Healing Secrets of the South Pacific

An anthropologist discovers Samoan tinctures you can sample right at home.

Healing Secrets of the South Pacific
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Two years ago I visited Samoa, a group of isolated South Pacific islands about 2,600 miles northeast of Australia, to study the natural remedies of the indigenous people. Although I was traveling as an anthropologist, I occasionally found myself in the role of patient, testing folk cures for a fever or upset stomach. Without exception, the native herbs and tinctures worked quickly and without negative side effects.

Returning to the U.S., I was thrilled to learn that many of the ingredients I discovered abroad are available close to home. Here are five top Samoan remedies—each one verified by Brigitte Mars, an herbalist in Boulder, Colo.

1. KAVA: Found in South Pacific islands, the kava root is used to treat stomachaches and back and body pains. It’s ground into a powder and mixed with water for an herbal drink that induces a liptingling, deeply relaxing sensation. (Don’t drink more than 16 ounces in a one-hour period; it can make you feel sleepy or lightheaded.) Look for kava from reputable online sources, such as

2. ALOE VERA: Samoans use the sap from aloe vera to treat burns (a common use in North America) but they also drink it fresh or boiled to boost the immune system or even treat asthma. Aloe’s healing ingredients are naturally occurring proteins and other compounds such as mannans, lectins, and anthraquinones that help reduce inflammation. You can buy premixed aloe juice, such as Lily of the Desert (, at most health food stores, or, mix two ounces of sap with four ounces of water for a homemade tincture.

3. FIU: Also known as ginger, fiu is used by Samoans to treat a bad stomachache. (They mix an infusion with hot water and spices.) At home, you can mix two tablespoons of ginger, with one tablespoon of honey, the juice of one half lemon, and eight ounces of hot water. Steep to taste, and drink as much as you like. Gingerroot helps boost digestion by stimulating saliva production. It also contains gingerol and shogaols, two anti-inflammatories known to clean out destructive bacteria in the body.

4. NONI: Famous for its pungent smell, noni fruit is juiced and used as a general elixir in Samoa, where most people drink two ounces of it every morning. The juice contains ten times the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, plus significant levels of B3, iron, and potassium. High in antioxidants and fiber, noni juice is good for the immune system and digestion. In North America look for brands like Tahitian Noni (, Noni Maui (, and Drinkables Miracle Fruits.

5. AGO: The Samoan word for turmeric, ago, is used to treat lip blisters and sores. Mix dried turmeric powder with coconut oil until it forms a thick paste (about a 1 to 1 ratio), and rub the yellow cream onto the blister once a day until the sore scabs over or disappears. (It’s best used at night since turmeric leaves a dark yellow stain.) You can also eat turmeric to help strengthen your tendons.