Despite the advances in modern medicine, traditional remedies handed down through the generations are their first choice for many people around the world when it comes to treating everyday ailments and even more complex illnesses.
From natural immunity boosters to wellness teas to natural pastes that help prevent sunburn and stymie bruising, many of these are grounded in plants and herbs, featured in foods and drinks the locals whip up when feeling under the weather. To celebrate the World Health Organization’s annual World Health Day, we’ve brought you 19 from around the globe.
Thailand: The knobbly-skinned kaffir lime is a key ingredient in Thai curries, but locals also prize the leaves of this fruit for their multiple health properties. They swear, for example, that boiling kaffir lime leaves in water and drinking the tea cures even the worst migraines.
Togo: In the West African nation of Togo, the calcium-rich leaves of the Baobab tree have always been a health staple and they’ve been used in traditional medicine to bring down blood pressure. Locals call the Baobab fruit “Monkey’s Bread” and consume it regularly for its high levels of vitamins, proteins and anti-oxidants.
(Photo: Flickr/William Ng)
India: The warty bitter gourd may look like the cucumber’s ugly sister, but Indians still regard is as a panacea for many illnesses, particularly diabetes. Bitter gourds contain a plant insulin that has been proven to lower sugar levels in the blood and improve glucose tolerance levels, but even before that was known, many Indians believed in the vegetable’s properties, and today, continue to brave its extreme bitterness with a daily juice.
Trinidad & Tobago: At Christmas time on this Caribbean island, the sepals of the red flower known as Sorrel are juiced up and consumed for overall good health. Research has shown that Sorrel has high levels of anti-oxidants and many vitamins and minerals, and many people in the Caribbean believe that drinking a glass of Sorrel juice every day keeps the doctor away.
Related: The 5 Best Teas For Weight Loss
Iran: When Iranians have a stomach ache, they immediately turn to the curative power of something they call “Nabat Sugar.” The rock candy is made with saffron, known since antiquity for its many medicinal properties, and Iranians stir it into hot water for quick and effective relief from cramps.
(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
South Africa: Artemisa Afra, the African variant of the Wormwood tree, grows in messy, bushy clumps throughout South Africa. Locals have been using the “Als” leaves, as they’re called in Afrikaans, for centuries to treat a multitude of different conditions, including headaches, earaches, intestinal issues and even malaria. Today, many still soak them in water for half an hour and drink the bitter liquid as a tonic to lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar control and boost libido.
(Photo: Flickr/Jessica and Lon Binder)
Ukraine: Ukranians believe that most illnesses enter the body through either the head or the feet, so it makes sense that they should exit the body through the same paths. To treat colds, many Ukranians will put on a pair of socks and then place “Gortchitsa” or dry mustard powder – which, among others, is known for its anti inflammatory and heat producing properties – in a second pair of socks that they pull on top of the first one. The heat that’s produced, they believe, will make the feet sweat and force a cold out of the body.
Vietnam: The Vietnamese people prize the root of the pink lotus flower that grows in mud under the water. Lotus root has many curative properties, and contains a number of important vitamins and minerals. Locals believe it helps with constipation and ending a meal with a dessert that contains lotus seeds is a must, as they’re said to calm the stomach and reduce both anxiety and insomnia.
Spain: In the rainy northwestern Spanish province of Galicia, Eucalyptus trees abound and locals boil their aromatic leaves – rich in antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties — in water, inhaling the vapor to clear their chests and lungs of colds and coughs, and using it to cleanse their homes of germs.
Finland: The elusive Arctic Cloudberry that grows in the bogs and marshes of northern Finland is a tiny health powerhouse that’s valued for its many properties, including anti-carcinogens, anti-oxidants and Omega fatty acids. When the Cloudberry is in season — it grows but for a brief three-week period each year — many Finns drop whatever they’re doing and rush out to pick them.
Italy: When Italian company Eurolactis presented Pope Francis with two donkeys last December, the pontiff revealed that he, too, like many babies of his generation, had once been fed donkey’s milk. Today, many Italians are rediscovering the virtues of the light and easy-to-digest donkey’s milk, which possesses large amounts of the anti-bacterial enzyme Lysozyme, high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamins and minerals galore. Eurolactis makes powdered donkey milk formula for babies and also sells it in liquid form in Tetrapaks.
Burma: Although many more people are now discovering the Southeast Asian nation that, under the harsh yoke of a brutal military dictatorship, was hidden from the world for decades, they may not be aware of Burma’s age-old skincare secret. For centuries, Burmese have been applying Thanaka, a paste made from the leaves of the Limonia acidissima tree that, among others, are rich in free radical fighting agents, to their skins, to protect it from the harshness of the sun, to nourish and soften it and treat cuts and bruises.
Korea: Is there anything more to be said about Korean ginseng? For thousands of year, Koreans have been taking ginseng to boost their immune systems and using it as a natural antidote for all kinds of illnesses.
Greece: Long before they reach the legal drinking age, many young Greeks will have benefited from the healing properties of the anise-flavored drink Ouzo, which is widely used for a number of different purposes. Ouzo is infused with different herbs, including rosemary and cinnamon, known for their healing properties, and it’s used to treat all kinds of ailments from stomach pains to toothaches.
(Photo: Getty Images/William Reavell)
France: French babies, children and adults settle their queasy tummies with chamomile tea. The calming nervine, which restores stability to the nervous system, is used to treat anything from teething pains to menstrual cramps and many things inbetween.
Mexico: Mexicans have always sworn by the fibrous prickly pear cactus known as Nopal. It’s been a staple part of Mexican cuisine for centuries and valued for its medicinal properties, and has been scientifically proven to lower both cholesterol and blood sugar.
Tibet: Tibetans consume Po Cha, or Butter Tea, made from tea, salt and yak butter, several times a day. The highly caloric tea is not for the faint of heart, but it is nourishing, keeps up energy levels, and Tibetans believe it makes them strong.
Nigeria: To boost their energy levels and help in digestion, many Nigerians still chew the very bitter but caffeine-rich nut of the Cola tree. They also believe it helps in curing common colds and chest infections.
Sweden: Swedish bitters, flavored with herbs and plants including rhubarb, myrrh, angelica and camphor, have long been used to quickly treat stomach bloating and indigestion. They date back centuries and are known to effectively regulate gut acidity and improve liver function.
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