Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the health of Ancient Samoans was generally very good. This is because of their geographic isolation from the rest of the world, infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough were entirely absent. Also noticeably absent were other infectious diseases like smallpox, cholera, typhoid fever, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, influenza and possibly even the common cold. European mariners and explorers constantly remarked that “at times, Samoans affected cures under the most unlikely circumstances. From their vegetable diet as well as their constant sea bathing, their flesh seemed to heal more rapidly than that of others, so that they often survived ailments that would have proved fatal to Europeans. Bullet wounds, severe contusions, and broken limbs seemed to trouble them but little… (Stair, 1897).”
Missionaries noted that the treatment of wounds and skin ailments in Samoa was more advanced than it was in Europe, where it was almost always fatal. This is principally because of the unparalleled hygiene practiced by the Samoans.
In addition to their health-conscious lifestyle, herbal remedies in Samoa are, and always have been, second-to-none. Although too innumerable to name, this article will illustrate a few of the most common and best-known medicinal plants in Samoa; as well as their miraculous healing properties. When one thinks of Polynesian herbs, it often conjures up thoughts of Kava Kava (Piper methysticum): A ceremonial drink with psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. It is mildly-paralyzing and produces a euphoric but clear-minded state. It has been, and is still in use in many Oceanic cultures, and it is rapidly gaining popularity among Westerners. Currently, it is being imported into Europe to develop commercial medicines; Kava is even prescribed by doctors across the United States for generalized anxiety disorder. However, it is principally-used in Polynesia for enhanced sociability, as an analgesic (painkiller), for the treatment of stomachaches and urinary tract infections.
Skin and Eye Infections
As a first-aid remedy for superficial cuts and wounds, the sap of the Fu’afu’a (Kleinhovia hospita) bark is commonly applied to the affected area to inhibit bleeding. It is also a good remedy for eye infections. The same results are usually sought from the application of Fue Saina (Mikania micrantha). Also, the Futu (Barringtonia asiatica) seed is infused and applied to skin sores, which then disappear shortly thereafter. Gatae (Erythrina variegata) juice extracted from its petiole is often dripped into infected eyes and styes, as well as applied as a plaster to reduce swelling. The Lau’auta (Phymatosorus scolopendria) is one of the most widely used of all Samoan medicinal plants. The infusion of the scraped rhizome and/or crushed leaves is taken as a potion for treating various kinds of inflammation. Similar uses are applied to the skin for treating infected, hard-to-cure wounds.
Other inflammatory disorders are cured by the Lau Ti (Cordyline fruticosa) leaves; which are very commonly used by both healers and lay people by dipping them in water and massaging out various kinds of inflammation, headaches and other body aches. Nonu (Morinda citrifolia) is the most widely-used plant in Polynesia that has a similar, but more extensive use.
Internal & Psychological Problems
La’au Fai Lafa (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) is a purgative, causing the body to purge itself of waste. This treatment is useful in treating intestinal worms. It has long since been known to Western medicine for curing ringworm and other parasitic infections. In fact, it was even given the nickname “ringworm bush.” It is also reputed to be a very effective abortifacient (abortion-inducing agent). Another interesting species is the Mamala (Omalanthus nutans); which Samoan healers use to treat hepatitis. In recent years, Samoan Healers have sent their mixtures to the National Cancer Institute, which isolated prostratin: An experimental but promising anti-HIV Compound. Another herb of distinction is the Lau Papata (Macaranga harveyana), which is taken as a potion for treating digestive tract disorders, intestinal worms and urinary tract problems, acting as a purgative. Also, the intriguing Fisoa leaves (Colubrina asiatica), when infused with water have yielded positive results for centuries.
This is by no means a complete list of Samoan herbal medicines; it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are innumerable species of flora that have yet to be discovered and studied scientifically. Even so, the Samoan pharmacopoeia was developed to such a degree that even after long competition with Western medicine it is still the system of choice for many Samoans. In direct contrast to Western allopathic medicine, it is the ultimate aim to determine the root cause of the illness; not simply treating the symptoms of it. The various species of indigenous and imported flora have been used for centuries to treat and successfully cure disease. The perfect balance of Samoan climate and fertile land facilitate the adequate cultivation of valuable, life-saving natural medicines. Traditional Samoan remedies largely trump the medical paradigm of more developed nations. Because they are not engineered in a laboratory from synthetically-concocted chemicals, Samoan herbal medicines work in synergy with the body’s natural healing process without the unintended side-effects of pharmaceuticals. Western medicine tends to discredit the native medical systems it has largely replaced; but there is great wisdom from centuries of experimentation in most native medical practices. When it is all said and done, Samoan medicine only values results, not philosophy. Because of this, the results have been immense.
Written by Alyxzander X. Solomon
Originally Published by Nation19 Magazine / APDTA® (Survival Issue #4) ©2017