Cuba notes… living natural medicine

Posted on June 29, 2009

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(notes from 10 weeks in Havana, Cuba, Winter 2008)
I have been cooking and shopping in the cheap Cuban peso agromercados. Fun. The selection of fruit and veg is excellent but is all product of Cuba. I’m really enjoying the challenge of working with new ingredients. I eat some kind of bean and rice dish at least once per day. I could really eat (various) beans forever I think. I am going to have the family’s housekeeper show me how to make her absolutely incredible bean sludge that is part of almost every meal. Coincidentally, I have also been studying the ubiquity of legumes in traditional diets around the world, their effect on health, and their importance in a balanced diet.
(I had minor surgery at the beginning of my trip to close some large piercings in my earlobes…)
Following my ear surgery everything was going very well with the lobe closure on both sides but where the cartilage was worked on, on the right side, my whole ear was hot, swollen, and purple, even after 5 days. I was a little concerned. These are the perfect conditions for infection to set in. Infection in cartilage is not fun at all. I brought only a few of my usual tonic herbs with me and no medicinals. Food-herb medicinals are also extremely limited here in Cuba, and many of those readily available are unfamiliar.
When first arriving at the house I had noticed while looking out the kitchen window that the downstairs neighbor had a large, healthy, mature, Aloe plant. This seemed unimportant at the time.
With my ear in a state of impending unpleasantness the Aloe plant popped to mind. I was skeptical though, I have always been dismissive of Aloe in the past, considering it to be a weak herb based on my limited experience with small young plants. I had read such dramatic claims about Aloe in my studies, and being that I really had no other choice, I thought I would give it a shot. I found that Aloe, or Sabila, in Cuban Herbalism is an important antiparasitic, as well as skin and digestive tract healer and calmer.

In my limited and terrible Spanish I managed to explain to the neighbors what I wanted and was cheerfully handed some fresh-cut large firm Aloe leaves. I peeled the green outer leaf away and mashed up the inner pulp resulting in a transparent slimy mucilage. I slathered this generously onto some gauze and wrapped my ear entirely, then held this in place with another bandage. I drank the remainder, immediately inducing the best “elimination” in recent memory. My wrapped ear oozed constantly. It dripped down my neck all afternoon and onto my pillow at night. I slept in a pool of slime.
In the morning I carefully pulled off the now dry gauze and was completely shocked to find that the inflammation had halved and the color had gone from purple to pink. My ear felt cool to the touch and was painless. Todo es bien.

Cuba is famous for its excellent, though underfunded, medical system and medical education. More and more, Cuba is integrating natural medicine into the public health system, and also has strong endemic herbal medicine system.

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