Medicinal Plants in the Philippines and How to Use Them

Sambong (Blumea balsamifera)
Sambong (Blumea balsamifera)

Before the advent of formal medicine, people largely depended on herbal plant knowledge that has been passed through generations of families. From poultices for wounds and bruises to tinctures and concentrated oils for disease treatments, herbal medicine has been around since time immemorial. Ancient civilizations were known to have relied on the power of herbal medicines, with evidence pointing to herbal medicine being practiced by Sumerians and the Ancient Chinese. Because of the proven effect of herbal medicine, its practice has survived the test of time and is now still part of modern practices in the Philippines and around the world, with medicinal plants and herbs figuring largely in alternative medicine.

In the Philippines where herbal plant species abound, it is customary for Filipinos to use them in nursing minor sicknesses such as cough, colds, flu, infections, and other skin infections. Though there are still many Pinoys who still question the efficacy of these plants, medical research and studies have already acknowledged their value in the world of medicine. Following the establishment of the efficacy of these herbal medicines in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) have released their recommended list of herbal plants found in the Philippines and the health benefits they provide, further concretizing the role of alternative medicine in medical practice.

In this article, we’ve compiled some of the most well-known herbal and medicinal plants in the Philippines, the conditions that they’ve been proven to be effective against, as well as their folk medicinal applications.

Philippine Herbal Medicine for Colds, Cough, and Fever

Lagundi

Among the medicinal uses and benefits of lagundi are to stop coughing, relieve asthma, facilitate the discharge of phlegm and lower fever due to colds or flu. It is also a pain reliever for headaches and toothache.

For cough, asthma and fever, here’s how to prepare lagundi leaves. Boil lagundi leaves in two glasses of water for at least 15 minutes. This boiled mixture is called among experts as “decoction.” To stop coughing, take ½ glass of decoction three times a day. In addition, drink at least eight glasses of water a day to further help loosen phlegm.

If you’re suffering from asthma, take 1/3 glass of decoction three times a day. However, if your asthma does not improve after one dose of the decoction or when the attack is severe, consult your physician right away.

For fever, take ½ glass of decoction every three hours, or as needed. To relieve headache, heat enough fresh lagundi leaves over a fire until slightly wilted. Then crush the leaves and apply the poultice to the forehead and temples. Bandage the leaves in place. Change the dressing every four hours when needed.

Ampalaya

A known antitussive and antipyretic, ampalaya leaf juice is known to assist the human body to clear viral infections that often lead to cough and colds. To use ampalaya to alleviate cough, grind and juice ampalaya leaves every day. Drink a spoonful of concentrated ampalaya leaf juice every day. However, if you’re planning on taking ampalaya as a treatment option when you’re pregnant, it’s best that you first ask for a health expert’s opinion.

Tawa-Tawa

Also known as gatas-gatas, tawa-tawa is a powerful herbal medicine that is used in the Philippines to treat viral infections, including colds and cough, and fever symptoms. Aside from its antiviral properties, tawa-tawa is also a well-known anti-bacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory. To use this herb, you can boil its leaves and drink it as a tea to help relieve respiratory symptoms associated with cough and even asthma.

Sambong

Sambong is an effective antipyretic that can aid in lowering high temperatures brought on by fevers. To utilize sambong leaves, soak the leaves in cold water and wring them out. Place the leaves on clean cloths, and apply the cloths to the feverish person’s armpits and forehead.

Philippine Medicinal Plants for Arthritis and Gout

Sambong or Blumea camphor (Blumea balsamifera)

Sambong is a medicinal herb that is well-known in the Philippines for its useful traits in treating kidney stones, wounds, and cuts. It can be helpful as well in healing rheumatism, colds, coughs, and acts as an anti-diarrhea and anti-spasmodic.

Patients with kidney problems are familiar with sambong, as it’s popular to carry diuretic treatment for hypertension. It also regulates uric acid in the body, making it a great preventive for gout.

To use sambong to ease arthritic pain, crush or grind sambong leaves into a paste and directly apply it to your sore joints and muscles.

Yerba buena Ppy2010ha | Dreamstime.com

Yerba Buena

Relieve arthritis pain with Yerba Buena’s anti-inflammatory properties. Heat fresh Yerba Buena leaves over a fire, then pound them into a rough paste. While still warm, apply the poultice to your affected joints. Tie a bandage around over the Yerba Buena leaf pastes, and change the dressing every four hours or as needed.

Pansit-Pansitan

Scientific studies have shown the efficacy of pansit-pansitan as a conjunct treatment for arthritic pain, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic characteristics. Aside from these, this herbal plant from the Philippines is also able to keep uric acid in balance, thus lowering the chances of gout development.

To use this plant, you can either add it to salads or cook it with other vegetables, or you can drink it as pansit-pansitan tea. Brew your own pansit-pansitan tea by gathering fresh leaves and boiling them for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the concoction and drink half a cup of this tea 3 times a day.

Philippine Herbal Medicine for Diarrhea

Tsaang-Gubat

Also called kalabonog, maramara, semente and buyo-buyo, tsaang-gubat is a Philippine herbal plant that may be utilized to treat diarrhea or LBM (loose bowel movement). To treat LBM using tsaang-gubat, boil dried or fresh leaves in two glasses of water for 15 minutes. Let cool, then strain and divide into four parts. Drink one part every two hours (until stool becomes solid).

Lagundi

While Lagundi leaves are known to alleviate cough symptoms, the plant’s flowers may also play an important role in easing diarrhea symptoms. To use Lagundi to stop loose bowel movement, extract the juices of the Lagundi flowers and take the extracts until your diarrhea symptoms are eased.

Niyog-Niyogan

Also known as the Rangoon Creeper, Niyog-niyogan offers numerous benefits, including working as an effective remedy for diarrhea and loose bowel movement. To use this Philippine medicinal plant, harvest its ripe fruits and roast them. Take them internally until your symptoms subside. This plant may also aid in expelling intestinal parasites and worms. Get dried niyog-niyogan seeds and take 4 to 7 seeds orally.

Sambong

If you’re looking for a natural and calming remedy for diarrhea, sambong tea is a good choice. Used to help bulk up stool and treat stomach cramps and spasms, sambong tea can be prepared by gathering fresh sambong leaves and steeping them in hot water for 10 minutes. Drink up to 4 glasses of sambong tea a day and wait for your symptoms to be alleviated.

Philippine Medicinal Plants for Skin Diseases and Wound Healing

Tsaang-Gubat

Tsaang-gubat is a versatile plant that can treat numerous conditions, depending on how it is prepared. Because it boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, this Philippine herbal plant can help promote wound healing and shorten the healing time. To use this herb, pound tsaang-gubat leaves and boil them for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use the cooled-down tea to clean and disinfect the wound periodically.

Bayabas

Known for their antiseptic properties, bayabas leaves have been used since time immemorial to treat wounds and cure bacterial infections. To create an astringent and antibacterial wash out of this Philippine herbal plant, boil clean leaves for 8 to 10 minutes and let cool. Wash the affected area with the bayabas “tea” 2 to 3 times a day until the wound is completely healed.

Other Uses for Herbal Plants in the Philippines

Aside from the conditions and disorders mentioned above that herbal medicine may effectively treat, there are also other uses that herbal plants have. These include purposes for daily hygiene as well as for nutritional supplementation. Here are a few of the other uses of some traditional Filipino herbal plants:

  • As a mouthwash. Aside from being an aid for alleviating arthritis and gout, Yerba Buena is an herbal plant in the Philippines that’s also used as a mouth wash to keep your breath fresh and your mouth clean. Surprisingly, Tsaang-Gubat shares this function with Yerba Buena, thanks to its antibacterial properties, which may slow down odor-causing bacteria in the mouth.
  • As a lactation aid for breastfeeding mothers. Also known as the miracle tree, malunggay is a popular herb thanks to the sheer concentration of nutrients in its leaves. In addition to its role in nutrition boosts, malunggay is also popular for breastfeeding mothers, thanks to its ability to improve breastmilk production – making it one of the most well-known galactogogue in Asia.
  • As a dengue fever aid. As a tropical country, one of the leading disease burdens of the Philippines is dengue. In 2014, the Department of Health promoted Tawa-Tawa or the asthma plant as an effective treatment for dengue fever, thanks to its ability to increase platelet count. Today, Tawa-tawa is considered a valuable herbal medicine in the Philippines as it helps patients recover from dengue faster.
  • As a toothache remedy. In addition to its ability to alleviate cough, Lagundi may also be used to ease toothaches. Let the patient drink a ½ glass of Lagundi decoction every three hours until the pain is abated.

There are hundreds of home remedies, thousands maybe from our grasses, plants, bushes, shrubs and trees. Some time ago, we read that a Chinese scientist compiled herbal plants in China and his list ran close to 6,000 to 7,700. Our very own, the late Filipino scientist Eduardo Quisumbing, had a book on medicinal plants and trees. It has been reprinted and is now sold in bookstores.

This means that while this list includes some of the herbal plants in the Philippines deemed effective by both the Philippine’s Department of Health and Department of Science and Technology, the country is gifted with hundreds more of medicinal plants that people can utilize for a more natural way of treating minor ailments and health problems. Together with modern technology and medical practice, alternative medicine can not only help prolong life, but it can also improve quality of life as well as general healthcare.

Image credits: Wasana Jaigunta | Dreamstime.com, Ppy2010ha | Dreamstime.com

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