Herbal Worm Treatments in Dominica

Ethnophysiology and herbal treatments of
intestinal worms in Dominica, West Indies
Marsha B. Quinlan, Robert J. Quinlan,
Justin M. Nolan
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 80 (2002)
They combine :
1. emic (view based on native
knowledge) and
2. etic (scientifically grounded categories
of an observer) approaches
3. to investigate local conceptions and
botanical treatments of intestinal
worms among rural Caribbean
The study site
1. The Commonwealth of Dominica is a
small, rural island nation
2. Most Dominicans are bilingual in
Creole-English and French-Patois
3. The village is an agricultural community
with a population of about 650.
4. The nearest pharmacy is 2 hours away.
5. A doctor is at the government health
center, 45 mins. drive from the village.
Ethnophysiology of worms
1. Rural Dominicans describe the human body
as having a ‘worm bag’, an organ specifically
for worms.
2. Infants are born with empty worm bags.
a. Infants acquire worms by ingesting
invisible worm eggs when they suck and
chew on their dirty hands or other dirty
b. By the time a baby is a year old, worm
eggs have hatched in his worm bag.
3. From a Dominican viewpoint, all humans
should have some intestinal worms.
4. Worms function in the digestive process
a) to refine food, turning it into rich
b) much the way that earthworms
convert composting material to rich
5. Most locals, however, assert that worms
are dangerous if they grow or multiply
beyond the capacity of their worm bag.
1. The free-list interview was conducted.
a. Respondents list all the names of
plants that are used for treating intestinal
2. Next, respondents were asked to describe
a. which part of the plant is used,
b. how each plant is prepared,
c. the appropriate dosage, and
d. the relative efficacy of the treatment.
Table 1 Plants mentioned as worm treatments
Patois name
Species name
Sime kontwa
Set vil
C. ambrosioides
A. trilobata
A. hispida
P. oleracea
A. absinthium
Times mentioned
Sime kontwa´
1. Every informant included it in his or her
2. Villagers drink a ‘bush tea’ of sime
kontwa´ fairly regularly.
3. Oil of chenopodium is distilled from C.
ambrosioides, and used against tapeworms,
roundworms, and hookworms.
4. The active component is terpene
Set vil
1. Set vil is the third most salient worm
2. Villagers steep the leaves and inflorescence
to make a ‘bush tea’.
3. They drink this infusion once a day for 24
days or until they no longer see worms in
their feces.
4. This species tested positive for alkaloids but
little is known of its chemical properties.
1. First, investigators should identify illnesses
of community concern.
2. Then, free-lists can be used to find salient
3. In this study, the five most salient worm
treatments all have chemical properties that
may make them effective vermifuges.
They found no references to possible
chemical antihelmintics in the third most
salient plant, A. hispida.
These lesser-studied treatments merit
scientific consideration as vermifuges.

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