up in the Bahamas, on Abaco Island. As a pre-teenager from the northeast United
States, moving to a small town on an island with a population of 500 to 1500
(depending on the number of tourists) was unique. We had access to phones at
the post office three days a week, waiting in line for over an hour at times.
Television did not exist. There were no cell phones—only CB radios to
communicate from home-to-home or island-to-island.
started learning about edible and medicinal plants at a young age, first with Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell
Gibbons, and from many survival books by Bradford Angiers. And then we moved to
this remote location. I started working with a quiet Bahamian fisherman named
Noel Bootle. We worked from a small skiff with me as labor, diving up conch.
Each night, we would pull the boat up on a deserted island, him cracking the
conch out of the shell, and me skinning them with my teeth. As the long day
would close, with dinner on the fire, Noel would often tell stories about his
youth, fishing and the plants that surrounded us. He would speak about how to
use them for medicine and I tried to absorb all of it.
about six months of trips, Noel’s trust in me and my trust in him grew. The
stories about plants started to shift from how a plant could be used to heal a
physical issue to plants' magical properties. I didn’t know the term shaman at the time, but now I would be
happy to use the term for Noel. There are more seafaring stories, but I’m here
to talk about plants.
try to pass on my knowledge and experience of 45 years from my unique times in
the Bahamas, Florida, the Caribbean and South America. I teach classes most
weekends and see patients four days a week. I’ve also had the incredible
opportunity to travel to Ecuador and create a 12-part television series on Inti
TV—Sanaciones con Bob Linde.
about 200 tropical plants on two properties to teach my students and to harvest
medicine. I work hard to blend my experience in the Bahamas with my formal
training in Chinese and Western Herbalism and my endless research to learn more.
great example of a bioregional plant is bitter melon, Momordica charantia. It
is a common herb growing throughout the tropics. I find it on fences, hedges,
trees, and creeping along the ground. It’s a rough-skinned orange fruit that
opens to reveal bright red pulp-covered seeds. I remember standing outside at a
gathering one Friday night in Abaco and some women nearby picked the leaves to
eat. I can clearly hear Jennifer Russel say, “You got to eat t’ree leaves a day
to cool ya blood.'' Certainly then I could not conceive of the TCM concept of
Blood Heat, but now I understand this Caribbean bitter melon, so aptly named,
can lower blood sugar, reduce fevers, help with parasites, malarial disorders
and so much more!
Caribbean, we use the leaf more than the fruit. In some countries, it may be
used for mosquito-borne diseases, intestinal parasites, viral issues and even
some cancers. The common name varies from island-to-island and country-to-country;
commonly known names include Bitter Melon, Cerrasee, and Cunda Amore.
the plants that I learned first from Noel is still one of my favorites—Spanish
Needles/Bidens alba/Xian Feng Cao—which grows throughout Florida and the
Caribbean. In China, this herb is enjoyed as a cooling summertime tea. Noel
would add it with other herbs for the flu or as a wash/soak for infection. I
remember him saying it was good for “fiery pee” and it’s always a go-to for bug
bites and stings.
frequently educate people about the common plant medicine in our area. It is so
important to know our bioregional plants whose heritage goes back to the Caribbean
and Central/South America. We must recognize that after one generation, the
knowledge that the elders may have held is lost if not passed on. We see young
and old people who feel disconnected from their heritage and from their land. Many
who join me on an herb walk are reminded of a parent or grandparent who talked
about a particular plant, and from that remembrance frequently add new
knowledge that they share with the group. I hope that each of you takes time to
learn your local plants and trees, and as you learn, share that knowledge with
those who are in need of connection.