skin Rash from Plants

Still, my rash was treatable with antihistamines and steroids and if this would cure cancer, it might be a good enough reason to try. So there it is in a nutshell:

Good – Anti-cancer
Bad – Makes a poor ground cover
Ugly – The rash it gave me when I harvested a bushel for a friend who wanted to use it as ground-cover.

Neither she nor her husband got a rash when they planted them!  

Still, when on Vacation, be careful of the flowers you pick. The last thing you need is a trip to the Emergency Room after all the pharmacies are closed.

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In Search of the Du Bois ‘Castle’ – Danger in Paradise

It’s been months (five) since I’ve published anything about hiking on this blog as all my writing time has been focused on my book. It’s not that I’ve quit walking or going on hikes, I have just been spending all my desk time devoted to finishing and publishing my book, “Caribs:The Original Caribbean Pirates & Founding Fathers of American Democracy” which is available in a (Kindle Edition) and (Paperback Edition). Since I can only stand to sit at my desk about five hours a day, I have still been hiking and looking for new historic trails to walk as the Island of St. Croix has 5000 years of Amerindian occupants and over 500 years of European occupants.

One of the more intriguing questions is the location of the “castle” of the French Governor du Bois who ruled from 1659 to until perhaps 1665. If you believe in the fantasies presented in romantic histories, this problem was solved about 50 years ago when the ‘castle’ was located in the heart of an upscale neighborhood called Judith’s Fancy. Florence Lewisohn simply asserted than the mansion was located in Estate Judith’s Fancy and “The ruins of this residence stand today, done in the old French style with a small chateau with two unusual towers at either end, one of which is still there.”

Unfortunately, there are several problems with the Judith’s Fancy location, not the least of which is there is no tower in the vicinity of the ruins. Also, a 1920 report by the USGS places the castle high on a hill (303 foot) instead of the flat lands of Judith’s Fancy. While both sources place the castle to the north of my house, there are no hills in the area with ruins on them and none are above 238 feet.

1671 French Map

1671 French Map

Like all good mysteries, I started with an old Map from 1671 and ended with a feeling that I was replaying the spooky ending of the Da Vinci Code including a muscular young guy (bare to the waist) and a couple of unrestrained pit bulls.

The French Map of St. Croix from 1671 is drawn in a manner that South is towards the top of the page. Over the years as ownership changed from French to Danish to American, there have been several changes in name and only those who study history are aware of the old names. The same 1920 inventory of estate names refers to the top of the Hill I live on as Crameni or Soldier Hill. It is now referred to as Judith Hill but that is unnecessary because the map is good enough to place my house on Crameni Hill with Christiansted Harbor (Bassin) to the East, Salt River to the West and Judith Fancy to the North. In this map, the Governor’s castle is shown on a hill almost due South of Crameni.

1958 Topological Map

1958 Topological Map

The next step was to get a copy of the 1958 topology map of St. Croix and check the topology and roads on the hill south of mine now identified as Judith. Indeed, their is a road which takes you to the 300 foot level and it shows houses on that road prior to 1952. Interestingly enough, the road does access Queens Quarter and so I got two friends to take a hike so we could explore any ruins. Before we could reach the end of the road as shown on the map, we found a house built in the middle of the road blocking our path.

And then, we were attacked by two very aggressive pit-bulls. Now I always carry a walking stick and one friend uses “the voice”. I guess these dogs have never heard of Darth Vader because they kept on attacking him. I was able to keep the one dog at bay with my walking stick but that only made it worse for my friend as both dogs went after the guy who relies on his voice to tell the dogs to go home.

Pit Bulls Ready to Attack

Pit Bulls Ready to Attack

After the dogs had backed us 50 feet down the street, a young man came out of his house wearing only shorts and attempted to call the dogs back. They ignored their master until they backed us another 50 feet down the road. Once he had the dogs under control, I asked him if I could take a picture of Christiansted Harbor from the public road. He answered his father doesn’t like that and the dogs were not yet completely under his control so I missed a very scenic shot.

Now this would be the end of the story if Google Earth did not exist but I decided to go back for another look or to to see if there were any ruins on the hillside. The shot below shows a ruin over the word Navy at the bottom (center) which when you look due north points to my house on the opposite hill.

View North From Ruins

View North From Ruins

The final picture is as close as I can get on Google Earth without breaking up and shows an exceptionally large house on what appears to be an artificial plateau. The house appears to block the historic road and access to the ruins. The plateau is clearly visible on the 1958 topology map.

Close up of Ruins

Close up of Ruins

The interesting aspect about the ruins is on the east side where there is a circular base for a tower. It is unlikely this is a windmill as it is down hill from the square building and all windmills were built uphill from the factory with the cane juice running downhill. One possible explanation is that this is a “small chateau with [one] unusual tower” and is the Governor’s Castle. 

Now whether this is the Governor’s Castle from the Knights of Malta Era or not should not be the message of this post. When walking in areas new to you, you should be aware of all Safety issues. The biggest ones in St. Croix not only includes dog attack, but there are issues with insect bites, dehydration, toxic plants, lack of cell phone coverage in some areas and no easy way out if you have problems. Most of our older hiking guides have the experience to keep you out of harms way.

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My Book is Published!

As I have learned, the publishing of a book is an extremely tedious process. I published my first kindle addition in February and then decided on a print addition. In the editing of the print addition, I went through about five different proofs and three reviewers to find out just how sloppy my February Kindle Edition was. I have now republished my book, “Caribs:The Original Caribbean Pirates & Founding Fathers of American Democracy” in a (Kindle Edition) and (Paperback Edition). Both are available from Amazon.

Details of the book are available at the Amazon page for the book and the post below gives some of my thoughts about the need for a history of the Caribs of St. Croix and their Battle against the Conquistadors. 

Details of the book are available at the Amazon Links (above) for the book and the post below gives some of my thoughts about the need for a history of the Caribs of St. Croix and their Battle against the Conquistadors. 

The book is available from Amazon in either format, but I have not yet received my shipment so it isn’t in bookstores.

On my next book, I will definitely do the paperback version first as I found it easier for an old fashioned guy like me to edit a real book rather then an electronic one.

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The Caribs of St. Croix

When I started the process of qualification to walk on the National Park Property at Salt River, I was told I had to present an outline of my knowledge of the Historical Significance of Salt River. From my perspective at the time, the most significant historical record was the plants in the area. It seems over a few thousand years of St. Croix occupancy, all the groups who occupied the island have brought plants for their medicinal, spiritual, recreational, nutritional, economic or aesthetic values. No group who lived on St. Croix was excluded from bringing plants that are growing in the Salt River National Park. Over the years my interest in these important plants has remained alive and I routinely publish the results at hikestcroix.com

While this is the aspect that I find most interesting when walking in the Salt River National Park, it is not what the National Park Service was looking for. They wanted to know my interpretation of the historical significance of the area as it relates to the people who occupied the land. The more I read, the more I recognized how shallow our knowledge of the people who lived at Salt River really is and how much was actually false and based on published “Romantic Histories” which dealt loosely in facts and are passed on to our children by experts in the National Park System and teachers in our schools.

The romantic history of Columbus by Washington Irving was quoted and further romanticized by Florence Lewisohn in her very short book the “Divers Information on The Romantic History of St. Croix From the Time of Columbus until Today (1964). Obviously the book is dated but it is likely to live on in immortality as it is quoted by many scholars and is the foundation document for the historical significance of Judith’s Fancy and the Salt River National Park.

According to the brochure for the Salt River National Park, the men of Columbus were looking for water on November 14, 1493, and “encountered several Caribs in a canoe. They fought and each side suffered a fatality in this first documented armed resistance to European encroachment in the Americas.” The Spanish captured several Caribs and left St. Croix. Allegedly after the battle, Columbus named this location the “Cape of the Arrows because of the large number of Arrows launched by the Indians.”Within a generation (1512), the Caribs were ordered exterminated by the Spanish Crown, or to be captured and sold as slaves. Following that disease depopulated the island by 1590.

If true, this would make St. Croix’s Salt River National Park one of the most venerated of all locations for Native Americans and a shrine worthy of visiting. It would also be nice if people visited it for truthful reasons. The problem with the narrative above is that it is not true and a contrary version is offered by the National Park Service in another presentation on American Latino Heritage. As mentioned by them, “a party of Columbus’ men returning from explorations ashore attacked a group of Caribs in a canoe. The encounter is believed to be the second armed conflict between Europeans and Native Americans, the first being the battle fought at La Navidad on Española by Columbus’ men, who spent a year there after the wreck of the Santa María [starting] in December 1492.

As I point out in my just published book, “Caribs:The Original Caribbean Pirates & Founding Fathers of American Democracy” (Kindle Edition) (Paperback Edition),” the battle at La Navidad was not the first armed conflict between the Amerindians and the Conquistadors. In Samana, D.R., on January 13, 1493, during his First Voyage, Columbus battled the primitive Ciguayos who did not speak the same language as the Arawaks he had already captured to be interpreters. While attempting to trade with them and perhaps capture an additional 10-25 to return to Spain, the Indians turned hostile and confronted him with his only violent resistance on that first voyage being armed with bow and arrows. He called the inlet where he met them the Bay of Arrows (or Gulf of Arrows). This was recorded in the Diary of Columbus’ First Voyage and obviously this is the reference hijacked by Lewisohn in her Romantic History of St. Croix. No other observer or Historian makes reference to the Cape of Arrows at Salt River prior to her book.

During that encounter at Samana, Columbus crew killed two Ciguayos and the victims and their tribal group were described in his log as “evil, and I believe they are from the island of Caribe, and that they eat men.” From this humble start, Peter Margarita could pass the time on the long second voyage telling stories on the cannibals encountered on the first Voyage. The Ciguayos had no relationship to the Caribs as the Caribs spoke an Arawak Language and the more primitive Ciguayos did not. Also the Caribs used poison on their arrows; the Ciguayos did not.

One more minor issues with the National Park Service brochure is that it is improbable they were looking for water as they had traveled 21 days across the Atlantic with the water they could carry and filled up on water in Guadalupe four days earlier. All of the early witnesses also mention that Columbus wanted to meet and talk with the Caribs and learn their customs. The well armed boat of Conquistadors sent into Salt River lay in ambush for the unsuspecting Caribs for the better part of a day before attacking the distracted Caribs who were observing Columbus’ fleet.

Finally, the early Spanish Documents until 1547, make specific mention of the attacks on Puerto Rico by the Caribs of St. Croix so for 55 years, the Caribs had not abandoned the island or died from disease, nor did they retreat to another location further away. The Amerindian resistance of the Spanish by the Caribs should be recognized and this makes the island of St. Croix a significant historic location worthy of recognition but no specific information ties this 55 year of continuous raids to Salt River other than the one battle between the Amerindians and Conquistadors on November 14, 1493.

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Working on a Book.

Well it’s been a busy year so far and I can’t believe almost 6 weeks have passed since since my excessive New Year’s Celebration. So far this year, I have averaged about 3.5 miles per day and covered 144 miles as of February 10th. I plan to make sure that I walk a minimum of 100 miles each month which really isn’t very hard at 3.5 miles a day.

While researching the history of St. Croix in my spare time, I discovered two interesting facts which will end up as two separate books.

From the island of St. Croix, the  Caribs fought a 55 year war with the Spanish Conquistadors which delayed the settlement of  Puerto Rico. In the condensed version, they taught the corsairs and Buccaneers how to survive in the tropics, their tactics for raiding the Spanish with minimum loss of life and their principles of universal male democracy which never existed anywhere else in the world. These principles of Male suffrage were adapted by the Pirates and influenced the American System of government as the pirate contracts were prominently displayed in very popular books published during the Golden Age of Piracy and prior to the American Revolution.

My First book was relatively easy to research as the British and French Pirates worked side by side with the Caribs and other Amerindians to attack the Spanish. The first book is entitled:

Caribs:The First Caribbean Pirates

&

Founding Fathers of American Democracy

The second book is specific to the Pirates of St. Croix. Seems with all the Captain Morgan Money and the fact that the Distillery is on St. Croix, you would think the topic is well researched. St. Croix does make almost every top ten Pirate island list but local historians keep saying the Pirates worked from St. Thomas which is simply not true and St. Thomas never makes a top ten list by any global researchers.

Unfortunately pirates were a secretive bunch and so this topic is slightly tougher to research. If I don’t get caught up in other topics, I hope to have the book of St. Croix pirates done by 2014. Meanwhile when hiking in Judith’s hill, I discuss the St. Croix connection to Treasure Island, the youngest pirate (age 11), the connection  to Pirate Jean Lafitte, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and many other St. Croix pirate stories. And yes, their probably was buried treasure on the island.

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Beautiful and Deadly

In antiquity, poisons were valued for their utilitarian value in hunting fishing and even for preserving life. Just as many of our modern drugs will kill from an overdose, plants the we recognize as poisons were probably used, in greatly diluted form, to treat various diseases. What is amazing to me and many other people is that some of these deadly plants are extremely beautiful. They have achieved widespread global distribution based on their beauty with very few recognizing their deadly nature.
Adenium obesum

Desert Rose

Desert Rose makes the ASPCA Toxic Plant List of household plants that are dangerous to animals. Even though it is beautiful and popular, it is hard to establish it’s global distribution but is probably on five or six continents. Desert Rose is a popular houseplant and bonsai in America and other temperate regions and is originally from Africa. It is not on Eggers inventory of the plants of St. Croix prepared around 1900 under the Danish , so it was probably brought to St. Croix during the American Era as a decorative plant. The toxic sap of its roots and stems is used as arrow poison for hunting large game throughout much of Africa and as a fish poison for harvesting fish.
Nerium oleander

Oleander

Oleander is also on the ASPCA Toxic Plant List and is extremely poisonous to the degree that eating honey from the flowers or being exposed to the burning brush can cause a toxic reaction. It is so deadly and available that oleander was used as the cause of death in an NCIS TV script. Even though oleander is poisonous, heavily diluted oleander preparations have been promoted to treat a variety of conditions including muscle cramps, asthma, menstrual pain, epilepsy, paralysis, and cancer. It is carried on the American Cancer Society web site as an item of research interest although it appears to be not very effective and yet deadly. It has also been used in folk remedies as an insecticide and to kill rats and while it is toxic to horses, dogs, adults and children, it has not been effective in killing rats or birds in the laboratory. Because of it’s beauty it is extremely widespread on all of the six inhabited continents and because it is so widespread, no precise region of origin has been identified for it. A city in Morocco is named after it and both the Greeks and Romans knew the plant. Oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima, having been the first flower to bloom following the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.

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On Judith’s Hill, A Backyard Cure for Diabetes

The biodiversity of plants on St. Croix are a record of all of the various groups who have occupied the island. There are plants from the Mayan Peninsula of Central America, the Orinoco river of South America, the European Colonizers, the enslaved Africans and the Americans who are now in charge. All of our plants were brought here for a reason and it is fun to see where they came here from and why some groups of people would have gone to the trouble to do it.

When I refer to the plants of Judith’s Hill, I mean everything within a radius of one mile from the peak of the hill and my current focus is those plants mostly withing 1/2 mile of the hill top. Even in such a small area the topology goes from a drier barren hilltop of tuffaceous rock (compressed volcanic ash) to fertile plain which gets more rainfall. Both the hill and the plain are bordered by a shoreline. These diverse micro environments and soil types allow for a greater diversity of plants. Withing a mile of the top of the hill, there are also bays, lagoons and mangrove swamps. Some plants grow everywhere and others have a very small environmental niche.

Judiths Hill, half mile radius

The two plants below are from the fertile plains at the base of the hill but during rainy season they will move up the hill, particularly on the leeward side.

Skin ointment

Anyone living in the tropics will sooner or later get skin problems. We have skin cancer, fungus, bug bites allergic reactions. A few of these can be avoided but when mosquito season comes, it is impossible to avoid bites which get infected. After awhile, none of the issues hurt adults on a regular basis but for young children they will scratch until they damage their skin unless treated.

Cuscuta americana

Love Vine, Devils Guts, Strangle Vine or Dodder

Love vine, Devils Guts, Strangle vine or Dodder is a yellow vines on tree tops and shrubs. It was used locally as a powerful skin ointment which heals skin rashes, bug bites and itches. It grows on two Continents and is widely dispersed from Mexico and Florida to Argentina. From personal experience, this is one of the few herbal remedies that appears to be superior to the modern counterparts as it really dose stop itching and promote healing of oozing bug bites.

Diabetes

It is also unlikely that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were affected by modern diseases of like diabetes and coronary heart disease, because they ate mostly lean meats and plants and frequently engaged in intense physical activity. As man discovered agriculture,in the Neolithic surpluses led to a need for more agricultural labor to increase wealth and power, soldiers and wars to gather that labor and enforce a class system, and a privileged class of nobles and artisans. This transition brought with it the rise of modern diseases. (Cancer predates the Neolithic). It would appear that as subsistence people moved to agriculture, they needed to develop drugs to fight that disease.

Momordica charantia

Bitter Melon, Lizard Food, Jumbie Pumpkin or Cerasee

Bitter Melon, Lizard Food, Jumbie Pumpkin or Cerasee is one of the miracle foods of Herbal Medicine. It is eaten as a side dish because it is know to prevent and treat Malaria but hidden in that meal is a strong treatment for diabetes.

It appears the vegetable attacks diabetes in several ways. Compounds in bitter melon have been found to activate the protein that regulates glucose uptake which is a process which is impaired in diabetics. Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations similar to insulin’s effects in the brain, suppressing appetite.

In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined a daily dose bitter melon is comparable to the antidiabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day. Tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries. In this case, the bitter pill is probably easier to take than to eat the food.

Widespread use of the food probably developed with the agricultural revolution when diabetes became a health issue. The food, also has antiviral, anticancer, antibacterial and anti-inflamatory properties. 

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Flowers for Sailors

When humans started sailing the seven seas 50,000 years ago, a raft was probably the only flotation they had at their disposal, yet they made it from Africa to Australia probably by island hopping. Still, the unique mode of transportation led to a need for some standard and some unique medicines. One of the more unique ones would be to cure seasickness. Not so obvious is that dysentery can be deadly if there is no ability to rehydrate with plenty of water. Finally, after sitting on a cramped raft, painkillers and substances to desensitize the the body to pain would be valuable.

Dysentery is an intestinal inflammation that can lead to severe diarrhea. Patients typically experience mild to severe abdominal pain or stomach cramps. In some cases, untreated dysentery can be life-threatening, especially if the infected person cannot replace lost fluids fast enough and there is not much fresh water on sea voyages. Amoebic dysentery is caused by a type of amoeba, and is more common in the tropics.

Ruellia tuberosa

Ruellia tuberosa

In Asian traditional medicine, Ruellia tuberosa is used to prevent stomach problems and also as a painkiller and fever reducer like aspirin. The plant can also be used to reduce sensitivity to painful stimulus like sun and salt spray and as an anti-inflammatory for any skin problems. Animal studies confirm in technical terms that the plant has analgesic, antipyretic, gastroprotective, antinociceptive, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has been used to counteract the effect of poisons.

This plaint is a native of North and South America but has been carried to Africa, Australia, and Indonesia.

Ixora coccinea

Ixora coccinea

In folkloric medicinal uses, Ixora has been used for treating dysenteric diarrhea and associated colic pains. A decoration of leaves for wounds and skin ulcers. Powdered roots moistened with a little water on a piece of lint is also applied to sores and chronic ulcers. This plant is one of the oldest it Asian Folk medicine and has been spread to five continents.

Research studies provide a strong backup for the wisdom of the Ancient people with regard to Ixora coccinea. Study of a root extract showed pronounced wound healing and antibacterial activity. It is proposed the external application of the extract prevented microbes from invading the wound. An aqueous extract showed moderate inhibition against all bacterial strains tested. Like Ruellia The extract was antiinflammatory and  antinociceptive. It was also fond to be a strong anti-ulcer compound like Tagamet. Results obtained in another study substantiate the antidiarrheal effect of the aqueous extract and its use by traditional practitioners in the treatment of diarrhea. The list of therapist benefits seems to go on as it protects against chemical contamination of the body, acts as an anti-asthmatic agent and protects the heart. This is truly the wonder drug of ancient man and it is everywhere in St. Croix.

Desmodium incanum

Desmodium incanum

This plant has been used as a diuretic and is good to settle the stomach including during seasickness. In Cuban folk medicine,it was considered an excellent hemostat, and was used in hospitals to heal wounds. It has been used as an analgesic and for fever reduction. Desmodium is a native of North and South America but now also grows in Africa, Australia and Indonesia.

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A Backyard Cure for Cancer

Catharanthus roseus – Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus

Periwinkle grows on all six inhabited continents. It has been cultivated for herbal medicine and as an ornamental plant all around the world. In Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) the extracts of its roots and shoots, though poisonous, are used against several diseases. In traditional Chinese medicine, extracts from it have been used against numerous diseases, including diabetes, malaria, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Humans have know about cancer for thousands of years, and excavation of ancient burials prove the presence of cancerous tumors on all continents in prehistoric times. Amerindians of North America had treatments for cancer hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans who had no cure or effective treatments.  In 1955 the United States government established the Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center, whose job it was to screen natural and synthetic substances for anticancer activity. Plants from around the world were tested, and hundreds of plants are now known to have some slowing  effect on cancer growth.

At the same time these tests were being conducted by the government, other researchers were drawn to Catharanthus roseus (periwinkle) as a cure for diabetics and more. Independent workers at Lilly injected a crude extract of the whole periwinkle plant into mice that were infected with P-1534 leukemia. Amazingly, 60-80% of the mice experienced prolonged life. Lilly produced VLB as the drug Velban and synthesized another alkaloid, vincristine (VCR), as the drug Oncovin.

The substances vinblastine and vincristine extracted from the plant are still used in the treatment of leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This conflict between historical herbal use for treating the same disorders, and recent patents by Lilly on drugs derived from Periwinkle without compensation, has led to accusations of biopiracy.

Periwinkle – A beautiful Invasive Plant

The periwinkle in my yard showed up uninvited and comes and goes, mostly in the same area of my yard. I love it for it’s beauty and contibution to mankind. This post will be mostly duplicated in The Plants of Judith’s Hill. I will also copy the post on Datura and move it with the other plants.

Herbalists are now constantly warned about the use of periwinkle tea for any reason because it is potentially poisonous. Meanwhile Lilly continues selling their periwinkle medicines whose side effects potentially include death. However,  the medicines usually appear to provide miraculous cures in many situations, so people take the risk.

In  Voodoo, it is used as an incense and to promote love. It is banned by the state of Louisiana as a hallucinogenic although I found no other citations on this effect. Perhaps the Legislators of Louisiana believe love is a hallucinogenic experience which should be banned for everyone.

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