The content of this article is for educational purpose only and is not intended as medical advice. Please seek the help of a doctor before using any of the below-mentioned plants.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund state that globally, between 50,000 to 80,000 flowering plant species exist and are used as medicines. As it stands, medicinal plants (both on land and in the sea) are valuable sources of drugs. As research continues in this field, more properties of common plants are revealed and/or new medicinal plants are discovered in secluded places. To date, over 25% of prescribed medicines in developed countries come from wild plant species; in Europe alone, some 1300 medicinal plants are used . In developing countries such as China, Kenya, Peru and Uruguay, up to 80% of people totally depend on medicinal plants for their healthcare.
In brief, when the early settlers established in Mauritius, they had limited choice when it came to medicine because of the island’s geographical remoteness and lack of documentation. Under these circumstances, they used available plants through trial and error and transferred that knowledge to their families and from generation to generation. Eventually, as people came from Europe, Africa, Madagascar and India to inhabit and work on the island, they also brought with them their traditional medicinal knowledge and plants. In many situations, certain ethnic groups used native plants that looked similar to those of their homelands as medicine. Incidentally, they thus discovered the healing properties of native Mauritian plants.
Today, traditional medicinal plants still play an important role in the healthcare of the nation of Mauritius. For example, the older generations still use a lot of herbs to treat common ailments like allergies, diarrhoea, headaches, stomach aches, nausea and tambave. Yet, despite the use of many plant species as medicines, this is mostly based on traditional knowledge and herbalist information without in-depth scientific validation of their therapeutic efficiency . As a matter of fact, very few scientific studies have actually been carried out to evaluate the curative potential of many of the native plant species.
Statistically, out of the 443 medicinal plants recorded in Mauritius, 22% are endemics and used widely in herbal medication. For instance, infusions of the flowers of mandrinette (Hibiscus genevii) is used to cure kidney problems and seeds of the Mauritian stinkwood or Bois Puant (Foetidia mauritiana) are used to treat people with intestinal worm infections . Nevertheless, while many of the medicinal plants of Mauritius have been documented , limited scientific information is available on their effectiveness, dosage, method of preparation and additive effects when mixed with other substances .
Basically, the most commonly used and readily available medicinal plants in Mauritius are Aloe vera, Ayapana, Baume du Perou, Citronella, wild mint, Moringa, Neem, Pissenli, Tulsi and Henna.
Made famous by its various applications in beauty and skincare products, Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller) is a green succulent that grows well in arid regions. If truth be told, the medicinal uses of Aloe vera have been known for millennia and used by multiple civilizations including those in Egypt, Greece and China. Basically, Aloe vera contains 75 active elements including sugars, vitamins, enzymes, lignin, salicylic acids, minerals and amino acids. Thus, Aloe vera is commonly used for healing purposes as it increases and changes the collagen content of wounds. It also protects the skin by reducing the release of certain chemicals thus preventing skin burns. Moreover, it has been found that Aloe vera greatly boosts the immune system and is a powerful laxative. Further to that, the plant contains 6 antiseptic agents that kill parasitic organisms in the body and has antitumor properties.
Originating from South America, Ayapana (Eupatorium triplinerve) has been introduced in many regions around the world such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean Islands. In fact, the herb is sometimes just infused and taken as a herbal tea due to its nice aroma. Yet, despite its common use in Ayurvedic medicine, there is no complete report on the chemical constituents of the herb. Ayapana is chiefly used to treat liver conditions, relieve pain, bacterial and fungal infections, boost the immune system as well as ulcers and haemorrhages.
Baume du Perou, commonly called Variegated Mint leaf, is distributed in the warm tropical regions generally across Africa to Australia. Introduced in many parts of the world, different species of the plant are grown in pots in Europe, used for landscaping in South Africa and exploited for medicinal purposes in Africa. As for Mauritius, the Baume du Perou species that grows here is the Plectranthus madagascariensis. Baume du Perou has a number of biologically active compounds that makes it an important herb to research on for drug development. Essentially, the herb treats mild bacterial and fungal infections, counters parasites like worms, protects against insects and inhibits the formation of tumours.
Loved for its aroma, Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) is cultivated mainly for its essential oils that are used extensively in perfumery, soap and flavouring industries. The grass grows mainly in tropical and sub-tropical regions and where there is a good distribution of rainfall. The essential oils from the leaves of Citronella have several biological properties and one of its fundamental applications is in insect repellants. Additionally, citronella is used to treat fever, parasitic infections, digestive and menstrual problems. Furthermore, infusion of the leaves decreases anxiety while massaging with the oil relieves muscle and joint pains.
Mentha longifolia or commonly called the wild mint is a plant that grows widely across Africa, Australia, the Mediterranean and Europe. Used in traditional medicine since ages, the main active ingredient in the wild mint is the essential oil component, menthol. In reality, the wild mint has been thoroughly studied; its biological effects and chemical compounds are well-known. Generally, all parts of the plant, from leaves to bark, have traditional medicinal uses. These include treating parasitic infections, curing gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, boosting the immune system, healing wounds, reducing fever and headaches, treating kidney issues, blood purification and for general weakness. Moreover, wild mint can also be used as an aphrodisiac.
Moringa oleifera or commonly called Brede Mouroum in Mauritius and even nicknamed the Miracle Tree by others is a fast-growing and drought-resistant tree. It originates from India and commonly grows in the tropics and sub-tropics. Used by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans since a long time for its health benefits, moringa can cure and heal some 300 diseases. In truth, almost all parts of the tree contain minerals, proteins, vitamins and phenolic acids. As a result, Moringa is good to help boost the immune system, treat minor flu, headaches, scurvy, eye and ear infections, reduce cholesterol levels, cure diarrhoea, treat liver and spleen issues, bone and joint pains, cramps, gout, anaemia and sexually transmitted diseases. Though many studies have been carried out moringa, it is important to isolate individual compounds and verify their healing claims.
Widely used in Ayurvedic, Chinese and Unani medicinal folklore, the Neem tree is native to India, distributed in Asia and many other tropical and sub-tropical countries. Neem (Azadirachta indica) also called lila de perse or lila perse in Mauritius has various health benefits as it is a rich source of antioxidants. Basically, the leaves contain the most important active compounds though bark extracts, flowers and fruits have also been tested for their chemical properties. In the main, neem can treat a number of bacterial and fungal infections, prevent inflammations and arthritis, lower blood sugar levels, heal wounds, treat malaria, ulcers and inhibit tumour activities.
The pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) or Pissenli as called in Mauritius, grows extensively around the world, from the United States, Europe to Africa. As it is, medicinal properties of the pot marigold have been mentioned in Ayurvedic and Unani traditional therapeutic systems. In fact, a variety of chemicals have been reported from the plant: steroids, lipids, carotenoids, carbohydrates and phenolic compounds. What’s more, while the orange flowers of the pot marigold are rich sources of carotenoids, infusion of the plant can treat chronic diseases. Medicinal uses of the pot marigold include treating skin disorders, tambave, eczema, inflammations, kidney problems, gastrointestinal ulcers, poor eyesight, sore throat, insomnia, snake bites, menstrual irregularities, jaundice and varicose veins.
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or the Queen of herbs or even ‘The Incomparable One’ (Sanskrit meaning of Tulsi) of India and commonly called the Holy Basil, is renowned for its healing and therapeutic properties. Generally, the plant grows in various parts of the tropics and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Unani medicinal systems. Interestingly, the chemical composition of the Tulsi plant is quite complex with a high number of active compounds and nutrients. Consequently, Tulsi has a wide range of applications for example in decreasing blood sugar levels, providing cardio-protective effects, helping in wound healing, decreasing cholesterol levels, killing microbes that cause infections (including the sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhoea), protecting against gastric ulcers and preventing convulsions. Tulsi also has anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
The Henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) or Mehendi is a small tree that is famous for its nail treating properties. Yet the plant has significant pharmacological properties that are often overlooked. Grown in various countries in the tropics from Africa to Australia, Henna is an important medicinal plant in Ayurvedic therapy and all parts of the plant including the leaves, flowers, seeds, bark and roots are used in treatment. Medicinal uses of Henna, in general, include alleviating jaundice, treating smallpox and skin infections, healing wounds, treating liver disorders and curing involuntary and excessive ejaculation.