Tawa-tawa is a cure for dengue

Don’t laugh, tawa-tawa is a cure for dengue

Take it from me. If any of your loved ones gets afflicted with dengue, ask a friend in Davao to send you a bunch of tawa-tawa ASAP. And while waiting for it, have the dengue victim take a decoction of camote tops and a papaya-leaf paste.


I’ve been kicking myself in the head for not having written this up nearly a year ago, or soon after my 21-year-old son was stricken with dengue. We successfully licked the medical problem by relying on herbal stuff other than hospital facilities.

Now that the dengue outbreak remains unabated, it’s time for everyone to know about these effective traditional cures — and for medical authorities to acknowledge the same, however grudgingly.

Just the other day I caught a DOH official on TV news dismissing the use of tawa-tawa, and recommending instead the 181 solution of oral rehydration salts. Hearing him perorate on the subject just strengthens the suspicion that most doctors, and hospitals, will always insist on sanctioned pharmaceuticals instead of acknowledging the many tried and true benefits we can get from our local flora.

About a year ago, when my son started running a fever, having general body aches, and worst, losing his usual gargantuan appetite, I worried enough to take him to Medical City on Ortigas Avenue. Tests were conducted, and the diagnosis handed down hours later. His platelet count had gone down severely; it must be dengue.

The attending physician, an articulate and pleasant young man, suggested that I begin trying to reserve a room. But I found out that we could only join a waiting list, and that it might take at most another day before we could be assigned one.

Known as snakeweed by Native American tribes, tawa-tawa has been used for a wide assortment of ailments. Krip Yuson

I went back to the doctor and asked him what we could do in the meantime. What medication should the boy take, other than Biogesic to keep his fever down? He suggested a lot of juice and water. He had to avoid dehydration.

I then asked, if we managed to get a room the next day, exactly what treatment would my son get? He may be put on suero if his platelet count dropped further. And what would that suero do? Basically, it was for rehydration. Bed rest and lots of liquids were the essential needs.

But he can have those at home, I said. The doctor agreed. It seemed that one simply had to run out the course for dengue. There was no outright cure. The only advantage of hospitalization would be the daily tests on blood and platelet counts.

Since my age and inherent philosophical drive to nitpick any problem privileged me with kakulitan, I then proposed: What if I just kept him at home, where he can rest all day in an airy bedroom (and still indulge in his usual computer games when he’s up), and I also make sure he gets juiced up, besides taking antipyretics and receiving that old folks’ treatment (done to me as a kid) of getting wiped with a vinegar-soaked towel? Then take him back for tests every morning for as long as necessary?

The equally charming doc smiled and said yes, it was up to us, but more than that, my alternative to getting a room was entirely workable. Fine, I said, thanks, doc, see you again tomorrow. We drove home, only five minutes away, and I immediately buckled down to help my son do battle with dengue.

Off to SM Hypermarket I went, to stock up on jugs and cartons of apple juice, cranberry, grape, orange, guava, the works, local and imported. Then it was Watson’s for Biogesic and analgesics. Back home, whenever his fever rose high enough to debilitate him away from his PC and send him back to bed, I gave him the suka fever-sopping treatment.

Then I did the next best thing, which was to go on the Internet and also text friends about the matter. The S.O.S. call produced instant results.

Believe me, a friend from Davao City texted back, here everyone just takes tawa-tawa for dengue. What’s that, a hallucinogenic herb? It’s not for me, but for my son, I added. The lady explained that it was a common shrub that grows in patches of idle land. I’ll LBC you some, just wash up the bunch, and boil everything, including the roots, and give him a cup 3-4 times a day. Oh, Okay. Great, thanks.

Now, I’ve always trusted in old folks’ remedies. Tell me that a man’s gotta believe in something, and I’ll nod and point out the herbal wisdom of the ages. I guess I’m genetically predisposed to that sort of abiding faith, having had an herbolario, or so I was told, as a paternal grandfather.

I’ve also been quite a researcher on flora, their beauty and benefits. When I found out that eucalyptus leaves were good for pulmonary problems, I made sure to grow my own eucalyptus tree (a blue gum smuggled home from Oz-land). And when we had to leave it behind, I quickly recognized similar species standing tall inside our new village. Every time the kids suffered from bad colds and coughs, I’d have ’em soak in a hot tub with sprigs of gum leaves. They enjoyed the soothing whiff and fragrance, and were back to being insufferable balls of energy in no time.

So tawa-tawa was acceptable to usually non-gullible me. But I researched on it, and found out that in the American Southwest, it’s called snakeweed. Here’s what Googling came up with, by way of info from the USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center, which also supplied snakeweed’s official nomenclature, Gutierrezia sarothrae:

“Broom snakeweed was used by numerous Native American tribes for a variety of reasons. The Blackfoot use the roots of broom snakeweed in an herbal steam as a treatment for respiratory ailments. The Dakota use a concentrate made from the flowers as a laxative for horses. The Lakota took a decoction of the plant to treat colds, coughs, and dizziness. The Navajo and Ramah Navaho rubbed the ashes of broom snakeweed on their bodies to treat headaches and dizziness. They also chewed the plant and applied it to wounds, snakebites, and areas swollen by insect bites and stings. The Comanche used the stems of broom snakeweed to make brooms for sweeping their residences.”

Hmm. Davao’s snakeweed might take a day or two to make it to our place. So I did more Net-surfing on dengue. A Pinoy based in Indonesia swore by papaya leaves. He recounted how a friend’s daughter whose platelet count had gone dangerously low recovered quickly after being given “papaya juice.”

Actually, it’s not juice, but a paste, judging from the informant’s detailed narrative: “They got some papaya leaves, pounded them and squeezed the juice out for her. The next day, her platelet count started to increase, her fever subside. We continued to feed her with papaya juice and she recovered after 3 days!!! Amazing but it’s true. It’s believed one’s body would be overheated when one is down with dengue and that also caused the patient to have fever. Papaya juice has cooling effect. Thus, it helps to reduce the heat in one’s body, thus the fever will go away. I found that it’s also good when one is having sore throat. Those of us staying in Subang Jaya are lucky as we can get papaya juice easily from the Penang Cendol stall in Giant! One cup is only RM1.”

Another friend SMS’d that camote tops would be the surefire antidote. And another Web entry seemed to verify that. A Bernardo Rocha told the story 

of how “Computer technician Wenceslao Salesale Jr., 27, was 
downed by dengue. His platelet count plunged from 180
 to 80. He was rushed by ambulance from Novaliches to
 Manila. Inside the ambulance, a relative, acting upon 
the advice of a missionary priest, made him drink soup
 made from camote tops. The following day, his platelet
 count was normal. 

Dengue attacked the seven-year-old daughter of engineers
 Mar and Lita Budlongan of Kaloocan City. Her platelet
 count read 80. The same treatment was used. The 
following day she was back to normal….” Etc.

Mr. Rocha also provides the following info that he picked up from Wikipedia:
“In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet 
potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber
 content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A
 and C, iron and calcium, the sweet potato ranked 
highest in nutritional value. According to these
 criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points 
over the next on the list, the common potato (NCSPC).

“… Sweet potato tops are excellent sources of 
anti-oxidative compounds, mainly polyphenolics, which 
may protect the human body from oxidative stress that
 is associated with many diseases including cancer and 
cardiovascular diseases. Sweet potato greens have the
 highest content of total polyphenolics among other
 commercial vegetables studied.”

His instructions I quickly followed upon getting bunches of talbos ng kamote from the supermarket:

“Camote tops are boiled in water to extract the juice.
 The boiling lasts for about five minutes. A little
 salt is used to give flavor to it. The patient is made 
to drink slowly and gradually. The body’s immunity 
system is thus revived, making dengue helpless against
 the body’s natural defenses. Camote enables the body
 to heal itself. 

… (P)eople are needlessly dying
 all around us from dengue, while their very cure is
 also all around us. 

In the past, many were fond of using the derogatory 
statement, ‘Go home and plant camote.’ Now, camote is 
big news. It can save lives!”

Indeed, I made my son drink camote tops tea every three hours, and the very next day his decreasing platelet count was arrested at 100. On the third day it went up to 105. I also gathered papaya leaves from the neighborhood, and pounded them into tablespoons of paste. But he refused a third tablespoon even after I had mixed in some honey; he just couldn’t take the bitterness.

Finally the cavalry arrived from Davao. I did as I was told with the tawa-tawa. My son willingly took the tea. The next day his platelet count was up to 120. And on the fifth day that I took him to Medical City, the doctor smiled when he gave us the final results. My son was back to normal.

It took only two days of camote tops decoction, two tabelespoons of papaya-leaf paste, and another two days of more talbos ng kamote and tawa-tawa tea to win the battle against dengue.

Eventually I would find that tawa-tawa has already been commercialized. Bottles of tawa-tawa capsules are now sold at a Tiendesitas stall. I can’t say that they’re as effective as a fresh bunch of leaves, twigs and roots that have been boiled, as had proved effective for my son. And as it did for a writer-friend who had been hospitalized for nearly a week until I told her about tawa-tawa. Like me, she asked for a friend in Mindanao to send her a bunch. And she came out of that hospital in three days.

There should be no harm in trying tawa-tawa capsules. We should all recall how lagundi, among all our other herbal concoctions, has now been accepted as a pharmaceutical, although it certainly took some time. Like the truth, the herbal cures are out there, just in our own backyards.

Mr. Rocha of the “Go-home-and-plant camote!” injunction should have the final say here, as he had blogged on the Net:

“I asked a doctor of medicine about herbal cures and he
 said that many, if not most, medicines come from 
plants. He also said that under the Hippocratic Oath,
 doctors are bound to encourage anything that can cure a 
patient.” 

 — HS, GMANews.TV

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