Herbal medicine in the Philippines is steeped in folklore and mysticism and has been practiced for centuries, especially in rural areas. Venture into the countryside, and you'll find that many people rely on alternative medicines for healing all manner of ailments.
Philippines Department of Health (DOH) Approved Herbs
The DOH has researched and approved ten medicinal plants for public use. These are the most popular in herbal medicine in the Philippines. Many are also used by alternative medicine practitioners in the United States.
Akapulko (Cassia alata)
Its common name says it all: ringworm bush. According to information published at APA Med Central, akapulko has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. These properties make it a useful plant for treating skin fungal infections. Akapulko may also have the ability to battle some types of cancers.
Ampalaya (Momordica charantia)
This herb is actually a melon or fruit and looks a bit like a cucumber. Ampalaya is also called "bitter melon" and grows along climbing vines. Traditional Filipino healers recommend ampalaya for a variety of ailments, as did Chinese healers.
In recent times, ampalaya has proven to be a good herb to treat diabetes as it appears to encourage the pancreas to make more insulin. According to an article written by Eduardo Gonzales, MD, on the International Hospital of Bahrain website, ampalaya has been proven to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. The article also mentions that ampalaya has anti-microbial properties and may be useful in treating hemorrhoids, roundworm, and help heal wounds.
Bawang (Allium sativum)
Known as "garlic" in English, this is the same garlic you find at any food store in the United States or in tablets in pharmacies and health food stores nationwide. WebMD states that garlic is known for its heart health benefits and helps reduce blood cholesterol.
Bayabas (Psidium guajava)
Known as "guava" in English, this plant is often used to fight infection and heal wounds due to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. In fact, bayabas is beneficial in treating toothache and gum disease.
Lagundi (Vitex negundo)
The leaves of this medicinal plant, called a "5-leafed chaste tree" in English, look like a hand. Lagundi contains anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and analgesic properties that are helpful in treating respiratory illnesses. In addition, the article states lagundi contains an antihistamine and muscle relaxing substance called Chrysoplenol D, which makes the herb useful in treating fever, asthma, colds, and coughs.
Niyog-niyogan (Quisqualis indica)
This tropical vine is found throughout Asia and Pacific countries, and goes by the nickname Chinese honeysuckle. Niyog-niyogan is so beautiful that it's often grown as an ornamental plant and may be found in arboretums, greenhouses and private homes through Asia. The dried seeds are eaten two hours after eating a meal to rid the body of intestinal worms. Clinical tests performed by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine show niyog-niyogan to be an effective worm treatment.
Ulasaming Bato (Peperomia pellucida)
Ulasaming bato's leaves are often brewed as a tea to treat arthritis and gout. The International Journal of Pharmacology states that peperomia pellucida contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
Sambong (Blumea balsamifera)
In English, sambong is known as "camphor," and is a popular herbal remedy to treat kidney and urinary stones. According to Medical Health Guide, sambong cab be effective in dissolving kidney stones and helping them pass through the lower urinary tract.
Tsaang Gubat (Ehretia microphylla Lam.)
Know as "wild tea" in English, this herbal remedy is usually drunk as a tea. Tssang gubat is believed to have a high concentration of fluoride and may be used to help prevent tooth decay and cavities. According to an abstract on The US National Library of Medicine's PubMed website, a three year study performed on Manila schoolchildren determined that drinking one cup of tsaang gubat tea for 17 months significantly reduced the incidence of caries in school aged children.
Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii)
Yerba Buena is known in English as "peppermint." In Herbal Medicine in the Philippines, it's commonly used to relieve the pain of gout and arthritis. An abstract on the US National Library of Medicine's PubMed website states that peppermint has proven anti-microbial, anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-tumor, analgesic, and anti-allergenic properties making it a viable option for treating pain and digestive troubles.
As with any herbal treatment, just because it's plant based doesn't mean it's entirely safe, free from side effects, or won't cause a reaction in certain individuals. Consult a qualified herbalist before using herbs. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid herbal treatments unless the effects upon children are known. When in doubt, see your doctor about any medical treatment or concern.
A Bright Future
Although herbal medicine has always played a role in Philippine culture, it's finally beginning to receive the attention it deserves. In 1992, the Philippine Department of Health created the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC). Thanks to PITAHC's vision to put "traditional and alternative health care in the hands of the people," herbal remedies that were once considered folklore are now being researched and often recognized as practical treatment options.