Common Name(s): Yellow Root, Rhubarb Root, Strong Back
Scientific Name: Morinda royoc
Medicinal Uses: Tea made from the leaves and stems was used to treat back pain and kidney ailments. According to a CINA Memory Bank interview with Austin Bothwell from West Bay, the tea was also good for stopping bed-wetting in children.
The genus name for yellow root (Morinda) is a combination of the Latin morus meaning “mulberry” and indica meaning “from India”. Cayman has two species of Morinda: citrifolia and royoc.
Morinda citrifolia is known locally as mulberry, hog apple, or noni and was used to treat fevers. You can see the resemblance between the large, bulbous fruits of the mulberry and those of yellow root which look like miniature versions of the same.
Yellow root is an example of the confusion common names can cause. While my mother knew yellow root as strong back, Lorna McCubbin’s research on the medicinal plants of the Cayman Islands lists strong back as Psychotria nervosa.
In East End, you can find great thickets of yellow root growing in the rocky interior. When I was a volunteer with the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, we used to collect the leaves as part of our natural food collection for the iguanas. They also quite liked the mulberry fruits – particularly when they were overripe and stinking!
You can still find yellow root in George Town too. For some reason, it seems to favour parcel boundaries and I often see it rambling along fences and walls.
Strong back – whether it is Morinda royoc or Psychotria nervosa – was used in a tea to treat back trouble, kidney ailments, and even bed-wetting.
Gledhill, D. (2008) The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press.
McCubbin, L. (1995). Healing Plants of the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman: unpublished.