The 5 Essential Elements of a Jamaican First Aid Kit

Jamaicans are strange people. I should know; I’m one of them! We put as much faith in science as superstition, and over the years, this paradoxical mix created some interesting home remedies that actually work more often than not. Maybe it’s actually the “medicine”, or maybe it’s the placebo effect, but who can argue with results?

While the older generation and those in the countryside are most well-known for their elaborate remedies, there are five essentials of a Jamaican First Aid Kit, likely to be found in just about any Jamaican home—though not always stored together. Here goes!

1. Rubbing Alcohol

My [Haitian] Dad is forever irritated with my mom for this addition to her Jamaican First Aid Kit, and swears it is the reason she cannot abide cold weather. Rubbing alcohol’s intended use is as an antiseptic for shallow and external wounds. While this is one of its many functions in Jamaica, it is perhaps, not the primary purpose.

Here are a few other ways we abuse rubbing alcohol:

  • As a child, if it’s raining and you get wet, your mother will likely pour a cork-full of the substance onto the crown or mole of your head.
  • If the cold sneaks up on us before we could pour the alcohol on our head, we will damp our hands with rubbing alcohol, rub our face with it, and then inhale.
  • If sinuses, flu, or colds makes us stuffy, we will keep a bottle handy for inhaling, to clear the breathing passage.
  • Some Jamaicans may also inhale rubbing alcohol to combat nausea and headaches.
  • If we have joint pain, we may use rubbing alcohol to rub the area, often followed by wrapping.
  • If it’s really hot, rub it on your skin and stand in a windy area, or before a fan. Instantly cools you down!
  • To revive people who have fainted
  • Sanitise needles before using it to remove macka (a thorn)
  • If Jamaicans have been handling work that makes their hands hot (like ironing) and they intend to shower or otherwise handle cold water immediately afterwards, they will rub the hands with rubbing alcohol, to prevent relapse. Relapse is when enzymes stop working in the body due to a quick change from hot to cold, and yes, it can kill you.

2. Epsom Salt

Another must-have in a Jamaican First Aid kit is Epsom salt. This, at least, we use in very much the same way as everyone else—for the most part, anyway. Here are a few of the many purposes!

  • Creating a soak with warm water to soothe pain and reduce swelling, especially in the feet
  • Added to water and drunk to relieve constipation
  • Can be used as a detox for the body, or as Jamaicans say, a “washout”

3. Rum

Even the most Christian of Jamaicans keep rum somewhere in the house, if not for social drinking, then medicinal purposes. For the rest of us heathens, we enjoy rum in our Christmas cake, sorrel, and any other excuse we might find.

But, what are these medicinal purposes I alluded to? Well, let’s see:

  • Disinfecting cuts and bruises, especially when rubbing alcohol is not available
  • Rubbing the face, back or feet, and sniffing, to cure cold and fever, and clear the sinuses
  • Bless the house and ward off evil spirits, by sprinkling or pouring some onto the ground
  • May sometimes be used as a sedative, when added to tea or other drinks
  • Adult Jamaicans, and sometimes teenagers (usually under the supervision of an adult) drink a mix of rum, honey, and lime to cure cold, flu, and fevers. One Twitter follower pointed out that this is so common, there is an actual pre-made product made by Benjamins, in Jamaica.

Though not medicinal, many Jamaicans may also sprinkle some rum on the ground in memory of family and friends who have passed on, when they open a new bottle.

4. Sea Salt

Most people use sea salt just for cooking. Many others may know sea salt can be used for treating wounds, piercings, and sore throats. But, of course, Jamaicans are much too creative to settle for just this. As a result, sea salt is also used for:

  • Rinsing the mouth to treat or soothe bleeding gums and tooth aches
  • Mixing with water and sprinkling it in and around a house to combat obeah (black magic) and ward off duppies (not always, but usually evil spirits)

It is well to note that for some of these remedies, such as cleaning piercings, we go swimming in the sea. Plenty of free sea salt, there!

5. Tea

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Tea is the cure-all we inherited from the British. If you fall ill around a Jamaican, especially from the older generations, the first thing they will ask is whether or not you had tea that morning.

In fact, ask any Jamaican, and we might jokingly tell you tea cures AIDS, cancer, depression, and heartbreak, but here are some more truthful uses:

  • Cures nausea and stomach pain
  • Puts an end to your gas woes
  • Weight loss and detox
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Cures nausea
  • Fights the flu
  • Warm green tea can be mixed with sea salt to create a gargle for a sore throat.

Keep in mind that we drink many different types of teas in Jamaica, with the most common choices being coffee, cocoa, peppermint, ginger, and cerasee.

Naturally, with these effective tools in our medicinal toolbox who needs a doctor, right? Well, unfortunately, we still do. We haven’t yet found the right tea to cure all our ills, but we know it’s out there, and with a touch of rum and rubbing alcohol, we’ll be better in no-time! 😅

If you’d love to see West Indian characters in action, consider pre-ordering my novel via purchasing any of these items from my online store. Thanks for dropping by! 🙃

References

What’s a Jamaican post without some authentic Jamaican advice? Below are some of the tweets which confirmed and supplied information for this post. Have a good laugh at our expense! Trust me—we’re laughing with you!

Disclaimer

Just in case it needs saying, though these are actual remedies used within the Jamaican diaspora, please do not use this article for medical purposes. Reporting what Jamaicans do—even though we are always right, obviously—doesn’t mean it is healthy or will work for you. If you are ill, please consult a physician.

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13 thoughts on “The 5 Essential Elements of a Jamaican First Aid Kit

  1. My, my, how much we have in common with each other, even though we come from such different cultural backgrounds.
    * jack Daniels, honey, & lemon was our remedy for colds/flu/sore throat
    * Sunshine drinks water with sea salt before bed to prevent muscle cramps during the night (and it works!)
    * I’ve used rubbing alcohol in several of the ways you’ve listed: sanitizing needles, cooling skin…

    I could go on and on, but my point is: finding the commonalities, seeing how much we’re all alike (vs focusing on differences). I always love these Jamaican culture/history posts😍

    1. Those are interesting commonalities! Does Sunshine not get thirsty though after drinking salt water before bed? I’ve never heard of that remedy for muscle cramps before. 🤔

      1. He does often get up and have a drink of water in the middle of the night. We tried all kinds of stuff: potassium supplements, magnesium supplements, I don’t know where he came up with sea salt but it works for him. Met a lady yesterday that drinks pickle juice for her muscle cramps.

    1. Oh yes, one of my personal favourites is vinegar! But I don’t think that’s really a Jamaican thing, so I didn’t add it. 😊

      Thanks for reading!

  2. This was great. We swear by epsom salts, salt, rubbing alcohol(but not in so many uses), tea and witch hazel. Witch hazel is terrific for itching and is harvested and bottled in Connecticut.

    1. Really! I only know of witch hazel because of Proactiv. It was one of their main ingredients, to reduce inflammation. I bought some afterwards to use on its own, but I don’t think that’s a common remedy in Jamaica.

      What else have you got up your sleeve? O_O

      1. We use that a lot too! There was also this woman who recommended eating it. She was British Jamaican though, so not sure which side to blame for that bit of madness 😂

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