I am Dr. Marie-Sabine Thomas, a trained Naturopathic Physician and a fellow at Bastyr University Research Institute.

The purpose of this blog is to educate people so that they can make informed decisions about their health. I answer burning questions about natural medicine and discuss research findings that can better support wellness. I invite you to join the discussion!

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When you travel to Ayiti, offer to plant a Cherry tree…
Posted on January 17th, 2013 by Dr. Sabine Thomas

While money doesn’t grow on  trees, the future of a country’s physical and economic landscape certainly depends on its vegetation.  Such is the case of several medicinal trees and plants we continue  to re-discover on the island nation of Ayiti (Haiti).  The island is a veritable source of botanical treasures. Botanical treasures that can contribute to sustainable economic growth, overall health and reforestation efforts.

Anecdotes from elders and stories from traditional healers, complement contemporary medical and scientific knowledge of these plant treasures that further confirm that folkloric roots should not be altogether ignored. The richness of  the knowledge of indigenous and traditional medicines throughout the world,  is not passed down to younger generations. So, countless easy to grow plants and  fruit trees that could support and generate health are no longer being planted or are cultivated at a rate of near extinction.

Comes in the Haitian cherry! Particularly known as La cerise du pays, (Malpighia Punicifolia) or commonly as Acerola cherry.  This particular family of cherry is a different  species than the cherries we find during the summer time in our local  American markets.  Although similar in appearance, Acerola contains many seeds unlike the one seeded local cherries and it can be quite bitter even when it gets bright red.

Its potential role in reforestation:  The cherry tree achieves maturity fairly quickly. It is not too dense, can grow in pretty arid, dry environment and can survive sandy terrains.  The ones that I came across quickly reached  5-7 feet in two years. In fact I snapped these pictures from family’s backyards that yielded tiny plants in 2010 to full grown trees in 2012. The fruits grow on medium height trees which create  fair level of refreshing shade under the Haitian hot sun. The fruits blanket the ground bright red once they fall and burst. The tree’s root system is small so that it can be planted close to other trees. For that reason  it  also needs occasional water source or good mulch to produce fruits year long. But those details are workable with help from local Haitian agronomists!


During  medical missions to Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I noticed that  patients always “expected” a pill for their condition. They were surprised when I would first suggest using local (often more affordable) medicinal plants and ointments instead of  imported nutraceutical or pharmaceutical products. Well the proof is in the pudding for Acerola!

Medicinal properties: once it reaches maturity, Acerola fuit can provide up to 1400 mg of Vitamin C.  It is one of  the highest vitamin C containing fruit, where the content of one cherry can equate that of several medium sized oranges. Vitamin C, provides structural support to connective tissue of the body so it can be good to consume in copious amounts to speed up the healing of a cut, a strain or a sprain.  It is also a great source of support for the immune system particularly as a method of prevention. It has been shown to support the function of disease fighting substances in our body. To take the most advantage of the anti-oxidative properties of Vitamin C, the fruit should be freshly picked and rapidly consumed. When available, these potent fruits may be the perfect substitution to existing Vitamin C supplements.

 Gastronomical wonders: Think freshly pressed morning fruit juice or an afternoon iced drink; marmelades, preserves, colorant for other juices or cake frosting; pie, bread and pastry fillings…and more! Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid is often used as a food preservative.

So…what does the Acerola tree have to do with a country’s economic and physical landscape? It can support reforestation efforts and simultaneously contribute to the health of local islanders.  In order to pay this forward, next time you travel to Haiti, do consume and ask for local foods prepared by trusted hosts. Do request locally grown meat and locally grown rice at local restaurants, visit the Les Cayes Botanical Garden and offer to plant a tree, a cherry tree… and do share your stories back with me!






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