Tenerife and Canary Islands herbs: Orobal or Canary Island Ginseng
Orobal is a very important Canary Islands medicinal herb
Orobal or Oroval (Withania aristata) is a very important medicinal herb that grows in the Canary Islands. It grows on Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera, Gran Canaria and El Hierro but is not found on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura even though it has no problem growing in the drier areas of the islands.
Because Orobal has so many uses as a herb that has been used in traditional herbal medicine it has also been called Canary Island's Ginseng, making reference to and a comparison with, the famed Oriental and American herb known for its range of properties and as an elixir of life.
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Orobal is a member of the large and important nightshade family or the Solanaceae as it is known to botanists and scientists. This family has many medicinal herbs as well as food plants like the Potato and the Tomato.
The Orobal is actually closely related to Ashvaganda or Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), a herb that has been popular in India Ayurvedic medicine where it has found favour as a reported aphrodisiac. A tea made from the roots is believed to be as good as the best Oriental Ginseng in this capacity.
Orobal grows as a large shrub or small tree reaching a few metres in height and with fairly fragile branches covered in the growing season in glossy green ovate or lance-shaped leaves.
The flowers are small greenish or cream-coloured bells with the tips of their petals turning upwards. After flowering, that continues from winter into the spring months, a green calyx develops around the fruit which is a round green berry that turns a golden yellow or orange when it is mature.
These berries contain lots of thin brown seeds that will germinate readily if conditions are right. Orobal grows in the late autumn and winter months and tends to lose its leaves and go fairly dormant over the hot summer period.
It nevertheless thrives on dry and rocky waste ground and often grows on roadsides and in ravines. The more water it can get the bigger the plant becomes and it can reach 4 metres in height when it definitely is in the form of a small tree.
All parts of the Orobal have medicinal properties and the leaves, fruit and bark have all been used to treat high blood pressure, insomnia, to combat rheumatism and as a diuretic.
To stimulate urination a small number of the berries of the plant are eaten raw. Orobal is usually made into an infusion using the leaves and bark though.
Orobal can be made into a strong tea and this is then applied externally to aching limbs as a painkiller. Some methods call for Orobal bark and leaves to be boiled and then left for at least a week.
Orobal has been used as a remedy for ear problems and to treat constipation.
As a weak tea it is used to lower high blood pressure and also as an eyewash. The mature fruits can be added to red wine and then left to steep for around three months. This traditional medicinal wine is taken as a tonic and panacea as well as to combat arthritis.
Orobal can also be added to a hot bath where it will help relieve aching and painful limbs and joints.
It is believed that Orobal has anti-carcinogenic properties as well as all its other uses.
© 2010 Steve Andrews
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