Crazy Cures: Island Bush Medicine


Hanging out with local islanders daily teaches me all kinds of things – some I like to know, some I’d rather not (all the different ways to skin a guatusa, a local rabbit, springs to mind). One thing that I’ve learned about over the last two years is ‘bush medicine’ or using local herbs, roots, plants, etc. for healing different kinds of ailments. Mostly the guys like to tell you it’s ‘good for the hammer’ (I’ll let you use your imagination) for basically every type of bush medicine, but there are specific plants for different health problems.

As a former yuppie/hippie from organic-yoga-healthy-central Vancouver, BC, I spent tons of time and dollars on holistic healers, from naturopaths to Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors. And you know what… it worked!

So when one of my friends offered to ‘cure’ me when I was feeling sluggish for weeks on end (anemia, or low iron, has plagued me for years) by using bush medicine, I jumped at the chance. I was hoping we would get to go see the crazy old shoeless man who showed up at our dive shop from his shack in the woods once every few weeks with bleach jugs of ‘medicine’ for the boat captains, but no luck. My friend said what we needed was growing right on the side of my driveway.

Enter cerasee, sercy, circy… however you want to spell it, it’s a local cure for low iron. Better known in Asia and other parts of the world as bitter melon, I had actually eaten the fruit in Japan previously without knowing it. Apparently this was the bush medicine cure for low iron.


Cerasee fruit

We (and by we I mean he, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing) picked up a few handfuls of the cerasee leaves and trudged up to my house.

Cerasee leaves

Cerasee leaves

After heating a huge pot of water to boiling, we threw in the leaves and let them boil for about 10 minutes, and then turned off the heat. At this point in time, my house started to smell like a hot bag of peat moss, and I was not convinced this was a good idea.


Boiling cerasee

Once cooled, I started to steel myself for drinking this crud. It looked and smelled like a forest in a pot, and my friend warned me it was bitter beyond belief, but that it would work. We strained it, and I was told had to drink a whole cup of it every morning for 15 days before eating anything. As I peered over the rim into the brown water with bits of sticks still floating in it, I tried to remember all the disgusting tinctures I had bravely taken from my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, and poured myself a cup.

The finished product

The finished product

I tentatively took a sip and held it in my mouth, expecting the worst. Hey, it wasn’t bad! Then I swallowed it and felt my whole mouth contract with the incredible bitterness. I pouted for a minute about how gross it was and then my friend reminded me of all the practice I have had on Roatan with drinking Jag and Kamikaze shots – why not just shoot the cerasee and get it done and over with?

So that’s exactly what I did. I drank that crap in one huge gulp, made a terrible face and pained groaning noise, and then it was done. I did it for 15 days straight. And I had way more energy! Next time I have something wrong I am steering clear of the pharmacy, and looking for the old shoeless bush medicine doctor.