Jamaica’s Organic Herbal Medicine

Introduction

Jamaica has a high degree of biological and cultural diversity. Roughly, 3000 species of plants grow on the island, with 25 percent of them being found nowhere else on Earth. The Maroons of Jamaica represent one of the most important cultural groups. The history of the Maroons of Jamaica has African roots and begins in the year 1690, when a small number of slaves that had been brought from the Komoranti nation in Africa (the Akan region of West Africa or present day Ghana) fled from the hardships of plantation life and migrated to the mountains. Here they found freedom and a new autonomous way of life. Having established themselves in small communities, these forest freemen and women became known simply as Maroons, a title taken from the Spanish word cimaron, meaning wild or unruly.

Today, two distinct Maroon groups persist in Jamaica, namely the Windward (eastern) and Leeward Maroons (western). Although, they have survived more than three centuries of colonization, today they continue to face new challenges – that of cultural erosion and integration into Jamaican society. Despite rapid change, a result of the exposure to non-Maroon society, Maroon communities have maintained many aspects of their traditional practices especially the use of local and introduced plants as medicines.

Although, there has been no comprehensive study of Maroon ethnobotany, it is widely recognized that they possess a well developed traditional knowledge of the uses of Jamaica’s flora. This study presents some of this knowledge, and includes the common medicinal plants utilized by the Windward Maroons of Portland. This publication represents only a small fraction of the plants the Maroons use. It is hoped that this research can serve as an initial baseline for further documentation and Maroon cultural preservation.