In English, If you Please

The health care issue is central to this season’s political debate. Do we want a system run by the government, by the private sector or by a combination of the two? Do we want to choose our own doctor or have the insurance company furnish a less expensive one? What are the decisions to make when life is threatened? There are many difficult choices to make. Not so long ago, the only choices sick people had were not between which plan or which doctor, but between which weed that was growing in the garden or the yard. For many years, whenever hospitals were far away or inexistent, families dipped into the archives their elders’ living memory. Almost everyone in Acadiana knew or still knows at least one or two traiteurs.  Some healed through prayer and the laying on of hands; others had a profound knowledge of the different plants that sprouted up everywhere and anywhere. The gift of healing one malaise or another – traiteurs usually have only one specialty: sunstroke, nosebleeds or warts, for example – is traditionally handed down from one generation to the next. For those who have not received the gift, other methods of healing are at arm’s length. You only have to give yourself the trouble of bending over to pick them up.

Among the medicinal plants, the best known is probably the Mamou, also known as the coral bean tree. Erythrina herbacea is easily recognizable from its three part leaves, its stalk of scarlet flowers and its shiny red beans emerging from split black pods. The seeds and the roots are found in the recipe for a syrup that treats flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, cold and whooping cough symptoms.  It can also treat fevers and stomach cramps. A real cure-all, almost like Dudley LeBlanc’s famous elixir “Hadacol”. Most people don’t realize that he had another cough tonic, “Dixie Dew Mamou.”  Even today you can find people who make a cough tonic with Mamou.

Almost all parts of the elderberry are used in a variety of remedies. The flowers are used for measles, the buds for fever, chills or headache and the stem pith to cleanse eye infections. It is said that the leaves are particularly powerful if they are picked for the Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24.

The shape of the Lizard’s Tail’s pods gives it its name. All of its parts are used for its anti-inflammatory and calming qualities. Teething babies are given an herbal tea made from this plant, as well as a poultice applied directly on the skin in case of wounds or swelling. In general, they can be found in humid areas which means just about anywhere in Louisiana.

One doesn’t have to leave the house to find other healing plants. You only have to look in the kitchen pantry. Mint, red bay leaf and sassafras also have medicinal qualities. Mint is recommended for digestive problems, red bay leaf for inflammation and sassafras to extract poison from insect bites. This last one is also used to make a tea that is supposed to “warm the blood” or a well liked, refreshing beverage, root beer. Not to mention file for the gumbo.

Do you have sensitive gums? French Mulberry will do the trick. The Louisiana iris will relieve burns, the Paw Paw will diminish constipation and as its name implies, Wormseed will rid you of worms, as well as Snake Root which is reputed to be effective against snake bites. Homemade Muscadine wine is a tradition around here, but did you know that its leaves are the main ingredient in a remedy for kidney problems?

Given that the vast majority of prescribed medications were originally taken from medicinal plants, it is in our best interest to listen to the wisdom of our elders and think twice before pulling out that weed that could save a life.