By Honor Blanco Cabie
Tata Tito Abriol, Tata Liberato Benavidez and Manong Paquito Urbano are all rice and tobacco farmers in northern Philippines.
But they also share, apart from their being tillers of the soil, bias for medicinal plants which are abundant in their barangay in the wooded hill town of Pinili in far Ilocos Norte province.
They are unlicensed men of medicine or quack doctors – men to whom villagers of barangay Upon run when they feel below the weather in summer or in the monsoon, any time of the day.
They are called “erbolario” – from the English herbs – while others in their league elsewhere in the country are called “albularyo.”
For 150 years total among them, they have individually become all too familiar with herbal medicinal plants like their familiarity with their fingernails and won the confidence of villagers – men and women who do not have the time nor enough cash for a quick visit to the puericulture center or to the town’s health center.
Through their questions and answers by kin of the sick or those feeling sick, they would prescribe herbs they themselves would pick from the hills surrounding their furrowed fields for particular diseases, sickness and – unbelievably in the advance of medical science – cure to dog, cat and even snake bites.
In recent years, native plants started becoming popular among Filipinos, who have been shocked no end by expensive Western medicines, particularly after the government, through the Department of Health, approved at least 10 medicinal plants which have been found to be effective in providing basic medical care.
The government has also implemented the Cheaper Medicines Act and created the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care, a government-owned and controlled-corporation attached to the DOH to answer the needs of Filipinos on health care.
This ushered in a new chapter in health care in the Philippines, where majority of the rural population had to rely for scores on quack doctors for their primary health care.
The DOH, through its Traditional Health Program, has said the 10 herbal medicinal plants it has endorsed have been thoroughly tested and have been clinically proven to have medicinal value in the relief and treatment of various ailments.
The 10, which have also been in the quack doctors’ reliable mortar, are:
1. Akapulko (Cassia alata), also known as “bayabas-bayabasan” and “ringworm bush” in English, is used to treat ringworms and skin fungal infections.
2. Ampalaya or paria (Momordica charantia), known as “bitter gourd” or “bitter melon” in English, is popular as a treatment of diabetes (diabetes mellitus), for the non-insulin dependent patients.
3. Bawang (Allium sativum), or “garlic” in English, mainly reduces cholesterol in the blood and thus helps control blood pressure.
4. Bayabas or bayawas (Psidium guajava), “guava” in English, is primarily used as an antiseptic to disinfect wounds. Also, it can be used as a mouth wash to treat tooth decay and gum infection.
Among some northerners getting circumcised, the juice from the chewed leaves is an effective halter for blood.
5. Lagundi or dangla (Vitex negundo), known in English as the “5-leaved chaste tree,” is used for the relief of coughs and asthma.
6. Niyog-niyogan (Quisqualis indica L.), a vine known as “Chinese honey suckle,” is effective in eliminating intestinal worms, particularly the Ascaris and Trichina.
Only the dried matured seeds are medicinal -- crack and ingest the dried seeds two hours after eating (5 to 7 seeds for children and 8 to 10 seeds for adults).
If one dose does not eliminate the worms, wait a week before repeating the dose, according to medical sources.
7. Sambong (Blumea balsamifera), called in English as Blumea camphora, is a diuretic that helps in the excretion of urinary stones.
8. Tsaang Gubat or Tsaang bakir (Ehretia microphylla Lam.), when prepared like tea, is effective in treating intestinal motility and also used as a mouth wash since the leaves of this shrub have high fluoride content.
9. Ulasimang Bato or the Pansit-Pansitan (Peperomia pellucida), is effective in fighting arthritis and gout. The leaves can be eaten fresh (about a cupful) as salad or like tea.
For the decoction, boil a cup of clean chopped leaves in 2 cups of water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain, let cool and drink a cup after meals (3 times a day).
10. Yerba Buena or erba (Clinopodium douglasii), commonly known as Peppermint, is used as an analgesic to relieve body aches and pain.
This can be taken internally as a decoction or externally by pounding the leaves and applied directly on the afflicted area, according to medical sources.
With the prices of prescribed medicines getting higher, observers of primary health care in this Southeast Asian archipelago say the herbal medicinal plants are slowly marching in through the doorsteps of many Filipinos.