18 The Dally News, Friday, November22, 1996 Environment
History finds many weed women
Last week's column discussed
the West Indian weed woman and
her knowledge of medicinal plants.
Today we'll look at weed women in
history and in other cultures.
Historians say that man has been
on the earth some five million
years. But records of Neolithic
hunters and gathers from 10,000
B.C. are the first mention we have
of medicinal plants being collected
and gathered. However, it is known
that the early people of the earth
found the beneficial use of medici-
nal plants through trial and error.
How women took on the role of
using plants for medicinal use is not
known. However, women experts in
medicinal plants are found in many
cultures. For example, weed women
in Mexico, who were known as
curanderas, had a great knowledge
of plant properties and ways to pre-
pare plants for medicinal use.
For instance, Maria Jesus di
Avala in Mexico was a curandera
famous for curing tuberculosis indts
early stage of development. People
from all over Mexico would come
to see her for treatment.
Maria would listen to the
patient's chest to determine the
breathing pattern. If the disease was
too far gone, she would tell the
patient to consult a doctor. If the
disease was at an early stage, she
would wrap the patient in a blanket
and place him or her in a chamber
covered with heated stones to make
After 10 minutes, the blanket
was changed and the patient was
carried into another an adobe hut.
Each hour, the patient was given
bush tea to cause the patient to
sweat each time the blanket was
changed. After four days of treat-
ment, many patients felt better.
West Indian weed women have
been celebrated through the use of
weed women songs. Here is an
excerpt of a song written by Tay-
lor's Version from Barbados:
"One day I meet a old woman
selling, and I wanted something to
eat. I thought I could put a little bit
in she way, but I take back when I
did meet. I thought she had
bananas, orange or pear, nothing
that I need. I asked the old woman
what she was selling. She said she
was selling weed.
"She had she coat tie up over she
waist, and was stepping along with
grace, she had a pair of old clogs on
her feet, and was waddling down
the street. Just then she start to
name the different weed, and I was
really more than glad. I can't
remember all she call, but these
were a few she had.
"She had the manpeabber, wom-
anpeabber, tan-tan, fall-back and
lemon-grass, minnie root, gully
root, granny backbone, bitter-tally,
lime-life and caroon, coolie-bitters,
cariella-bush, flat-earth and de iron
weed, sweet bloom, foultongue and
the wild-daizzie sweet sage and
even to you.
"She had de cat-mint, de pepper-
mint, soldier-rod, pastec-lena and
de cow-foot bush, milk-weed, fit-
weed, bird-vine, de bishopcap bush
and de rock-balsam, surinam bit-
ters, de wild-greentree, three-fin-
gers and the moroon bush, a worm
grass, z-grass, man-grass, carron-
crow, snake-bitters and also taxxan.
She had cassava-mama, okra-babba,
jacob-ladder, mixed with finegoria,
job-tea, peter-parslee, john-belly-
parslee and the wite clary. bill-bush,
wild-cane, duck-weed, anisseed,
war-bitters and wildgrey-root, she
even had down to a certain bush
Barbados called puss-in-boots.
"When I hear the names she
called, I went down, can't even talk.
She start to call from Camp Street
corner, never stop till she reach
Orange walk, the woman had me
surprise. I didn't know what to do
till a girl came along, one cuff in
me eyes, and I didn't know who
was who. Sweet-broom, sweet-sage
and the lemon-grass, I hear them
good making tea. When I hear
Dutch grass, and the wild daisy am
good to cool the body. Yes the
woman tongue was even listed,
calling out all the time, she only
had a little Congo eye, but the other
one now left blind."
Olasee Davis, has a master's
degree in range management and
forestry ecology, and is a St. Croix
ecologist, activist and writer.