Traditional Health Remedies From the Islands of Tonga
Airport on Tongatapu
Traditional knowledge passed down from generation to generation is crucial to the survival of the people of Tonga. Many have embraced a Western diet, and experienced poor health as a result. Medicine made the "old way" use trees, gifts of the sea, leaves from certain bushes and roots. Many families in Tonga treat their children with these plants. Most villages also have a person who is known for their success in healing through their natural medicines.
Limu (seaweed) is one of the traditional medicines used in Tonga. Fucoidan is found in the cell walls of limu. Biochemists are finding that it is nutritional, fights disease and builds immunity against sickness. It contains vitamins and minerals and amino acids that support healthy bodies. Much of the food we eat today lacks all the things our bodies need because the soil is depleted of nutrients and artificial fertilizers are being used.
Spinach does not even come close to the iron content found in limu. It is considered a super-nutrient. It prevents anemia, respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. The polyphenols found in limu helps to prevent tissue damage, toxins accumulating in the tissues, degenerative disease and abnormal growths. Results of many studies on fucoidan can be found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
Medicines are also made out the following in Tonga:
- Ango hina (tumeric of the ginger family) extracted from the root (used in many curries) for skin sores and rashes.
- Manonu Tree - the leaves and bark are used for abdominal ailments
- Fekika tree (mountain apple) - leaves and bark used for digestion problems
- Siale Tonga - used to treat depression and other mental illness (in Tonga they believe that you are possessed by evil spirits, and this plant can get rid of it)
- Maile - also used for mental illness
- Kavakava ’ulie (shrub of the pepper family), Tonu (small green plants that grow close to the ground) - used for skin rashes or as a tea for stomach aches. Leaves can also be crushed and used for boils.
- Kava (Piper methysticum of the pepper family)- The root is ground and used for ceremonial drinking, and the leaves are used for insect stings or centipede bites
- Laufale (fern) and lautolu (wax plant from milkweed family) - for very young babies with skin rashes
- Hehea (Myrtacaeae myrtle family) - bark and leaves for skin inflammation, teething, stomachache and boils
- Nonu - Probably the most well known Tongan medicine is from the Nonu tree - also called Noni, and it is usually made into a juice. It is used for sores, styes, boils and thrush (infected gums).
I wish I knew the English equivalent to each plant and tree, but I do not, but if you watch the video Kau Faito’o - maybe you will recognize them. There are several more Tongan medicines available here.
I personally had experience with the nonu tree when I lived in Tonga. I had two small children on bottles. They got thrush, and were unable to eat anything for several days. They also had fevers, because of the infection in their mouths. I was so worried and took them to the doctors at the hospital. They gave me rinses and other medicine, which I used faithfully, but my babies were not getting better. After several days of this without improvement, my mother-in-law came and asked if she could take my babies to the local village healer. I knew that meant they would be given Tongan medicine, but I was so worried and exhausted, that I gave the babies to her with my approval. The healer mixed several plants together including noni, kava and burnt coconut. They ground it up and poured it into the babies mouths. Of course, they cried and fussed as they poured it into their mouths, but I was so happy when the gums started showing improvement almost immediately. I gained a healthy respect for Tongan medicine from that experience. Their medical knowledge has been passed down orally, and the healers are always willing to help out when anyone is sick.
One day I went to visit my house girl (most foreigners have a girl to help with the housework, laundry, cooking, and children). She was covered from head to toe with crushed leaves (even in her hair). She told me that she was feeling depressed, and so her mother put the leaves on her. It was probably Siale Tonga or Maile, but I am not sure.
Many people in Tonga grow these plants and trees near their home, so they have them handy when they need relief from sickness. They utilize these Tongan medicines before they will go and see a physician. It is very much part of their culture and tradition.
It is interesting that there has been such an interest lately in natural medicine throughout the world, something the Tongans have known all along, and never stopped practicing in their homeland.