Our Herbal Heritage

Zombie Cucumber and Little Devil Sauce

| February/March 2001

In Haïti, herbal tradition runs deep as the grave and hot as an explosion. 

Native Caribbean herbs are the backbone of Haïti’s phytotechnology, and practitioners seem to exploit every plant in the nation in some way. 

On May 2, 1962, doctors at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haïti, pronounced Clairvius Narcisse dead. His corpse was subsequently interred as grieving friends and family looked on. There, the story of his life ends.

His first life, that is. Because in 1980, eighteen years after the date on his tombstone, a healthy and indisputably alive Clairvius Narcisse returned to his home village.

The Narcisse case, meticulously documented by Canadian ethnobotanist Wade Davis in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow (Simon and Schuster, 1985), seemed to be conclusive proof of the existence of zombies. Solving the enigma plunged Davis into Haïti’s intricate, mystery-shrouded culture, including a precise and complex herbal tradition.

The Republic of Haïti was founded in 1804 by Africans who freed themselves from French captors by force of arms. Most of Haïti’s labyrin-thine culture and Vodoun (“voodoo”) religion is of West African origin. However, the first Haïtian herbalists adapted their practices to herbs they found in the new land, resulting in one of the planet’s most highly developed herbal traditions.

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