Bush tea anyone??

In general, many of the patients I see in Jamaica have similar issues to my patients in Minnesota. Some things, however, are distinctly different. What did I know about Ackee fruit before coming here…..well, Nothing! Yet I’ve been told that ackee is Jamaica’s national fruit. It’s served with saltfish for breakfast and is probably the most popular dish besides Jerked “fill-in-the-meat”. It’s even frequently on our breakfast buffet here at Couples tower Isle. that’s all well and good until you find out that ackee, if eaten less than fully ripe, causes a rapid and profound hypoglycemic reaction that can be potentially fatal. You sure can’t say that about your morning poached egg or bowl of Wheaties!! As a result Docs here take ackee poisoning very seriously and screen any potential victim very closely. Ackee ingestion is even the leadoff question on the ER’s triage screening form. Hmmmmm, I did have ackee and saltfish this morning………. Another Jamaican custom I’ve been introduced to is Bush Tea. Initially I thought it might be a local brand of tea (why not, they grow great coffee here) or perhaps a type of specialty tea from the more remote inland mountains. Wrong on both counts. Bush tea is a traditional medicinal tea, or I should say teas, made quite literally from a bush. Which bush you may ask? Well from a variety of bushes depending on the illness being treated and the grandmother involved. Some, like peppermint tea, are benign. Others, like “Leaf of Life” buy you a ticket to a Hospital bed. Teas are made from plants like “Dog Blood” (yum) and “Spirit Weed” (you’ll soon be one?). One local doc joked that the stranger the name the more trouble you may be in. It’s a real issue here as bush teas are still commonly given for a wide range of complaints. In kids especially, the “safe” range…if there is one….may be very narrow due to body size. in addition, patients or parents may not know of their bush teas ingredients or may be reluctant to say. That brings up another issue: that of Jamaican culture and traditions……but I’ll save that for another post.
Gary Nichols

I'm a semi-retired paediatrician/sports medicine doc based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I've worked as a volunteer doc in Haiti, Ghana, Nepal, and Bhutan over the last 6 years as well as serving as a sports medicine doc for high schools in Minnesota and major events such as the Olympics, Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, and many others. I love International Medicine and am very grateful to have the opportunity to work in Jamaican with Issa Trust and Heart to Heart Int'l. I have 2 wonderful sons and love hiking, mountaineering, sailing, skiing, and virtually any outdoor activity!!

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