21 Jamaican Herbs: Their Botanical Names And Their Usage

Many Jamaicans and other people in the Caribbean take local plants for granted.

That’s because valuable jamaican herbs often grow in places such as roadsides, in pastures and wooded areas.

A number of these Jamaican herbs are viewed as a nuisance to farmers and other plants.

The strange thing is that they use a large number of these nuisance herbs are used as medicinal plants in Jamaica.

In Jamaica medicinal plants treat ailments ranging from the common cold to painful kidney stones.

Lignum vitae-Jamaican national flower and medicinal herb
Lignum Vitae: Courtesy of Jamaica Information Service

The most popular way to use most Jamaican herbs is to make a herbal tea. Natives call herbal teas bush teas.

Some Researchers agree that some of those herbs used for making Jamaican bush teas do have medicinal benefits.

The list below consist of 21 Jamaican medicinal plants that are popular Jamaican herbal remedies.

Although the majority of these plants are used to make Jamaican bush tea, others are used in different ways.

Let’s explore some popular Jamaican herbs and their uses.

Popular Jamaican Herbs For Tea

There is an abundance of herbs that grow naturally on the Island. We use many of them to make bush teas. Here are a few Jamaican herbs used to make tea.

 Jamaican Black Mint (Mentha Spicata)

This is one of the most poplar Jamaican herbs. Jamaican Black mint is a subcategory of spearmint. It is sometimes called black peppermint.

Jamaican black mint plant
Jamaican Black Mint

The herb is a perennial shrub that is easy to grow. It likes moist, well drained soil.

Jamaican black mint reaches between 12 to 18 inches in height and can become quite invasive.

The Jamaican black mint herb has dark green leaves, and purple veins and stems.  

Uses.  Black mint tea is used to treat indigestion, congestion, gas and bloating. 

Because of iits strong minty aroma, black peppemint is also used to mask odors and freshen things up.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)

When crushed this herb gives off a strong minty aroma similar to that of spearmint. Pennyroyal is also known as squaw mint, mosquito plant and pudding grass.

Uses. (Medicinal) In Jamaica Penny royal bush tea is made by boiling the leaves of the herb.

Perry royal herb in full bloom
Pennyroyal Herb

Here is another Jamaican herb that has traditionally been used to relieve coughs, congestions, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and treat the flu. 

(Culinary) Pennyroyal has been found in many recipes dating back to Medieval times. However it is not used so much in cooking these days. 

However in Italy the fresh leaves of Mentha pulegium are used to flavor lamb and tripe.

Caution should be exercised when drinking Pennyroyal tea as ingesting too much can be harmful.

Jamaican Bush Teas: Roots and Vines

In addition to herbs, the roots and vines of some plants are popular choices for making Jamaican herbal teas. Check these out.

Jamaican Cerasee (Momordica Charantia)

What is Jamaican Cerasee? It is the tropical perennial vine that produces the bitter melon fruit. The plant’s scientific name is Momordica Charantia.

Jamaican cerasee growing in the wild
Wild Cerasee Bush

Jamaican Searcy vine grows wild in Jamaica where it is used for tea. 

Although cerasee fruit – bitter melon or bitter gourd – is popular in Asian and other cuisines, it is not widely consumed in Jamaica.

Instead this is one of the most common Jamaican herbs used as medicine.

 Cerasee bush is bolied to make a bitter tasting Cerasee tea. The tea is sweetened with sugar or honey to make it more palatable.

Uses. Some cerasee tea benefits include lowering blood sugar, cleansing the blood, and reducing blood pressure. 

 It is also believed that cerasee bush tea is good for the skin.  A sersi tea regimen is also used for weight loss.

Jamaican Sarsaparilla

Jamaican Sarsaparilla
Jamaican Sarsaparilla

This Jamaican herb is a trailing vine that originally originated in Mexico and South America. 

The grows wild in the wooded areas of Jamaica.

Other common names for the vine are sarsaparilla, Honduran sarsaparilla and Zarzaparilla  (Spanish).

Uses. Sarsaparilla vine is cleaned, dried and cut into short pieces. The pieces are soaked for hours and then used to make bush tea in Jamaica. 

Jamaican herb sarsaparilla is used as a blood cleanser, tonic and to induce sweating.

Jamaican Sarsaparilla can be purchased in powder form in several online marketplaces.

Jamaican Chaney Root (Smilax Balbisiana)

However the sarsaparilla is mainly used along with Chaney root (Smilax Balbisiana), as an ingredient in Roots tonic that are popular in Jamaica.

The Smilax genus has about 300 species. Jamaican sarsaparilla and Jamaican chaney root are members of the species.

 So even though Jamaican sarsaparilla and Chaney root are often thought to be the same plant, they are two different species of the same plant family.

dried Jamaican chaney root pieces
Chaney Root Pieces

Chaney root is endemic to Jamaica and is mainly found in the wilds of the Cockpit Country.

Some other names for Chaney root are chaney winder and chaney vine. 

Uses. The dried root of  the Smilax Balbisiana is chopped into small pieces and boiled for up to 4 hours to make tea.

The tea is sweetened with sugar or honey.

Chaney root tea is used to treat back pain, build strength and increase stamina. Is is also used as an aphrodisiac to treat impotence.

 The plant was studied to determine if it is helpful in treating diabetes. 

Both Chaney root and Sarsaparilla are the basic ingredients for Jamaican root tonics.

Turmeric (Yellow Ginger)

This is one herb that does not need an introduction. Curcuma longa aka Turmeric is a relative of ginger. And Turmeric is one of the popular Jamaican herbs.

 It has long been revered for its  commercial use and medicinal properties. In fact Turmeric  was found in records dating back to between 2600 and 2200 BCE. 

Turmeric is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. 

Fresh turmeric
Turmeric

The bright yellow chemical curcumin, found in turmeric, is approved by World Health Org, The Food and Drug Administration in the United States and the European Parliament as a food additive.

Uses.  (Medicinal) Yellow Ginger as Turmeric  is sometimes called in Jamaica, has been a popular herb in Jamaican folk medicine.  

Turmeric, though not technically a herb is viewed as Jamaican bush tea plant. It is used to relieve digestive problems, reduce inflammation, relieve joint pain and swelling and improve circulation. 

 (Culinary) Turmeric Powder  used as coloring for sauces and curries and seasoned rice. Also used to give color to baked products including the famous Jamaican Beef Patties.

Popular Bush Teas: Shrubs and Trees

Shrubs are sections of tree are also used to make Jamaican bush teas. Here are a few of the more widely used one.

Senna occidentalis (Jamaican Dandelion)

This is one of the Jamaican herbs that is considered an invasive nuisance in many areas. It is found in tropical and sub-trapical areas.

Jamaican Dandelion bush
Jamaican Dandelion

In some places Senna occidentalis is also called senna coffee, negro coffee, Magdad coffee, and coffee weed.

 The senna flower is bright yellow and the plant blooms all year long.

The  pods which are sickle-shaped contain between 25 to 35 dark brown seeds in a single row.

Uses. Jamaican dandelion seeds are roasted, ground and brewed to make a tea to serve as a coffee substitute. 

This Jamaican herb is also used to treat gout, diabetes, hemorrhoids and as a laxative. Jamaican dandelion is sometimes taken to remove water from the body as well.

Despite the associated coffee names, Jamaican dandelion does not contain any caffeine.

Jamaican Peppermint Bush (Satureja viminea)

Peppermint bush is is also known as Costa Rican mint and peppermint tree

wild Costa Rican Mint
Jamaican Mint Tree

Even though this plant is popular in Jamaica, Satureja viminea is a rare herb. 

Unlike other mints that average 6 -12 inches high, this Jamaican mint bush can be groomed into a small 6 feet tall tree. 

That’s because it is not really a mint

Uses. The strong minty aroma makes it very desirable for culinary purposes. The dried leaves are sprinkled on meats and poultry to give them a minty flavor.

However the most common use for Jamaican peppermint is making tea. 

Jamaican mint bush tea is used to treat gas and bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and  headaches.

Soursop  (Annona muricata)

Depending on your location you may know this as Graviola, Guanabana, or Guyabano. Soursop is a native of Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. 

This is one of the Jamaican herbs that is not really considered a herb. It is really more relished for the delicious juice soursop make

Soursop Leaves
Soursop Leaves

Soursop is a green prickly fruit which is eaten raw or used to make fruit juice. The leaves are also used to make Jamaican bush tea.

Uses. There are many claims on the Internet that Soursop has anti-cancer properties, but there are no scientific data to back this up.

 However soursop tea has long been a part of Jamaican culture. It is thought to be good for diabetes and nervous tension.

 Ground Graviola leaves are also used as a treatment for head lice and bedbugs.

Fever Grass (cympobopon)

jamaican fever grass
Jamaican Fever Grass

Lemongrass is the same thing as Fever grass. It is a fast growing tropical grass with long silky blades.

Fever grass is known by names such as barb wire grass, silky heads and citronella grass.

Uses (culinary)  Used in Asian cooking especially for the grass strong citrus flavor.  Lemongrass is a common ingredient in stews, soups and curries.

(medicinal)  Fever grass is one of those Jamaican herbs with a long history. Fever grass tea is used as a remedy for shorting colds and treating fevers.

Making tea with lemongrass is believed to be the safest way to extract the natural oils from the plant without destroying the nutrients.

Moringa (Oleifera)

Jamaican Moringa ( pronounced Meh-ren-gay) on the island is an African native herb. But t was introduced to Jamaica as early as the 1800s.

ny Jamaican Moringa
Moringa (Oleifera)

 Moringa in Jamaica has long been viewed as a nuisance plant.  But lately it has become one of the most popular Jmaican herbs.

However due to recent scientific studies, the herb is getting some attention.

Uses. Moringa is a Jamaican herb used to boost energy, improve vision.

It is also taken to reduce blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss.

One of many benefits of Moringa is consuming the leaves. They can be steamed as a vegetable or they can be eaten raw in salads.

Bissy (Kola nut)

Bissy seeds
Bissy Seeds

Bissy is the fruit of the Kola nut plant.  The tree which is native to the African rainforest can be found in other tropical regions.

A Bissy tree can grow up to 65 feet tall.

Uses.  The root leaves and stems as well as the fruit of the Kola tree are used to treat various ailments.

However it is Bissy tea that is the most popular on the island. Bissy is os one of the most widely used Jamaican herbs.

That’s because it has a great reputation for counteracting food poisoning and allergic reactions. Bissy Tea is also a high caffeine beverage that is effective as a stimulant substitute for coffee.

Leaves and Weeds Herbs: Medicinal Uses

Common weeds and leave from trees all play a role in the Jamaican love affair with bush teas. These are some of the leaves a weed used to make tea.

Comfrey (Symphytum officianale) 

Comfrey is a perennial herb that has been used in herbal medicine since the middle ages.

In fact some references to the herb date back as far as 50 AD.

comfrey plant
Comfrey plant

The herb has long dark green leaves and blooms bell-shaped flowers that vary from white to purple in color.

Uses. Comfrey leaf tea to treat ulcers, diarrhea, respiratory issues as well as a gargle for sore throats.

Studies determined that one chemical compound in comfrey is linked to risk of developing  cancer.

Therefore the herb is not available for sale in some countries. However Comfrey is one of the Jamaican herbs used to make a good cup of tea

Semi Contra (Epazote herb)

The herb is proven to be effective in removing parasites from the human body. Many of us have not so fund memories of Semo conta.

That’s because it was one of the most widely used Jamaican herbs give to children as worm medicine.

Semi contra herb known in Jamaica as semi contra
Epazote herb (Semi-Contra)

 This herb is also known as Mexican tea. It has origins in Mexico and Central and South America. 

More recently tea made from the Semi Contra herb is sold under the name Tea of Life.

Uses. (Culinary) Epazote herb has antiflatulent properties so it is  useful in alleviating digestive issues.

There the herb is utilized as a seasoning in Mexican foods like chilis, tamales, quesadillas and other Mexican dishes.

 (Medicinal)  Semi Contra is not considered the regular Jamaican herb for making bush tea.

Therefore Semi contra herb tea is mainly used in Jamaica as worm medicine to expel parasites.

I still recoil at the memory of having to gulp down the the tea or jucice of this particular Jamaican herb at the end of each summer, before returning to school. 

Pepper Elder (Peperomia pellucida)

This Jamaican herb for making bush tea grows between 6 and 18 inches tall. The leaves are dark green heart shaped leaves.

peperomia pelludica aka pepper elder
Pepper Elder

The plant likes damp, shaded areas.

Depending on where you live on the island you will either know this herb as Pepper Elder, Jointer or Black Joint.

Uses.  Jamaicans use “Black joint” by boiling boiling the leaves and stems for about 15 minutes to make tea. The tea is taken to treat indigestion and abdominal pain.

However other common names for it are shining bush plant and man to man

In addition they are sometimes put in a container with alcohol and allowed to ferment. The concoction is used as a rub to relieve joint pain.

Wild Plantain (Plantago Major)

Plantego
Plaintain

This is one of those lesser known Jamaican bush tea herbs. It grows in lawns and on many Jamaican roadsides. 

Wild Plantain is not one of those herbs that an average Jamaican would identify with medicinal uses because of where it grows. 

However Plantain (not to be confused with the fruit) has been used as medicine since my grandmother’s generation.

Uses.  Plantago is used in a different way. The leaves are pounded into a paste and used as a poultice for wound, sores and insect bites.

 However, the roots can also be used to make a tea for the treatment of fevers and respiratory ailments.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

This weed is sometimes called winter weed, chickenwort  and chicken weed-the name it goes by in Jamaica.

chickweed herb
Chickweed

Chickweed is an edible weed and that makes is a somewhat popular Jamaican bush tea herb. It is not as widely used as some of the others.

Chicken weed grows in lawns, grasslands, meadows and other open spaces in many areas across the globe.

Uses. Stellaria media is consumed as a leaf vegetable in salads or in soups. 

Chicken weed tea is used to treat arthritis, bronchitis, menstrual cramps and upset stomachs.  

 In some cultures the stems are steamed in hot water and applied to soothe bruises and itchy skin.

Search Mi Heart (Rhytidophyllum Tomentosum)

serach mi heart herb
Search mi heart herb

This species of Rhytidophyllum is native Jamaican herb. The herb is considered a” national treasure”.  

I have not yet been able to find any information regarding where else the herb grows apart from on the island.

However, Search was registered in the plant database as far back as the 1800s.  

Search mi Heart likes to grow in dark, damp areas in crevices of rocks and similar places. 

Common Uses. Search mi heart herbal tea is used for treating asthma, bronchitis, congestion, colds and menstrual cramps.

Leaf of life (Kalanchoe pinnata)

Known also as the miracle leaf, cathedral bells and Goethe plant is a native of Madagascar. However, Leaf of life can be found in many tropical and subtropical areas.

wildcrafted freas Leaf of life leaves
Leaf of Life

Common Uses:  Leaf of life Jamaican herb is used to treat headaches, hypertension and kidney stones. 

Traditionally, Leaf of life in Jamaica is used to treat respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis as well as coughs and colds.

Leaf of life tea is made by boiling the leaves for a few minutes. 

Additionally the way my grandmother extracted the juice was by wrapping the fresh leaves in cheesecloth, and pounding them.

She would squeeze the juice out and make a syrup with it to soothe coughs.

Vervine (Jamaican blue vervain)

  Plant called Vervine in Jamaica is the botanical plant Stachytarpheta jamaicensis. It is a member of the verbena palnt family and is native to the Caribbean. 

young vervine bush
Jamaican Vervine

Jamaican blue vervain also goes by the names Brazillian tea, bastard vervain, blue shake weed and blue porter weed.

Uses. Vervine leaves have been used to make vervine tea that is believed to cleanse the blood, to lower blood pressure.

Vervine herbal tea that’s used to ease anxiety and help with insomnia as well.

Health Benefits of Vervain.  According to one study, phytochemicals tannins, saponins, and flavonoids found in extract of Jamaican blue vervain are known to have antimicrobial effects.

Conclusion

Those are are few of the most popular and useful Jamaican herbs. Most of them are available for purchase on Amazon.

If I missed any popular Jamaican herb, tell us about it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Aslo if you forund this article helpful feel free to share with someone who can also find it useful.

The Lignum Vitae was chosen in the 1800s for it medicinal potential. The plant was one of the first to be studied as a potential cure for syphilis.

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