Have you heard about the herb kava? It was banned in Europe, and now people are afraid of it. It was used in high doses as a tranquilizer, and it became a popular alternative to prescription drugs. People used it to help them calm down, relax and go to sleep because in large quantities it has that effect.

Just a few years ago it was one of the top-selling herbs around the world. Now it’s been almost totally forgotten. And that’s too bad because it’s really a very good anti-inflammatory. You can use either the root or the leaves to ease inflammation, but only the root was used as a sedative and an intoxicant.

One place where they still use kava to fight pain and inflammation is in Jamaica. There they call it African minty. It’s been used by Jamaica’s Maroon healers for almost 500 years to ease stress, and to soothe aching muscles and sore throats.

Do you know who the Maroons are? They were Kormanteen people brought from Africa by the Spanish to be slaves. But they rose up against the Spanish and fled to the mountain stronghold where they still live. The Spanish called them “Maroons” – a name they gave to all runaway slaves.

In Africa, the Kormanteens are renowned herbalists. And they continued that tradition in Jamaica.

My friend Ivelyn Harris is a direct descendant of Princess Nanny, the original leader of the Maroons and a legendary natural healer.

I’ve visited her at her mountain retreat, and saw African minty growing on roadsides and riverbanks almost everywhere I went.

The leaves have a compound in them called kavalactones. They fight pain and inflammation much the way aspirin does, but naturally. Kavalactones also help relax muscles, which may explain why African minty is so good at relieving muscle pulls and soreness.

In fact, Ivey told me about the time she went hiking miles into the jungle to search for roots. While pulling one up from the ground, she felt a searing pain in her back.

She told me:

“I had pulled a muscle. I was in so much pain, I could hardly stand up, let alone walk.

“But I had no choice. I couldn’t call for help. No one would hear me. And it could be days – or even weeks – before anyone else came by. I literally had to drag myself down the mountain.

“I clung to trees beside the narrow trail for support. Bit by bit, a few steps at a time, I made my way down the mountain. Those 4 miles felt more like 400.

When I finally got home, I made a poultice of African minty leaves and applied it to my back. Within minutes, I could feel the pain beginning to ease. I was back on my feet in no time.”

To make a poultice like Ivey’s, put five fresh African minty leaves in a clean cloth and pound them slowly with a hammer. The plant has a lot of juice, so you won’t need to wet the resulting mash.

Tie the poultice around whichever part of your body aches and sleep with it on for the night. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll feel much less pain. You can apply an African minty poultice for up to three days, changing the leaves every eight hours or so.

Kava also makes a very nice tea. Here’s Ivey’s Maroon recipe:

1. Add 1 ounce fresh or dried leaves to 1 quart of boiling water.
2. Simmer fresh leaves for 1 minute or dried for 3 minutes.
3. Steep fresh leaves for 5 minutes or dried for 10 minutes.
4. Strain.
5. Drink straight or sweeten with honey to your liking.

Drink one cup three times a day for two weeks as needed for pain.

Also, your kava tea will work better if you’re not stopping your healing, or causing the inflammation to continue.

You need omega-3s to be able to heal, and one of the best sources is cod liver oil. You can also get plenty of omega-3s by eating cold-water fish, walnuts, avocadoes and grass-fed red meat.

And eating grains, refined sugars and processed products will cause inflammation to continue. Instead, eat foods with natural sugar. Of course this includes fruit, but you can also eat nuts like pecans, almonds and hazelnuts. They contain several grams of natural sugars per cup.

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