By Jamie Gangoo, author. “The leaves of the zebapique are either soaked in rum or boiled in water and allowed to cool before being drunk. A little salt can be taken after to kill the bitter taste.”
Drinking zebapique with a twisted face
In my father’s bar, among the White Oak and Black Label bottles displayed, was one bottle that held the ultimate remedy – zebapique leaves soaked in Puncheon rum. On many occasions, I had witnessed my father ceremoniously retrieve the bottle, pour some of its content in a glass and offer it to someone ailing typically with a cold or fever.
Without fail, the drinker would have shot the brew, which looked like dark rum, with a twisted face reminiscent of one forced to chew on the rotting flesh of noni fruit.
Zebapique plant and flowers
For those unfamiliar with the bitter-tasting remedy, zebapique (also spelled “zebapeek,” “zebapik” or “zebapip”) is a short plant of the Asteraceae family that grows to approximately 1-2 metres. It has yellow flowers that grow in clusters at the end of its branches and its leaves and stems stain the skin yellow.
The leaves of the zebapique are either soaked in rum or boiled in water and allowed to cool before being drunk. A little salt can be taken after to kill the bitter taste.
Skin rash, cold/cough, fever, pain and parasites
For certain skin conditions, the leaves are crushed and rubbed on the afflicted areas.
In the Caribbean and Latin America, zebapique is used for the common cold/cough, fever and pain. It is consumed for a few days until the illness recedes.
According to Clement et al. (2015) in “An Ethnobotanical Survey of Medicinal Plants in Trinidad,” the leaves contain sesquiterpene lactones which fight against the parasite that causes malaria. These also hinder the growth of certain parasites, such as Leishmania mexicana, that cause infection.
Additionally, they may be used for fungal infections and for anti-inflammatory purposes. The ethanol extract from the leaves can kill filarial worms in humans, as well as speed up the wound healing process.
Bitter tasting plants
Furthermore, zebapique is used to lower blood sugar levels as noted by Bullard-Roberts (2016) in the article “Medicinal Plants of Trinidad and Tobago: Selection of Antidiabetic Remedies.”
The bitter taste, which is found in other plants such as caraille, aids in doing this by stimulating insulin production. However, Bullard-Roberts notes that since “bitter phytochemicals can be poisonous…the regular use of these bitter remedies for…diabetes, may pose some risk unless used in small quantities.” There is also not much information available on the effect of zebapique on pregnant and lactating women.
Bush medicine and health professionals
Although the popularity of traditional bush medicine is dwindling, there are still many who continue to turn to nature for healing, since it can be cheaper, easily attainable and have little, adverse side effects. However, before placing oneself on a course of natural remedies, it is essential to do research and talk to a health professional before, especially if medication is also being taken. Consuming zebapique along with medication for diabetes, for example, can result in hypoglycaemia.
Angelle L., “Medicinal Plants of Trinidad and Tobago: Selection of
Antidiabetic Remedies” (2016). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Clement et al., “An Ethnobotanical Survey of Medicinal Plants in Trinidad” (2015).
of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 11:67.
Jamie Gangoo is an editor with Aleph Educators, an author in Sweet TnT Short Stories and writer of the children’s short story “Dancing among the Poinsettias” published in An Anthology by Caribbean Reads. Visit her blog.
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