San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Plants at a Glance

Red Head

(Zorrillo real, azulillo, pisí, palo camarón, coralillo) Hamelia patens Jacq. RUBIACEAE


Geo-distribution: A native plant of Central America and the Caribbean Basin, red head can be found growing wild in the warmer regions of the tropics, along roadsides, in pastures or secondary growth, and even in backyards as an ornamental.


Botanical Description: This shrub or small tree grows up to 2 meters tall, with ternate, lance-oblong to rounded-ovate leaves 5-20 centimeters long. The flowers are inflorescences with many flowers of a reddish-orange color. The small fruits are only 6-10 millimeters long and are said to be edible.


Medicinal Uses: Traditionally, this plant has been used primarily as a remedy for skin problems, such as sores, bruises, rashes, itches, insect bites or stings, burns, cuts and fungal problems. A strong tea is made from the leaves, or both the leaves and flowers, for a skin wash. Recent research has shown that the active compounds in the leaves have antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well as analgesic activity.


CAUTION: According to the UNESCO-funded TRAMIL 3 Workshop on Central American and Caribbean medicinal plants, laboratory studies indicated this plant has toxic effects if taken internally, and is recommended for external use only.


Preparation: Take several handfuls of leaves and flowers and boil them in 4 liters of water until 2 liters of concentrate remain. Strain and use as a skin wash or bath. In Belize, the warmed leaves or juice from the crushed leaves are applied to insect stings and torcelo fly parasites. In Haiti, the fresh, mashed leaves are applied to the forehead for migraines.


Notes: Red head makes a nice ornamental for the home garden, as well as a handy source of first-aid medicine for skin problems. Plants can be propagated from woody stem cuttings pruned from mature shrubs. Plant cuttings in pots with prepared potting soil and keep in a shady area until they begin to sprout new leaves. Transplant them to permanent sites before they become root-bound. Regular pruning will help keep red head a compact shrub. These hardy plants require no special care, and need no watering in the dry season.


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