top of page

Medicinal Plants of Haiti With Wilnise



Watch the video here or read the transcript below!



In today's Video Wilnise Francois will be sharing some of her favorite Haitian Traditional Plants. Wilnise Francois is a Haitian-American Licensed Nurse and Herbalist that has worked in the allopathic modality of healing for over a decade. Her role as an herbalist expanded with the personal need and integration of herbal medicines from her coveted traditional Haitian practices and studies in Western herbalism. As a community herbalist, she is working to revolutionize the cultural affinity of our plant friends through our relationships with the earth and stars. Her aim is to integrate the very love our herbs show us and implement that essence into our daily lives; creating a lifestyle of health and wellness.




Time Stamps:

0:00 Introduction

3:51 Influences on Haitian Herbalism

8:23 Favorite Way to Use Plants Daily

8:30 Molokhia, Egyptian Spinach, Jew's Mallow

11:42 Vana Tulsi Basil

14:16 Djon Djon Mushroom

17:20 Castor oil and Castor Plant

21:43 Lemongrass






KhadiYah: Hello everybody. So I'm here joined with Wilnise Francois, I hope I pronounced your name right. So I'll give her a little bit of time to introduce herself and then we'll get into today's chat.


Wilnise: Hi. Good afternoon everyone. My name is Wilnise Francois, and, yes, you did

pronounce that correctly. I am a herbalist and private chef that infuses the plants

and love of the earth into my daily lifestyle, specifically those that are indigenous

to the spaces that I inhabit, and of course, Haiti. So I';m excited to share with you

guys today and I also want to thank KhadiYah for allowing me into her space to

share about some of the beautiful plant friends that are indigenous to Haiti, and

we'll go ahead and get started.


KhadiYah: Okay. Thank you so much. I appreciate you as well. All right, so our first question was what was your experience with the plant as a child?


Wilnise: I tend to say that plants have been in my life probably before conception,

obviously. Being from the diaspora, the African diaspora specifically, my parents

come from Haiti and a lot of our culture is highly medicinal with the plants. And

so I think plants have been in my life from the time of my mother's postpartum

care to growing up, having to need certain oils and herbal teas to stay well, to

planting gardens with my father during the summer and spring in New York, and

just always being fascinated by the plant kingdom.


KhadiYah: What part of New York was that?


Wilnise: I grew up in Brooklyn and we lived a little bit in Queens too, so I spent a lot of

my childhood between Brooklyn and Queens and yeah, during those months,

specifically the spring and summer and fall as well; like, those were my favorite

seasons because it was the time for us to be in the garden.


KhadiYah: Okay, because I actually was born in Brooklyn and when we were two, my mom moved us to Queens so I actually lived there until I was 14 and then we moved.

Like a lot of people did that. Their grandparents moved to the north, we moved

back to the south, so now I'm in Tennessee. So it's good meeting another New

Yorker. So you actually begin your own personal journey then with the plants?


Wilnise: My personal journey began - like a committed personal journey to plants began - I want to say teenage years, right. I think during those moments as a woman and we're starting to menstruate and do certain things, with our bodies started

changing, I think my need to learn how to take care of my body a little bit better

helped me dive a little bit deeper into plant medicine. And that's how it started off

for me but I feel like even as a child, I always had a really intimate relationship

with the plants, specifically the flowers. Like those were the things I love to plant

in the garden and just be with and pick and really curious about. But actually

implementing into my daily habits definitely started in my later adolescence,

early, early adulthood. Yeah.


KhadiYah: Okay. Awesome. So what are some of the historical influence then on the culture

of Haiti? You can talk about just the culture, the cuisine or herbalism. What are

the influences that you can talk about?


Wilnise: Okay. Well, like many of the African Diaspora countries here in the west, Haiti is deeply rich and entrenched in just like its relationship to the earth, culturally. Like

a lot of what we eat, a lot of what we do is always tied right back to the earth,

much like most African cultures.


And what I like to coin Haiti as being little Africa, and because of the reasons why is we have a lot of indigenous plants that are indigenous to the island or to the continent of Africa that you find in Haiti because of course our ancestors brought those things with them, right. Carried a lot of the medicines with them, and we still implement them to this day.


A lot of the foods that we eat is richly African. One of my favorites, we're going to dive into a little bit later, which is Lalo, but it is a plant that's found in western Africa

as well as in the northern regions, indigenous to those space and it is a delicacy in

Haiti. Like we enjoy that meal so deeply and it's again, one of those plants that

draws us right back to our traditions in Africa. So I always say everything that we

do in Haiti is the indigenous and African imprint that's just like screaming out of

us and all of the plants that we use in every aspect of our lives is again, ties us

right back to the continent.



KhadiYah: All right. And do you also think getting the independence so early as well, you all were able to keep a little bit more of the culture as well?



Wilnise: Oh, definitely. I think our intelligence with the earth, and that's obviously coined from the indigenous peoples of the island of Haiti, that were there, that already had just like this vast knowledge of the landscape of Haiti helped in a lot of the rebel fighting during that revolutionary war that happened on the island. So there was a lot of plant ecology and biology and alchemizing that happened with the

plants to help us defeat some of those folks that came to terrorize the island and

the people.



KhadiYah: Yes. Okay. Those folks. I love that. So what are some of your favorite ways that you're using plants daily?



Wilnise: I think every way, like there's plants implemented in every aspect of my life, from what I'm putting on top of my skin, to what I'm using to help nourish my hair, and of course what I'm ingesting in food. One of my favorite ways, I think the most

favorite way of implementing specifically herbal medicine is through the kitchen,

for me. I love adding plant medicine into my food in every way; breakfast, lunch,

and dinner, whether it be powder form, tinctures or just like using the live fresh

plant medicines into any form, cakes and oils and stews, soups, whatever it is. I

think I intentionally implement plants medicine specifically into everything of my

life. So it's an embodied lifestyle and I think that's what helps to keep me well and

balanced and then also grounded in my work as well as the work for my clients.



KhadiYah: Okay. I think one of the titles you have, because you have so many, I think one, I've seen that you also are like a chef.



Wilnise: Mm-Hmm. Yes.



KhadiYah: That love of cooking. Is that from your mom or?



Wilnise: Oh, definitely. I think, yeah, we grew up in the kitchen, and me and my mother still to this day are in the kitchen. A lot of our bonding happened over the stove, and since a child, I was just always so curious and fascinated with the way she

nourished us and nurtured us. Like I was blessed enough to have that relationship

with her where she really took the time to cook us a home cooked meal every

single day, and still does to this day, you know, especially when we're home.


But yeah, a lot of my love for being in the kitchen and just nourishing and nurturing

others comes from that demonstration that I saw growing up. And so she does a

really beautiful job at teaching how to be in the kitchen, and she also has this

really mad, beautiful flare about her that I guess I wanted to emulate and I've

embodied that just to, I think every respect and I love being in the kitchen just as

much as she does.



KhadiYah: Okay. Awesome. All right, so tell us about some of your favorite plants, and I'll just give you the floor to talk about all of them. So which or do you feel called to

talk about first?



Wilnise: Let's talk about Lalo since that was the one who came up in conversation first. Yeah, so Lalo is the Haitian term or the Creole term for what some of us in the

West would recognize as being Molokhia or Jute leaves, and another name we

could recognize it as being Jews Mallow. Another name also is Egyptian spinach.

So it's within the spinach family and it's a really beautiful leafy green that we

ingest in Haiti as a food delicacy. It is richly medicinal with things like vitamin

A's and K’s and Iron, and in Haiti, it's used as postpartum medicine for moms to

eat after giving birth, to help rebuild blood cells within the body system; after

labor is childbirth. So within the regions of Lani, which is an area in Haiti that's a

little bit coastal, you'll find the Jews Mallow growing wildly.



And because it's just a treasured food, it's almost as if every time you have a

family member that's traveling to Haiti, you make sure that they're bringing you

back a bundle of that leafy green. And it is truly one of my favorite medicines to

ingest. Much like how we have here in the west, in western herbalism, nettles are

raved for just how deeply mineral rich they are, while Jews Mallow is an

equivalent to that mineral rich goodness that you'll find in plant medicines. And

so drinking and infusion of it is also recommended, but we in Haiti love to have it

as a stew. And the other reasons why it's used postpartum for moms specifically is

because it has really a beautiful mucilaginous context to it. And so whenever you

have a plant medicine that's really rich in mucilage or that coating material that

helps to coat the body system, that means it helps to cool us.



And so if you have things like frayed nerves or just need anything to just kind of

like cool down any form of inflammation in the body, beautiful way of

incorporating that medicine into your system. And so Jews Mallow is probably

one of my favorite foods that I think is very specific to Haiti, especially in the

way we eat them. But we find that there are many other cultures across the

continent that love to enjoy it just as we do. In spaces like Nigeria, it's called

Ewedu. In Egypt, they call it Molokhia and it's just a delicious, delicious, just

slimy rich green stew that I always recommend everyone to try, at least once.



KhadiYah: Yeah, and I have tried it and it definitely, I guess especially if you don't grow up eating it, it can be an acquired taste because of the texture. But I did actually like the taste, so -


Wilnise: Oh, awesome. I'm glad you did. Yeah. You don't usually find people finding it, so that's awesome that you were able to incorporate it into your diet. Definitely.



KhadiYah: Yeah, I think it was an Ethiopian restaurant that we went to that we tried for the first time, so that was really nice. Yeah, so what about Basil?



Wilnise: Oh, Bazilik. Oh gosh. Basil always has my heart. Bazilik is such a sacred plant

ally in Haiti and it's used across the lifespan from babies to our elders. It is one of

those plants that we also know in Western herbalism is revered for just how

powerful it is in helping to keep the balance in the body system, right. It keeps

homeostasis. Well, so Bazilik is the creole term for basil. And what's revered in

Haiti and also found wildly is the variety of basil that's called Ocimum

gratissimum or Vana Tulsi. So, it is a form of Tulsi that you can find growing wild that a lot of the goats are enjoying and eating the tops of. But basil is one of those plant allies that you can ingest in about every way, whether it's tea in your foods, having it topically.


One of the ways in Haiti that you'd often find people using them is topically. So

you know, Haiti is an island, and it's filled and riddled with mosquitoes and bugs

and all types of things and you'll find in most homes that they'll keep a little basin

of basil water near the home just to kind of spray the children after they're outside

playing just to keep the bugs at bay, as well as whenever they find like sting bikes

or anything that kind of like creates inflammation or abrasions on the skin. You'll

often see people creating poultices with the basil or the bazilik often in Haiti. And

then again, it's used postpartum. It's also used for our children to help quell any

colic or upset stomach that's found. Yeah, Basil is revered deeply, and also within

my personal practice, I enjoy basil in every way. I mean, I eat basil, I drink her in

tea, I'll have basil oil around, I love infusing basil with honey just to extract a lot

of that rich essential oil that you'll find to make it beautifully and sweet. So basil

is just one of those allies that I think everyone should have within their home and

enjoy because everyone in the home can enjoy it.



KhadiYah: Yeah, and I love that you mentioned basil, and I can definitely see the Africaninfluence because, you know, basil, actually there are like three or maybe even more species of basil that do originate from Africa and so I love it. And then the

use of it as poultices and on the skin definitely hail from Africa, so I learned a

little there.


Wilnise: Definitely.


KhadiYah: So next, I don't know how to pronounce the mushroom that you were gonna talk about, but yeah, please share a little bit of your knowledge on the next one.



Wilnise: Yeah, I think we've saved the best for last one. This might not be the last, but

Djon Djon is very specific to the island of Haiti. It is a fungi. And Djon Djon is

again one of those delicacies that we all enjoy within the diaspora of Haiti. This

fungi is so deeply medicinal that if you soak the mushrooms and some water, the

water becomes black because of just how rich it is in carbon and helping to

alkalize the body system. And you'll find that some of our elder teachers speaks a

lot about Djon Djon and how it helps to alkalize the system. And so our ancestors

in Haiti understood the relationship that our African bodies had with rice and so

one of the delicacies that we have in Haiti is Djon Djon rice, where we infuse rice

with a Djon Djon water to create black rice.


And that again helps to pacify some of the acidity that would happen in the body

when we're ingesting all of that sugar and carb from the rice. And so, you know, it

gives us a little bit of leeway to have our rice, but still be balancing and well for

our body systems. But Djon Djon is also enjoyed medicinally, like you'll have

some people use it post, you know, a little bit too much partying, you know,

they've had a little bit too much of a good time, they'll often drink that water again

to help quell the digestive system and bring back balance to the gut flora, because

it is, again, most mushrooms or must fungi you'll find really does a beautiful job

at helping to balance the gut flora in the body system. So Djon Djon is a digestive

aid. It is rich and powerful and iron.


And so anything that really brings out the carbon in water, for instance, imagine

what it's doing to our body systems, right? That's also that connection to the

melanin that we have and our relationship to our wellness in our body systems.

And so can Djon Djon be found anywhere else on the earth? No. Literally the

island of Haiti is the only space where you find that specific particular fungi and

there are some ecologists and mushroom fanatics who are trying to find other

spaces where you could find it growing. But so far from my research, I found that

Haiti is really the only place that, one, uses that particular fungi within food to

ingest and can be found just growing randomly.



KhadiYah: Yeah. Oh, I love that. That's so powerful. Does it have a similar taste of some of our other mushrooms? Is it more of a loving flavor or?'


Wilnise: No, I think Djon Djon is very umami, has a very umami flavor to it, like most

mushrooms do but it is very like specific to Djon Djon, like, I don't know. From

all the mushrooms I've experienced so far, Djon Djon is very, very particular and

in both scent and what it does to food.


KhadiYah: I have castor; the castor plant.



Wilnise: Yes castor. So in Haiti, the creole term for castor is lwil maskriti, and that is the