Archive for Jamaican bissy

Vital Jamaican Roots

Posted in Edible Roots with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by PickMeYard

Vendors dot the sides of most Jamaican roads and they sell such wonderful treasures!  They sell all sorts of things, but they almost always include tropical fruits, handcrafted items, herbs, and drinks.  I love it when I see the rum bottles of all colors.  The rum is long gone, but the bottles are filled with fresh juices and tonics that are special recipes.   Fresh, Jamaican noni juice  is quite a popular one.  My favorite is the Jamaican roots tonic.

A Jamaican vendor selling colorful footballs and coconuts.

A roadside vendor in Kingston.

Pineapples, tonics and bananas for sale.

A typical Jamaican variety of sellable items.

The Jamaican root tonic is mysterious.  I have questioned so many people about it over the years and found that only a few of them know anything about the roots drink.  Most of the time, the answer I get is just an eyebrow lift and a giggle.  The reason is that roots are generally known for being a potent aphrodisiac (a Jamaican Viagra).  However, I recently learned there are many root tonics in Jamaica.  My new favorite is a concoction made by Ms. Bernice at the Ocho Rios market.  She gave me a tonic for all-over vitality and energy.   She openly shared her recipe with me and sent me home with all kinds of interesting herbs and roots.  My son and I visited her at the market late in the day on a Saturday so she was the only vendor left.  It ended up being our lucky day because she spent hours talking to us.  We learned so much from her.

Ms. Bernice holding up her roots tonic in a rum bottle.

Ms. Bernice's Roots & Tings

A vendor stand at the Ocho Rios market.

These are some of the Jamaican roots from Ms. Bernice's market stand.

Ms. Bernice handed me a big bag full of roots and explained each one to us.  I kept telling my 10-year-old son to help me remember.  We remember her giving us chaney root, sarsparilla root, breadnut root, nickel, dandelion root, kola-nut (which is a seed also called bissy), molasses, honey, Jamaican peppermint (savory) and … I think that’s it.  Ms. Bernice said to boil all the ingredients in a huge pot and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  Cool, strain and bottle.  Apparently the root tonic gets better as it ages and does not need to be refrigerated.  I haven’t made my own roots yet (and not sure I will).  I’ve been enjoying Ms. Bernice’s bottle.  She told me to drink it with a glass of ice and so I have.  However, I live by the motto “everything in moderation”.

Roots, rock ... reggae.

Jamaica is absolutely alive with folk medicine.  They are tuned in to the nature around them and continue with century-old customs and traditions.  Many of their ways probably need more study.  An in-depth book that I recommend on the topic is called Jamaican Folk Medicine:  A Source of Healing, by Arvilla Payne-Jackson and Mervyn Alleyne.  Some other great books are Healing Herbs of Jamaica by Ivelyn Harris (7th Generation Maroon Herbalist) and Bush Doctor by Sylvester Ayre.  These books are part of my home library and I refer to them often. 

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning  Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna... it rocks!

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