Imagine you are stuck on an island and feeling pretty rotten, but your medicine box is running on empty….what can you do? A walk along Fiji’s seashore and into the rainforests unearths a natural cure for almost every ailment.
If you ask any of us here in Fiji about wai ni mate vaka viti (native Fijian medicine), you will find many different remedies that can be brewed or concocted to help treat a range of ailments from a simple mozzie bite to a crippling migraine!
As a child growing up in Fiji, I was always given (and due to its overpowering taste – practically forced to drink) a small cup of Lailai elixir, a native ginger root grated and mixed with water that promoted general health and wellbeing.
To this day despite being eternally grateful to the plant for a healthy childhood, I have a slight dislike for the taste of ginger and hold the potent Lailai mix completely responsible.
Here we look at a few of the most common plants you can find on any coastline in Fiji.
Fijian name: Tavola
English name: Beach Almond Tree
Scientific name: Terminalia catappa
The Tavola tree grows near the beach but can be found inland as well.
It grows into a very tall tree with one main trunk from which the branches stand straight out, like an umbrella.
The leaves are large and pear shaped, dull green in colour which turn gold and red before falling from the tree making them completely bare, once a year.
Mainly used as a general tonic or pick-me-up after illness and commonly given to children who are lethargic.
Headaches and migraine may be remedied by squeezing the juice of the leaf into the nostrils.
The leaves may also be chewed and their juice swallowed as the treatment of a simple cough, and can be applied directly to aid healing of wounds and burns.
The Tavola seed is edible, but you must get through the fibrous outer layers before finding the kernel inside.
The kernel is delicious roasted and can be used as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto.
Fijian name: Quwawa
English name: Guava
Scientific name: Psidium guajava
This is a renowned medicine of the tropics and a fruit that most people should be familiar with.
The guava tree has become an invasive species in Fiji and you can find one almost anywhere. It is commonly used to treat diarrhea and dysentery.
The young leaves are pounded and soaked in water, this mixture is then drunk or alternatively the leaves can be chewed and the juice swallowed, spitting out the dry remains.
Sometimes you may find that if you eat too many of the fruit, especially green; you end up with constipation or a very sore tummy. I’d recommend not eating too many. Another interesting fact about the guava is that it is believed to alleviate a hangover when tender guava leaves are chewed before taking intoxicating drinks, so before overdosing on Fijian Bounty Rum, have a chew on some guava leaves!
Fijian name: Wa Bosucu
English name: Mile-a-minute
Scientific name: Mikania micrantha
Called by this name because that is just what it does given half the chance.
It can cover and ruin a garden in a very short space of time. Has rather pointy leaves and when in flower has clumps of very small white blossoms.
The juice of the leaves may be used for the treatment of wounds and is valued as a remedy to stop bleeding. Crush up the leaves in your palms and apply directly to the wound.
Also great to apply to stings of any sort.
Fijian name:: Vau
English name: Beach hibiscus
Scientific name: Hibiscus tiliaceus
Very common by the seaside, the Vau has many uses, not only medicinal. Has heart shaped papery leaves and yellow or dark red flowers very much like hibiscus bloom.
The stringy bark can also be used for rope. For sprained limbs, the leaves are placed over the swelling and strapped on overnight.
By the next morning the swelling has usually disappeared and the limb is massaged with oil, to strengthen it. This treatment works surprisingly well.
Fijian name: Totodro
Scientific name: Centella asiatica
This is a ground creeper that has leaves very similar to a voilet, which are small and round with crinkly edges.
The leaves have antiseptic as well as antimicrobial properties.
Leaves can be used to stop bleeding of wounds by acting as a clotting agent and are also pounded up and the juice drunk for severe stomach ache and/or period pains.
Fijian name: Niu
English name: Coconut Palm
Scientific name: Cocos nucifera
Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a “functional food” because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.
Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations.
Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. For the treatment of fish poisoning or seafood poisoning, grate the coconut flesh and squeeze the milk from this to make nearly a cupful, drink as much of the liquid as is possible and repeat often.
Fijian name: Botebote Koro
English name: Goat Weed
Scientific name: Ageratum conyzoides
For a personal guided tour of Stones Nursery, Leah or one of her employees will be happy to show you around for a nominal fee of $15.00 pp. Contact details : Lot 32, Evuevu Place, Pacific Harbour Phone: +679 8673600 Email: [email protected]
The leaves of this plant have antiseptic properties. The crushed leaves help to stop bleeding (of wounds) by encouraging clotting. The leaves are also crushed and used as a poultice for boils, sores and swollen feet. Essential oils from this plant have been shown to demonstrate antibacterial properties against a certain strain of bacterium, staphylococcus aureus. The plant has also shown anti fungal and anti inflammatory properties
Leah Stone is Fiji born and raised, based in Pacific Harbour.
After studying Horticulture and Marine Science in New Zealand, she returned to Fiji where she manages her family’s spectacular Palm Nursery.
She grew up on the ocean and is a keen environmentalist… and fisherwoman! Stones Nursery is home to mature species of palm from all over the world.
If you are looking for a shore based botanical experience, this is the place to go.