Main Menu   I   Contact      

Bush Tea in the Bahamas

The Rev Mervyn Thompson sits behind a pile of tangled medicinal roots. The plastic milk cartons contain his 'Bush Tea'.

 'Over the Hill' in Nassau is the back of town, an area of wooden shacks, bare dirt yards and barefoot children. There are numerous churches, just as many liquor stores, and even more bars. One ramshackle old wooden hut stood out from the others though, but that was only because of the big sign saying 'Bush Tea is Ready'. I often drove past the hut, read the sign, and wondered what went on inside.

One day I went in to find out. In the gloomy interior, a small plastic radio was pouring out reggae music. Stacked around the room were old rum bottles and big gallon plastic milk bottles filled with a brownish liquid. Various dried items of what seemed to be plant and animal parts were lurking in the darker corners, and there was an earthy damp sort of smell about the place.

A stocky man with fierce eyes and a small beard introduced himself as the Reverend Mervyn Thompson: "I gat bush tea ter make yer back strong and cure all y' ills," he told me. I asked him what he used to make his tea, explaining that I would like to write an article in the paper about him.

He turned to a shelf behind the counter, lifting down a collection of old dark twisted roots: "Dis de secret ingrediment," he said. "Dis de root of nine tree. Ain't no-one gat dis special mixture, 'ceptin me.

" He spoke of potions to help barren women have children, and of a mixture to cure arthritis and clean out the stomach. In all, he told me, his tea would ' make your good old body jump for joy. '

I asked him what trees he used: "I ain't ger tell you that," he replied smiling. "That one special secret." He picked up a recycled rum bottle, unscrewed the metal cap and passed it across. "Try that," he said. The liquid inside smelled like muddy water. I didn't dare taste it. He then told me how he boiled the nine roots for two and a half hours to get the 'strength' out of the plants. He suggests the tea is mixed with six raw eggs, a tin of condensed milk, and one teaspoon of nutmeg before being drunk. This mixture, he told me, should be taken three times a day for a 'good old flushing out'.

We talked for a while, and I told him about some local plants I knew with medicinal properties. We had found common ground. As a Biologist, I had read about many of the plants that Rev. Thompson used in his tea. As our conversation continued he opened up, telling me about several of the trees he had previously kept 'secret'. After an hour, he had even agreed to come out collecting plants with me.

So what is 'Bush Tea'? Different versions of Bush Tea are found all around the world. Before modern medicine was invented, people in every country used local plants to cure their health problems. People believed these medicines would work, and they often did! Sometimes they worked because people believed in them and sometimes they worked because they actually contained a drug that cured the condition. Many of our modern drugs have been developed from plants that have been used for thousands of years as herbal remedies.

There is a lot to be learned from Herbal Remedies still!

Several days later, I went with the Rev Thompson into the bush to dig up some roots. I guessed many of the plants he would use, but some were a complete surprise. I think though, he collected a few more than he needed - just so I wouldn't work out his secret 'nine trees' recipe. I noticed he also collected rather a lot of leaves and bark as well.

As we walked through the coppice, he told me what the various plants were used for. Some had quite unusual and even unprintable names - depending on the part of the body they affected! We returned with boxes of leaves, bark and root, enough to make many gallons of bush tea. When we parted he insisted I take a bottle of his strongest brew.

I never could bring myself to take the bush tea. I'm afraid in the end it went down the drain. A week or so later, I caught a tropical fever. As I lay in bed feeling most unwell, I wondered what would have happened if I had taken the tonic. Would I have still caught the fever, or as the Rev Thompson had told me that day in his shack, would my 'good old body be jumping for joy.'

I guess I will never know!

R. Attrill 2006