John, a fifty-something Seychellois regularly visits us at Roche Caiman to collect fruits of bwa torti or Noni. “Noni has helped me deal with pain and even cancer” John told me.
The use of plant products as alternative medicine is very common in Seychelles and in all countries of the region. At the Nature Seychelles Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman we showcase a range of these medicinal plants that have been used for generations in Seychelles and elsewhere.
Interestingly, at least 175 species of plants have been used by multinational pharmaceutical companies and their ingredients included in medicines, vitamins, and other supplements that are sold without prescriptions by chemists globally. In the United States these natural products have an estimated sale of $3 billion annually!
The use of the active ingredients of plants by modern pharmaceutical firms is proof that traditional healers and herbalists who use plants for healing are by and large on the right track. In Seychelles, at least 250 species of plants have traditionally been utilized for healing and magical purposes. Nowadays about forty to fifty species are still used. Most of these are plants that have been imported from overseas and knowledge of their use has come from other countries such as Madagascar.
However about 15 endemic species (found only in Seychelles) have also been used for a variety of purposes ranging from poison and magical rites to aphrodisiac. These endemic species includes bwa zoliker and bwa sagay believed to be useful in treating hypertension, kafe maron gran fey, bwa dir blan and bwa kato for anemia and weakness, koko maron against dysentery and bwa merl for skin diseases. The Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman contains specimens of some of these plants.
Many plants are collected from the wild in large quantities and many species are highly endangered. An endemic plant known to Seychellois as bwa marmay has already become extinct. Over collection for use in herbal concoctions is probably the cause. Another species of endemic plant which is also called bwa marmay is still in existence and is used for an aphrodisiac.
Bwa sousouri is not an endemic plant but has become rare on the populated islands because its bark is thought to cause abortions. On other protected islands it occurs in small forests. Many species of plants are becoming rarer because of habitat destruction.
One should note that not all medicinal plants work in the way they are supposed to. Also, some may be dangerous if improperly utilized. Further trials and investigations into the efficacy of these plants, in particular the endemic ones are needed. Who knows, one of our endemic plants may have active ingredients which could cure aids or cancer.
We encourage you to visit our Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman and talk to Lucina Denis our horticulturist. If you have any medicinal plants that you think we should grow we would be grateful for any seedlings or cuttings.
* Disclaimer – This article is for information purposes only and the information on medicinal use of some plants is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe or replace conventional medical care. Consult a professional medical expert before trying out alternative medicine.