Plant, herbs and flowers to improve your health
By José Mayo, Photos: Joaquin Viñas and Jorge Pérez
A museum and heritage site is located in La Sierrita the (Little Mountain Range), in the central Province of Cienfuegos, where medicinal and aromatic plants and herbs are cultivated. There, a young doctor and a farmer have joined forces to develop traditional medicine.
The "Museo de Sitio de las Plantas Medicinales en Cuba Gallego Otero" is the only museum in the world dedicated to medicinal and aromatic plants and herbs, reflecting the achievements made in researching natural products in Cuba.
The architect of the unusual facility, located in the foothills of the Escambray Mountain Range, is Dr. Rodolfo Arencibia who has been connected with traditional medicine since he was a student at the Medical Institute of Havana.
"I went deep into the fascinating world of botany in 1991 to discover more about the therapeutic properties of many plants," said Arencibia. During that time, he met a farmer named Enrique Otero but popularly known in the area as "EI Gallego" since his parents were immigrants from Galicia, Spain. He was born in the mountain heights of Guamuhaya, Cuba, and his vast knowledge and experience from over half a century of treating people with herbs, leaves, roots and fruits have turned him into a practical and popular "scientist."
That is how Dr. Arencibia refers to him in the 400 plus page book he wrote, Un cientifico Popular, documenting 200 procedures to fight diseases and recording the biography of this singular man of the countryside and nature.
Dr. Arencibia stated that "the book, recorded on a CD by Gesta publishing house, seeks to promote the good results and the tireless and committed work of EL Gallego Otero to cure ailments through natural therapy." The CD book is available for purchase at the Museum.
He recalled that he had entered the Ecology and Systematization Institute of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment in 2000 to direct a project to organize nearly 20 farm enterprises conducting research on plants in conjunction with the Ministries of Agriculture and of Foreign Investment and Economic Collaboration.
But for some years, he has sought to develop the Comprehensive Research and Development Institute of medicinal and aromatic plants, herbs and fruits located in the La Sierrita area, roughly 25 miles from Cienfuegos.
"In that place," he said, "in an area of approximately 136 hectares, there is a vast area dedicated to the production and handcrafted processing of more than 330 species of medicinal plants to treat illnesses as well as herbs used in the preparation of foods and aromatic plants for the perfume and cosmetic industries."
At the same site, the museum was inaugurated in June 2004 and visitors were allowed to see the care needed to cultivate, harvest and prepare natural products. "In this picturesque facility, the popular traditions are kept as treasures from the time of our ancestors as well as rescuing about thirty varieties of regional plants in danger of extinction," according to Arencibia.
He said that there is also a replica of the mud walled, earthen floor and zinc roofed house where the Galician parents of El Gallego Otero lived in the Indio Valley, Escambray. Visitors can see their personal effects as well as numerous documents, books and other materials related to botany.
Workshops, seminars and forums are held periodically and have allowed thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors to learn about the agri-technology of plants.
Arencibia doesn't avoid his office hours if a patient needs him but he prefers researching the secrets of this green world. He asserted that "thousands of people with diverse illnesses frequently visit this place, although it is hard to get here, to see El Gallego Otero. With his homespun wisdom and scientific experience, and inspired by the legacy of Cuban scientist Juan Tomas Roig, he advises them of which plant or remedy is the most appropriate to cure their ailment."
La Sierrita project receives the support of numerous organizations and institutions, he noted.
El Gallego Otero is a noble and humanitarian Cuban farmer who fought the Fulgencio Batista tyranny, and has devoted over five decades of his life to heal his fellow man with natural products.
"His example of perseverance and desire to expand his knowledge commits us to stand up with him against all odds and unconditionally support him so he can keep on developing traditional medicine to improve the health of all Cubans," concluded Dr. Rodolfo Arencibia.