June 29 , 2010 | | In: Environment, Gardening, Jamaica

The Medicine Plant

Long a staple of Jamaican bush medicine, aloe vera, aloe barbadensin, aloe vulgaris or sinkle bible, one of three hundred aloe members of the lily family, is touted by some to be a miracle cure-all. While it might not be the universal remedy of bush medicine repute, the entire world is now familiar with this tropical plant and its many uses.

In fact, there are thousands of commercial products available world wide which contain aloe. Unfortunately many of these cosmetic and health products do not contain enough aloe to be of significant benefit. In Jamaica, and in other tropical countries, many people have aloe growing in their gardens. In cooler climates it makes an excellent, trouble free house plant. I have had several aloe plants in my garden for all my life. I have never used fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides or any other garden treatment on them. I have never had to. They have never died in either drought or flood, they grow in shade or sun. If you root one out and throw it away then rescue it a month later and replant it, it will grow.


The history of aloe as medicine goes back to the ancient Egyptians who apparently used it both topically and internally as we still do today. It appears in medicine throughout history in various countries and in modern times has been the subject of medical research since the 1930s. Cleopatra was supposed to have bathed in aloe juice every day to retain her youth. In the Bible, it is said that Christ’s body was wrapped in aloe when he was removed from the Cross. Alexander the Great is supposed to have conquered the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to reap the aloe growing there to treat his injured soldiers.

This article however is not about the history of the plant but rather about the amazing medicinal uses that nature has supplied us with in the aloe vera plant.

aloe koehler

Koehler's Medicinal Plants 1887

Topical Use

Nowadays we apply sunscreen liberally and carefully limit our time in the sun. As a child and teenager, I spent many, many hours under the searing tropical sun. Sunburn was common and always treated with liberal doses of fresh aloe gel. As I grew older I started to avoid getting burned but still applied aloe after being out in the sun. If sunburn is treated immediately there is almost no likelihood of blistering. When applied to sunburn there is often an itching sensation but this goes away by the time the gel dries. It is not recommended for use as a sunscreen as using aloe before you go out in the sun may cause burning or blotchiness. Other burns and scalds also benefit from the application of aloe gel. For large burns you should always seek medical attention.

Topical application is the same for cuts and bruises. About twenty years ago my husband managed to cut off his thumb with a table saw. Husband and finger were quickly rushed to the doctor who immediately sent us to an orthopaedic surgeon. Dr. M. S. stitched back the thumb and sent us home. I immediately removed the dressing and applied aloe gel thickly all over the wound; I did this several times a day.  Two days later when we returned to the surgeon he remarked that the injury was clean and healing extremely quickly. I confessed my home treatment. He raised his eyebrows then gave permission to continue as it was “obviously not doing any harm.” Today, though the thumb does not function 100%, there is absolutely no scar.

I have also seen two cases of skin cancer successfully treated with the regular application of aloe gel, including one very advanced case, as well as heard about several others. However I would not suggest using aloe as an alternative to seeing your doctor as what works to treat one type of skin cancer in one individual might not work on another type or another person.

Aloe Drink

Aloe is also used as a drink as it is rich in antioxidants. One caution: aloin, the yellow sap which oozes out from between the skin and gel, should be avoided. This sap, which turns purple when dry and which gives aloe its characteristic bitter taste is a potent purgative and can be harmful in large quantities. To prepare your aloe drink, peel off all the skin and rinse the gel before putting it in the blender with a small amount of water and a teaspoon or two of honey. Alternately, mix half and half with fruit juice. Drinking a glass or two of aloe juice a day does wonders for the digestive tract and there is some evidence that it actually helps treat ulcers, cystitis and colitis. Some diabetics say that when they take aloe juice they are able to reduce their insulin use. If you are diabetic, speak to your doctor and be very careful about self medicating.

Cosmetic Use

Over the last decade or so aloe has become more and more popular as an ingredient in cosmetics. However, a lot of this is just marketing hype as the amount used in most commercial products is too minimal to do any good. Aloe is excellent as an astringent after washing your face. Your skin will feel tight but that is caused by the gel or juice drying on your skin not because it dries out your skin. One of our very popular uses in Jamaica is as a shampoo. The hair is saturated with aloe gel or liquid, allowed to dry then rinsed out. Aside from improving hair texture it also helps get rid of the build up of all the hair products we tend to use. It is also reported by many people that it helps to cure dandruff.

Why it Works

Throughout history, aloe has also been used to treat a host of ailments, from earache to athlete’s foot. Research and anecdotal evidence varies.

Research has shown that aloe vera works for a few very simple reasons. It is a natural antiseptic and helps retard bacterial growth, it promotes cell regeneration and, when applied topically, it dries and creates a film on the surface of the skin which helps protect the burn or abrasion.

Though aloe allergy is extremely rare, it might not be a bad idea, if you have never used it before, to apply a small amount under your arm and leave for twenty-four hours before using greater quantities. If there is any burning, redness or swelling wash it off immediately with a lot of water and do not use aloe at all.

While there are an overwhelming amount of books and websites devoted to aloe vera and its uses, I still use as my “bible” a small fifty page book from the 1980s called “Miracle Plants: Aloe Vera” written by Frena Bloomfield and published by Century Publishing, London. Its size makes it very easy to look up things and the author cites research on each individual use of the plant and includes a bibliography at the back. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find it online as it appears to be out of print.


My backyard aloe in bloom

What You Didn’t Know

I have noticed that when I have applied aloe all over after a shower, I am almost never bitten by mosquitoes or sandflies (gnats). I have recommended this to others who say it works for them too. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any research on this.

Some years ago NASA did a study of several house plants in space. The idea was to identify those which were more effective in cleaning the air in an enclosed environment. Most Jamaican homes are still fairly open to fresh air but office buildings, as well as homes in many countries, are often tightly sealed with the same air constantly recirculating. This leads to something called “sick building syndrome,” where people in these buildings are constantly breathing in benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These chemicals are all around us in paints, carpets, particle board, plastic, even in our clothes. We can buy air purifiers or special filters for our air conditioners. Or we can keep certain plants indoors which help to clean the air without the cost of regularly changing filters. Chief among these plants is aloe vera. An aloe plant or two in your bedroom will drastically reduce the chemicals in the very air you breathe.

Read more about Jamaica at Jamaica-Allspice.com

May 25 , 2010 | | In: Jamaica

We: The Problem. We: The Solution!

Recent events have only served to underline the insidious manner in which crime has worked its way through the length and breadth of our beautiful Island. We have sat still for so long ignoring the obvious or saying “It’s just the criminals killing each other, nothing to do with us.” When it gets unbearable we pack our bags and go.

So is it too late? How can we possibly solve a problem that seems about to topple our very Government? The answer, though far from simple, is straightforward and involves three related problems.

An Alternative

Thousands of boys sit on hundreds of street corners in cities, towns and villages across the Island. What are their prospects? They can get a job for minimum wage and be poor or they can run drugs for the local “Don” and be rich. In the inner cities they don’t care if they die at twenty-five; life is cheap and in the meantime they will have a big house, a Lexus and a dozen women.

Various groups and foundations have set up training institutes and mentoring programmes: using a teaspoon to move a mountain. Sometimes they unearth a talented doctor or a shrewd business man, a mechanic who can build a car from scratch or a computer genius. But there remain thousands of intelligent children who instead turn their brains to crime.

Our inner city schools are woefully inadequate, forty or more children in a class room. The girls sit in front and try to learn; the boys sit in back and waste time. The teacher, sometimes ill-trained herself, worries about her rent money and knows that if she brings the children to order a parent with a gun or knife will visit her. When the child graduates at Grade 12 they will likely be illiterate and will join thousands of others in pursuit of a handful of jobs.

The “community leaders,” the area “dons,” nothing more than crime bosses, send the children to school, buy uniforms and books. They pay grandmothers’ hospital bills. They give jobs to the men, sometimes in legitimate companies they own. This is why our poor support them. They are doing what Government and big corporations are not.

Our schools must come back to the standards of a few short decades ago. Our big corporations need to do more community work. Our Government must put in place the tools needed for the economy to grow thereby creating new jobs. Our young boys need to know that they have the opportunity to be a success without selling their souls to the drug dealers.

An Example

Many years ago our children wanted to grow up to be like teacher or preacher. Times changed and, like all normal children, they had dreams of being doctors or lawyers or pilots. Now, these street corner boys, born into a life of hardship, learn to be realists at an early age. They know that there is little or no likelihood of this happening. They look around from their vantage point, sitting on a broken wall of an abandoned building, and what do they see? They see men driving Lexuses, BMWs and Hummers, dressed in bespoke tailored clothes and Italian shoes. But these are not businessmen, bankers and professionals for those men do not venture into these God-forsaken places. What these boys see are creatures of a different stripe. These are the people who earn their fortunes in the “import export business,” transporting cocaine from South America to North America and Europe. There is even one with the reputation of being one of the richest men in the world and who is on a list of the World’s Ten Dangerous Drug Lords. These men hand out money, not just for little luxuries, but for life’s necessities. They build community centres, they organise feeding programmes. They look good and they look rich. The boys want to be just like them. When the day comes that a job offer is extended, the boy jumps off his street corner and accepts willingly, for one day he might be the boss. The few boys who might not be willing to accept the offer do so anyway, for they know the alternative. Many may also dream of one day being the next Usain Bolt or Shaggy, but even in their youth they realise that this requires an inborn talent, not something you can learn or work towards. A mere handful might possess this talent and if they do who will sponsor them? The very same men who offer them jobs?

What are the women like in these communities? They are poor, harassed creatures, living day to day, hand to mouth, working their fingers to the bone and old before their time. Or they are perfectly turned out artificial creatures, made up, bewigged, in skin tight $10,000 outfits, parading like cattle, selling themselves to the highest bidder. There are very few “ordinary” women in these communities.

The boys hear and see a lot from their street corners. They hear of fraud in business, they hear of corrupt politicians, they see drivers speeding through red lights and policemen gun-butting, or worse, their friends for merely answering back. What they do not see is these people being held accountable. They grow up with absentee fathers or no fathers at all, they grow up with mothers who knock them to the ground for little reason. They grow up seeing and hearing everyone around them doing as they please and not having to answer for it. They are not taught nor shown the difference between right and wrong so how could they learn it?

Each and every one of us must start with our self to set the right example. We must stop “letting off a smalls” to various authorities to help our businesses run smoother. We must stop racing through street lights on amber and throwing water bottles from our car windows. We must stop asking our doctors for sick notes when we are called to jury duty. We must question our children when they get in trouble at school instead of descending on their teacher with threats. We must make that phone call when we see our neighbours’ thirteen year old daughter being regularly visited by her uncle when no one else is home. We must demand that our corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen be held accountable. And every once in a while we must smile and give a tip to the little boy or disabled man who comes to our car window begging. Once we start to do these things ourselves, it will slowly spread like a tonic through those we come in contact with.

A Watcher

My third point is less idealistic than the others. It is a cold hard fact. All of us, at one time or another, has complained about our police force. Some have called them crooked, some have called them violent. There are calls of “police brutality” over every incident. Authorities speak of retraining and rebranding. But we must face the hard truth. There are 8,000 policemen and women to maintain order for almost 3,000,000 people, or one for every 350 civilians. New York, as an example, has 50,000 police personnel, including auxiliary officers, school safety officers, etc. or one per 160 civilians. It is as simple, and as complex, as that.

Why so few? There are several reasons but one bothers me more that the others. The Police Academy at Twickenham Park was seriously damaged during Hurricane Ivan and is not yet repaired. Yes, Hurricane Ivan, six years ago! Several dorms and classrooms are unusable. The Academy therefore can only train half as many people as they should. It is reported that funding for repairs was approved several years ago but this funding has not materialised. When it rains, cadets move their beds and desks around to avoid leaks.

There are police stations across the Island, in inner city communities and small country villages, which are falling apart; stations where you risk falling through the floor, stations where women are not deployed as there are no bathrooms. The list goes on. There are stations in the deep countryside which serve many square miles yet have not even one vehicle. We will not even speak of equipment or pay. Yet we expect these men and women to risk their lives for us? They are treated  like animals yet we are shocked when a very few of them act like animals.

We need to support our men and women who have taken on this thankless job. We must demand that the Police Training School be repaired immediately. We must demand that their stations be repaired and that they are properly equipped. We must demand that they be better paid. And by the way, if you want to take it on yourself to repair a police station or buy them a vehicle, you must confront a lot of red tape otherwise it will be construed as bribery and you can be prosecuted. The only recourse is to somehow by sheer determination and a loud collective voice demand that the authorities put all these things in place. And every day we must thank the 95% of our police force who, despite all odds, remain honest and committed to their profession.

For too long we have remained in apathy while our beautiful Island has fallen apart. If we do notice things wrong then we expect “them” to fix it. But who is “them” but us, for we are Jamaica.

Inspired to do something now? Sign the Petition for Action to Restore Trust in Government.


Sunset or Sunrise? You decide!

Read more about Jamaica at Jamaica-Allspice.com

May 2 , 2010 | | In: Countries, Environment, Jamaica

Unnatural Disaster!

Just a short five years ago on August 29th 2005, Hurricane Katrina almost destroyed the United States Gulf Coast. In fact parts of New Orleans and other cities in the region remain ghost towns to this day. Now something worse than Katrina is heading for that very same area, but this time it’s not a natural disaster. On April 21st, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded killing eleven workers on board. It would appear that most or all of their “fail safe” mechanisms failed and an oil slick the size of Jamaica is heading for the Louisiana, Alabama and Florida panhandle coasts. Thousands of people along this coastline make their livelihood from fishing. These people, many poor to start with, will lose their livelihood.

Oil spill NASA
But there is an even bigger picture. Should this oil slick reach land, which despite round the clock efforts it likely will, the entire ecosystem of the area will be devastated. Marine life is already suffering greatly. Gulls and pelicans that dive for fish get covered in the oil and drown. Turtles and manatees, already endangered, will die. We must also take into account the time of year. In spring lobsters, shrimp, fish and many other creatures breed. A time of renewal is becoming a time of death. Aside from the roughly 200,000 gallons of oil a day still gushing from the uncapped well, the vast oil slick cuts off light and oxygen so that even those creatures which do not get engulfed in oil may not survive. Those who survive will migrate elsewhere.

Can it get worse? Yes it can. If the oil enters that major current known as the Gulf Stream it can be carried up the North American coastline all the way to Labrador, across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom and northern Europe and south to West Africa. The potential is mind boggling!

And what about us who like to think that all is well in our own little bubble? Well, if oil gets into the Gulf Stream, and even if it doesn’t, it’s only a short distance from Florida to the Bahamas and then to Jamaica. And, by the way, the fish, the lobsters, the gulls and pelicans, the endangered turtles and manatees who ply our coasts are in many cases the very same ones who travel through the Gulf of Mexico!

Read about our endangered species and more at Jamaica-Allspice.com

April 22 , 2010 | | In: Causes, Environment, Jamaica

Earth Day in Jamaica

Today, April 22nd, is the Fortieth Anniversary of Earth Day. This very important event was started in the United States in 1970 but by 2000 had gone International.

We as Jamaicans have a very bad habit regarding many things. We talk a lot about our problems: crime, garbage, drought, the breakdown of our values. But how often do we actually do something about any of the things that bother us daily? Generally, we’re all bark and no bite. Read the rest of this entry »

March 14 , 2010 | | In: Food and Drink, Jamaica, Sports

Raising a Glass to Newton!

Newton Marshall

I’m pretty sure that there are very few Jamaicans, at home or in the wider diaspora, still unaware of the amazing Newton Marshall’s running of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Read the rest of this entry »

February 28 , 2010 | | In: Countries

Chile and Haiti: A Comparison

Chile (orthographic projection) 500

Chile's position in green on the Globe

On Saturday morning there was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in central Chile. Stop right there! Remove all pictures of Haiti from your mind. Read the rest of this entry »

February 23 , 2010 | | In: Jamaica, Other

The King is Dead

Jamaica has been for centuries one of the wealthiest countries in the region. Correction: make that “had been” as, over the last forty years or so, we have been losing that distinction. The world recession has made the situation even more obvious. Now I’m no economist, nor would I want to be, but it seems to me that one of our problems is that we spend too much time on the past and its traditions. “That’s an odd statement,” you will say “Coming from someone who writes almost exclusively about Jamaica’s history.”  Not at all; Jamaica, and indeed every country, should celebrate and remember the past but not live in it. Read the rest of this entry »

February 17 , 2010 | | In: Jamaica

Mr. Wray’s Nephew and His Legacy

There is likely no Jamaican, at home or in the wider diaspora, who is not familiar with the name of J. Wray and Nephew, distillers of Appleton Rum. But have you ever stopped to wonder who the Nephew was? Well for those who don’t know, Mr. Wray’s nephew was Col. Charles James Ward CMG, one time Custos of Kingston and an exceptional businessman. John Wray had built his Shakespeare Tavern right next to the world famous Theatre Royal at Parade in the heart of Kingston. Touring companies from all over the world played at the Royal and drew full houses and Mr. Wray wanted their business. By 1860 Mr Wray was a wealthy rum merchant and brought his 22 year old nephew, Charles, into the business. In 1870 when his uncle died, Charles took over full control of the business and started the expansion of the tavern and dealership on its way to becoming the Wray and Nephew that we know today. Read the rest of this entry »

February 12 , 2010 | | In: Jamaica, Sports

Jamaica, No Snow? No Problem!

In 1988, the World scratched it’s head in wonder. A Jamaican bobsled team in the Winter Olympics? But it doesn’t snow in Jamaica! The original team of four became the stuff of legend; there was even a Disney movie, Cool Runnings, about them. We’ve seen successive bobsled teams over the years. Since 2007 we’ve also followed Damion Robb, Newton Marshall and our very own dogsled team take on the Arctic in some of the world’s most arduous sled dog races. Last November, Kim-Marie Spence took part in the Kaspersky Commonwealth Expedition to the South Pole.

The 2010 Winter Olympics start today so what can we expect? The current bobsled team unfortunately did not qualify so there will be no Jamaicans this time. Wrong! Enter Errol Kerr. Read the rest of this entry »

February 10 , 2010 | | In: Causes, Jamaica

It’s A Dog’s Life

In the hills of St. Ann, high above Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s north coast, lies Lydford. The earth is the bright red that signifies the presence of bauxite and it was here that major bauxite mining was done and here that a community of those that worked in the industry grew. Lydford is also great agricultural land, as is all of St. Ann, so farms surround the sprawling mining works. But bauxite is no longer King and, one by one, the mines are down-sizing or closing altogether. The lands are being returned to agriculture or sold off.

Into the picture comes a group of wonderful ladies who have been trying to care for the unwanted and unloved animals roaming the streets of Ocho Rios and other nearby towns. This cool and quiet rural setting would be an ideal place to relocate their shelter, The Animal House. Read the rest of this entry »

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