On a recent trip on an old trail through the Hut, Mr. Nolan Smith pointed out a ‘Headache Bush’. He said the best results are obtained from using the fresh, new leaves at the tip of the stem.
– CINA Memory Bank Interview
Common Name(s): Headache Bush
Scientific Name: Capparis cynophallophora
Medicinal Uses: Tea made from the young leaves was used to treat headaches and the chopped leaves used as smelling salts or applied externally to treat toothaches.
A relative of the spooky devil’s head (Capparis ferruginea) and bloody head raw bones (Capparis flexuosa), headache bush gets its name from its primary medicinal use in Caymanian culture.
The leaves – which are glossy emerald on top and silvery beneath – smell a bit like horseradish or wasabi when crushed. Presumably this spicy aroma was thought to have a similar effect to the ammonia inhalants used since the time of Pliny to restore consciousness and prevent fainting (McCrory, 2006).
When they are new, the leaves are folded tightly in half and nibbling insects end up creating symmetrical designs similar to Rorschach inkblots when the leaves later unfold.
The genus name (Capparis) comes from the Arabic kabar, meaning “caper” and Capparis spinosa – which produces the capers you might find alongside salmon and cream cheese on a bagel – also belongs to this genus.
Its species name, however, is a bit strange. As it turns out, cynophallophora means “carrying a dog’s penis (-like structure)”. I am not sure exactly which part of this plant earned it such a rude species name – or which scientist determined that “like a dog’s penis” was the most accurate descriptor!
Gledhill, D. (2008) The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press.
McCubbin, L. (1995). Healing Plants of the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman: unpublished.