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Natural Awakenings Tampa Florida

Tropical Herbal Medicine: Reconnecting to Our Roots

Aug 31, 2022 03:07PM ● By Bob Linde, RH, AP
Bitter Melon

I grew 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.
I 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.
After 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.
I now 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.
I grow 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.
A 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!
In the 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.

One of 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.

I 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.


Learn more about Bob Linde and the Traditions School of Herbal Studies, in St. Petersburg, at and