By Eileen Ogintz          

Got pine needles? Brew them into a tea and they could help with Covid-19 respiratory symptoms. We learned this at an eclectic herb garden in the Caribbean.

“It’s a very old herbal remedy used by Indigenous people,” explained Dinah Veeris, holding forth at her Den Paradara Botanic and Historic Garden on the island of Curacao – 300 different species that can treat everything from migraine to stomach aches, coughs, joint aches, high blood pressure, insomnia and more with teas, ointments, and oils made from combinations of herbs.

Positive thinking at Dinah's garden on Curacao
Positive thinking at Dinah’s garden on Curacao

Veeris, a great grandmother and former teacher, began studying from the elders on Curacao and other islands more than 40 years ago. Ironically, she said, she had no interest in plants as a child. “I’d only water the ones in my mother’s garden with flowers,” she said.

Her mother was known in the neighborhood as a natural healer and eventually, Veeris sought her wisdom and that of elders in the Caribbean. “I sought them out for five years,” she said, eventually quitting her teaching job to devote her self to studying and learning the healing properties of herbs.

Octogenarian Dinah Veeris in her herb garden on Curacao
Octogenarian Dinah Veeris in her herb garden on Curacao

“They had so much wisdom and knowledge and no one listened.”

 She bought this property when she was 52 and established her garden. That was 30 years ago and at “83 years young” she is still going strong.

Today she teaches locals and tourists alike. Pre-pandemic, a thousand local children came to learn. Now she is working on an app and a series of videos. She works with the newly established Ashram next door. Before the Covid vaccine was available, Veeris developed a combination of seven herbs that she distributed to help her friends and neighbors “boost” their immune system. Large cruise ship groups come several times a week with older cruisers seeking relief from various ailments.

A large calabash gourd at Dinah's garden on Curacao
A large calabash gourd at Dinah’s garden on Curacao

“Even when you become old, you have strength,” she said.

“Of course I believe in the vaccine,” she added. “We make it our duty to be vaccinated and help people… both herbal and traditional medicine have their strengths. “Hand-painted signs throughout the garden urge visitors to “Encourage each other,” “Inspire the Community,” “Be Positive.”

We see three different types of Calabash—one as large as a soccer ball—can be turned into a cough syrup; Bokwood bark, when boiled, can relieve kidney problems. The Shimariku berry, often used in jelly, is packed with vitamin C.

Primitive tools used to remove the thorns from cacti
Primitive tools used to remove the thorns from cacti

And while most don’t appreciate cactus soup made with Kadushi Cacti, in the days of slavery it was a “superfood,” packed with iron and antioxidants.

The Noni Tree is called a miracle tree because its fermented juice is good for diabetes and hypertension while its leaves, prepared like spinach is packed with iron, explains our guide in the garden, Dewi Pomario, a former nurse, told us.

The list of remedies goes on and on. And interest in natural remedies is growing fast. “I feel very proud,” Veeris said. “We can’t live without plants. We are all part of nature… Let nature help you.”