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Herbs are found anywhere and everywhere, growing wild, in Cuba, but you can still find herbalists who especially cultivate, look after and harvest them for our physical and spiritual welfare. Cuban doctors, spiritualists, folk healers and santeros will recommend their patients or prot?g?es a visit to a herbalist.
There is one wise and meticulous man in Havana who, like an old druid, knows the secrets of every herb like the back of his hand. Osvaldo Falc?n N??ez lives on 8th street between 11th and 13th avenues in the centric Vedado district, right next to the former site of an edifice, which is now in ruins. Here he has his herb garden which he has called Solar Rojo. The place has acquired fresh vigour for the good of all of us who live nearby and for the many people who come from distant places looking for a certain herb. Year after year, people come to buy herbs and learn the art of planting and growing these delicate plants.
I still remember when I used to take my little baby girl to this garden when she was just a few days old to delight in the scents of the many plants that grew there. Between the mint and the chamomile, this is where she really learned to breath. The garden is a dream come true, a project of urban sustainability that goes back to 1992 during the period of crisis in Cuba known as the Special Period. Herbal medicine became then an alternative for the Cuban pharmaceutical industry in view of the scarcity of prescription drugs for the population. This garden in particular distributed its production directly to pharmacies in the city. Later, it became a herb dispensary for anybody who came with an ailment. And thus it has remained.
In the last two decades, medicinal plants began to be used in many forms, including tisanes, syrups, decoctions, tinctures, inhalation, poultices and compresses, concentrated solutions, and baths. ?Green medicine,? as herbal medicine is known in Cuba, was enriched and used extensively during the 1990s.
Treatments with these plants are effective and safe, especially in the case of primary health care. Although used for curing, medicinal plants are also geared toward preventive medicine as the systematic use of these plants can prevent common illnesses. Such is the case of aloe vera, which has energizing, refreshing and digestive effects. It may be consumed with salads, and fruit or vegetable juice. It is also used to moisturize the skin and vitalize hair.
Herbs that are in great demand are those with tranquilizing properties, such as linden, passion flower and jasmine. Used as teas they attack uneasiness or tension as well as insomnia. They are mild sedatives which are totally harmless to the human organism. There is nothing as healthy as herbal tea, although it should always be filtered to make it as pure as possible.
A tisane of the root beer plant effectively reduces high-blood pressure, a common health problem in Cuba today. It may also be used to treat ailments related to the digestive, urinary and respiratory systems. This is one plant, however, that needs to be very carefully filtered with a clean cloth owing to the tiny crystals on its leaves.
Other plants began to be cultivated for ornamental, cosmetic and culinary purposes. For the latter, species and herbs are sometimes sun-dried and crushed and later combined to create a typical Cuban sauce. The condiments may include oregano, rosemary, coriander, sage, mountain garlic, and basil, among other. The different combinations give different flavours to the food.
Falc?n?s work grows and develops based on four basic principles: community, local development, permaculture and sustainability. Although self-taught, every year he is an active participant in workshops and scientific events on permaculture and herbal medicine.
Organic farming methods are being widely used now in Cuba as man seeks to harmonize each day more and more with Nature, promoting relationships between the soil, plants, animals, people, and the biosphere. By not using fertilizers and pesticides, for instance, the environment is protected and healthier foods are produced. Solar Rojo relies on organic farming.
Falc?n produces his own fertilizer and prepares the land according to organic farming techniques preserving the necessary nutrients in the soil for the plants that are to be grown there. He also uses his own urine combined with earthworm humus as a natural fertilizer. This city farmer also uses manure—the manuring of soil with animal waste has been practised for many thousands of years—and compost as fertilizers. More than a farming style, it marks a healthy lifestyle based on an intelligent and sustainable land use?permaculture, within the rapid pace of urban life.
Permaculture arrived in Cuba in 1993 from Australia and New Zealand. It promotes a balanced growth according to the natural principles in each context. It seeks to reduce, reuse and recycle, use less, and create new uses of natural resources. It avoids dependence and promotes local sustainable development, which is crucial in today?s Cuban society.
But Solar Rojo not only grows herbs for cooking or as remedies. Basil, for instance, is all-important in any Cuban household. Its fragrance is mild, yet it lingers on even after it has dried. It relieves melancholy and loneliness. In a hot bath, its small leaves stimulate the senses.
A bath with lilies brings joy and good fortune. They clean and purify. Fears and bad things disappear. Bellflowers do away with misfortunes. Night jasmine embraces the night with its powerful scent and drowns ?bad energies.? Prepared in a bath, the almond seed clears the head and thinking.
At Solar Rojo, the herbs are always medicinal—for the body and the spirit.
Albahaca — Basil
An?s — Aise
Caisim?n — Root beer plant
Ca?a Santa — Lemon grass
Cilantros — Coriander
C?rcuma — Turmeric
Eucalipto — Eucalyptus
Hierbabuena — Spearmint
Hinojo — Fennel
Mangle Rojo — Red mangrove
Manzanilla — Chamomile
Mejorana — Marjoram
Or?gano Brujo — Oregano
Quita Dolor — Mint
Romero — Rosemary
S?bila — Aloe Vera
Salvia — Sage
Semillas de Calabaza — Squash seeds
Tilo — Linden
Toronjil de Menta — Peppermint