BOOK REVIEW: PLANTAS MEDICINALES de FILIPINAS (Medicinal Plants of the Philippines)

by Rose Churma

T.H. Pardo de Tavera was mainly known for his political thoughts and his role in the struggle against Spain. But he is a multi-faceted figure in Philippine history.

He was a reader and collector of books that he stored in the safety of steel drums thus sparing them from the devastation of wars and natural disasters. He was also a Doctor of Medicine and earned his degree at the Sorbonne in Paris.

The first part of the book is the English translation to the Spanish version originally published in 1907. Between the two versions are vibrant renderings of the plants mentioned in the book. This volume also includes an index and various notes.

In the preface, written in Paris in April 1892, the author writes he was commissioned by the Spanish government to study the medicinal plants of the Philippines. He tried to bring samples to his laboratory in Paris for additional observations and tests, but the plants were not prepared properly for the long ocean voyage.

In the introduction, the editors describe this as a “practical manual” on how Filipinos use the plants in their surroundings in the treatment of disease. Pardo de Tavera viewed this compilation as stimulus to further research. In describing how our ancestors dealt with illness, he also suggests that our way of caring for our bodies is a form of memory.

Most of the plants described are similar to what we have in Hawaii, like mango. The dried and pulverized kernel of the mango seed is used in the treatment of dysentery and diarrhea due to the large quantities of tannin it contains. The mango tree bark is astringent and is used in decoction as a wash for ulcers and eczema.

The plumeria is another plant included in this compendium. Called calachuchi in the Philippines, this tree is known for its fragrant blossoms. The milky juice of its trunk is used to induce watery discharge from the digestive system while the bark and the tips of the branches are given to induce menstrual flow in women. The bruised leaves of the plumeria plant is also applied locally to contusions to reduce swelling, while the juice is used externally on rheumatic joints. The flower buds, chewed with buyo (a concoction of betel leaf and nut with lime) are also used top treat fever, ant the flower juice is applied locally to reduce itching.

Another plant common to both the Philippines and Hawaii is the aloe, or sabila in Tagalog or dilag boaya in Visayan. The fresh juice of the leaves is commonly used as a stimulant of the scalp to induce hair growth or applied locally to contusions or scalded skin. Aloe is also used as a slow purgative and can induce menstrual flow. In small doses it can be used as a tonic in dyspepsia.Despite the fact that the author has the familiarity and respect for Western medicine, he held the view that ordinary people possess real insight into how they can cure their physical afflictions with plants in their surroundings.

What is interesting is that the author – in describing the plants and their medicinal uses, also provides detailed descriptions on how to prepare these and, in most cases, the exact ratios required if mixed with other substances.

This book is a collectible – one to be treasured and passed on to the next generation. And for this, we give credit to the author’s descendants who decided in 1994 to donate T.H. Pardo de Tavera’s entire collection that he preserved in steel drums to the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila University.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

Read more Book Reviews:
BOOK REVIEW: A Question of Heroes
BOOK REVIEW: English-Tagalog and Tagalog-English Dictionaries

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