It’s quite disappointing that while we have been putting too much attention to the ballyhooed “Cheaper Medicine” Law, we failed to pursue with equal vigor a promising effort to develop medicines which come from the backyard garden. If we can just put our act together, we might be able to offer our people herbal remedies that could even be much more effective and wallet-friendly than the so called “cheaper” medicines we get from the drug store now.
During the administration of President Ramos, in 1992 to be exact, the Department of Health under then Secretary Juan Flavier launched a nationwide Traditional Medicine Program for a period of 6 years, with technical support from the World Health Organization. According to Roger Lee Mendoza in his “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Legalizing Complementary and Alternative Medicine” the said program’s most notable accomplishment was the identification of 10 (out of 1,500) herbs for their safe (non-toxic) medicinal properties. The program clearly paved the way for what should have been follow-up efforts to develop these herbs for their possible therapeutic effects. You can get the list and more details from the website of the Philippine Herbal Medicine.
One of the medicinal plants thoroughly tested and clinically proven to have value in the relief and treatment of various ailments is Tsaang Gubat. Tsaang Gubat belongs to the Carmona Boraginaceae family of plants. It has many scientific names. In their study, Forest Starr, Kim Starr, and Lloyd Loope of the United States Geological Survey Biological Resources Division stationed in Maui, Hawaii as published in www.hear.org lists them down in their Latin names: Carmona retusa (Vahl) Masamune (Lorence et al. 1995, Wagner et al. 1999); C. microphylla (Lam.) Don; Ehretia microphylla Lam.; Ehretia buxifolia Roxb.; Cordia retusa Vahl (Lorence et al. 1995; Bailey and Bailey 1976; GRIN 2001).
In the Philippines, it’s commonly known as tsaang gubat (“wild tea,” “forest tea. ” or sometimes Philippine tea) But in the provinces, your neighborhood herbalist or plant expert would know it by its names in the local dialects: In Luzon: Kalabong, Kalimumog, Katdalugod, Maragued, Mara-mara, Taglokot, Talibunog, Tsaang-gubat, Tsa-tsa. In the Visayas: Alibungog, Semente And in Mindanao: Alangitngit, Alingitngit,
Truth to tell, tsaang gubat is more known as an ornamental plant than a medicinal herb. It was and still grown as bonsai because of its attractive appearance. The Starr research study cited previously mentions the fact that tsaang gubat is a “ popular ornamental plant cultivated in Hawaii as a hedge or specimen plant.”
How to identify it
What exactly does it look like? So you would you be able to tell it apart from other shrubs, it is described as a low, woody plant with several stems. The book “Medicinal and Poisonous Plants” by de Padua and Bunyapraphatsara says that it grows to about 1 to 4 meters high. Its leaves are small and have dark, green and shiny upper surface. Because it can be found in secondary forest in low and medium altitude, it’s called “wild.” The medicinal property of tsaang gubat comes from its leaves which grow in clusters on short branches, 3-6 cm long, somewhat toothed or lobed near the apex and pointed at the base, short stalked and rough on the upper surface. Tsaang gubat bears small white flowers, axillary, solitary, 2 or 4 on a common stalk. It bears yellow fruits when ripe which are about 4-5 mm in diameter.
What’s it good for?
Old folks who most of the time know better, recommend it as a herbal remedy for many ailments. But for a start, it’s safe to drink it as your daily cup of tea for general good health. You don’t have to go the forest to get tsaang gubat. It is now available in the form of herbal tea bags and in pills capsules at your local mall and herbal stores.
My cursory look at tsaang gubat led me to www.medicalhealthguide.com which reveals that tsaang gubat in fact, has anti-bacterial and anti-allergenic properties. It also has fluoride so it’s a natural mouthwash. For the scientifically minded or just plain skeptics, the same site states that tsaang gubat has been studied for possible anti-allergic property because it contains “rosmarinic acid and microphyllone” which is believed to control allergy. It goes on to say that some studies also reveal that tsaang gubat leaves also show a “mixture of triterpenes- a-amyrin, ß-amyrin and baurenol and a wide range of bioactivity” including “analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal and antibacterial activities.”
On the other hand, for those of us who want it stated simply, the website of the Philippine Herbal Medicine enumerates the following ailments that can be relieved by tsaang gubat:
• Stomach pains
• Intestinal motility
• Diarrhea or Loose Bowel Movement (LBM)
• Body cleanser/wash
And in addition, because it is found that its leaves have high fluoride content. tsaang gubat is also used as a natural mouth wash for stronger teeth and prevent cavities.
Sidebar:Preparing fresh tsaang gubat tea
To prepare tsaang gubat tea, the same website recommends the following:
• Thoroughly wash the leaves of tsaang gubat in running water. Chop to a desirable size and boil 1 cup of chopped leaves in 2 cups of water. Boil in low heat for 15 to 20 minutes and drain.
• Take a cupful every 4 hours for diarrhea, gastroenteritis and stomach pains.
Word of caution: if the stomachache or diarrhea is not relieved, it is advised that you see your doctor. The ailment could be caused by something else.
In boiling the leaves in water, the article entitled “Herbal Medicines Part 1” published on September 14, 2006 in pinoyraket.blogspot.com recommends suggests that you strictly follow these rules:
a. Use only enameled container or claypot (“palayok”), never an aluminum pot.
b. A standard glass or cup should contain 240 ml. or 8 fluid ounces of water. This measurement is the same as the content of a bottle or regular size softdrink bottle.
c. Mix leaves in water before placing on fire.
d. As soon as the mixture boils uncover the pot and let boil continuously for 15 minutes. Remember that the mixture should boil uncovered.
e. Strain and let cool. You now have what is called “decoction.”
For convenience, you may prepare enough decoction that you can use for several days. Simply adjust the amount of leaves to use according to the amount of water that you will boil. When stored in a thermo pot (“termos” ), the decoction should last for three days without losing its efficacy.
If kept in a refrigerator, the decoction should last up to four days without losing its efficacy.
Keep in mind, however, that whether kept in thermo pot or refrigerated the decoction must not be taken anymore when its color has changed or when it has grown molds or fungus.
Tsaang gubat v.s. cancer?
The latest news on tsaang gubat is that it’s good for fighting cancer. An article in the Philippine Daily Star reports that a Dr. Gerard Penecilla, a pharmaceutical scientist of the National Research Council of the Philippines has discovered the potential of two indigenous plants as cure for cancer, the third leading cause of death in the country. He found that banaba and tsaang gubat “ have high potential in fighting growth and multiplication activities of cancer cells.” The report goes on to say that out of the many sample extracts tested, a certain dosage of tsaang gubat was found effective against cancer cell, the DOST said.
It added that the scientist hopes this technique “could pave the way for the strong interaction and cooperation among the Filipino chemists, botanists, biologists, physicians and the government research funding institutions as well, in coming up with solid scientific research on medicinal plants that could aid local pharmaceutical companies to produce anticancer medicine at very low cost.”
And that’s exactly our point at the start. If only we can just get our act together and pursue with greater vigor these kinds of initiatives in the development of our local herbs, then we are on the right road towards keeping the cost of medical care much lower than we have right now. And come to think of it, these potent herbal remedies are practically just in our own backyards.
What these promising research findings of Dr. Penecilla also indicate is that we’ve just barely scratched the surface on what tsaang gubat and other herbs can do for our health. Further research and test will prove their full potency in fighting more serious diseases.
For now, when it’s time for your tea break, go wild for a change over tsaang gubat, the wild tea that’s good for you.
1. “Halamang Gamot at Mga Sakit” published by Sto. Nino Catholic House, Inc.
2. “Nature Healers,” edited by Ana May A. Artus, published by Cebu Green Emerald Publishing Co., Cebu City, Philippines,1994
3. “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Legalizing Complementary and Alternative Medicine” Roger Lee Mendoza, USA Journal of Social Sciences 6 (1): 74-84, 2010 ISSN 1549-3652 © 2010 Science Publications
4. “Herbal Medicines Part 1” September 14, 2006 pinoyraket.blogspot.com
5. “Bioactivity studies on triterpenes isolated from carmona retusa (vahl) masam. leaves” a research study by Irene M. Villaseñor, Arlyn P. Canlas, Karen M. Faustino, Katherine G. Plana, Institute of Chemistry, University of the Philippines, Diliman
6. “Carmona retusa Carmona Boraginaceae” by Forest Starr, Kim Starr, and Lloyd Loope United States Geological Survey–Biological Resources Division Haleakala Field Station, Maui, Hawai’I, January, 2003 published in www.hear.org
9. de Padua,L.S., N. Bunyapraphatsara, R.H.M.J. Lemmens (Editors). 1999. Plant Resources of South East Asia 12(1) Medicinal and Poisonous Plants. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands.771 pp.
10. “Banaba, tsaang gubat vs cancer?” as published in www.philstar.com July 18, 2008.