Roots tonic: cure-all or sexual stimulant?
Roots tonics have long been staples in the Jamaican grassroots culture, with wild claims of the many ills the drink can cure, and significantly, about its ability to enhance sexual performance.
Many Jamaicans swear by their roots tonic, but a medical doctor, while acknowledging some positive uses, cautions against wanton use of roots that have not been researched for their effect on human bodies.
"Roots do have chemicals in them. Until we can ascertain what is really in those roots we can't declare them safe," argues Dr Audley Betton, a general practitioner. "Too much of one thing is good for nothing. For example, too much ginger thins out the blood, and if one should have an emergency operation he would overbleed," Betton advises.
But Falmouth resident Barrington Sawyers, who has been drinking BABA Roots for over a year now, attests: "It is a real tonic. It strengthen yuh body. It give yuh energy, sexual energy. It give yuh more stamina like a 'Duracell' (battery) to go on and on."
His sentiments were echoed by Antoinette Stephens, who works as an office attendant in Montego Bay. "The BABA Roots nice, man. It taste good. It give yuh energy and stamina. We do need little roots sometimes inna wi body," says Stephens, who has also been drinking the roots for over a year.
The roots that are said to go into making the tonics carry a range of exotic names including chainy roots, sarsaparilla, tan pan rock, hug mi tight, search mi heart, dandelion, jacky mi saddle, blood wist, snake wist, raw moon, baceda park, coconut roots, banana roots, pimento bark and medena.
Although BABA Roots seems to be the most popular brand on the market, others, such as Zion Organic Roots Drink, Pump It Up, Allman Strength and The Priestly Order Roots Wine, all appear to enjoy good patronage.
Owen Lewis, a taxi operator in the western resort city of Montego Bay, insists that he gets a "good night's rest" after a drink of roots tonic. "It mek me feel calm. Mi used to wake up at 5:00 am and feel tired. But mi drink it last night and mi nuh feel tired this morning (despite having risen at the same time). It mek me feel rested," Lewis adds.
A few persons also insist that roots tonics are rather tasty when mixed with alcohol.
Barrington Ray, who buys and sells BABA Roots, claims that when mixed with Smirnoff Black Ice and Rum, the tonic is "a smooth energiser".
"Roots mix with magnum, it just have a nice vibes," puts in Stacy-Ann Willis, a colleague.
"The roots strengthen my back. It also enhances my sex life. I started drinking it from I was about 16 years old because I heard so many good things about it. Now I drink it at least once per week but I prefer to boil it myself," notes Dwight Martin, a 22 year-old construction worker from Islington, St Mary.
Anthony Clarke, 42, acrobat from Port Maria, says he started drinking roots tonic when he was about 15 years old "just out of sheer curiosity, because I heard people talking about what it does for the body". He now claims "the roots strengthen my body and also enhances my sex life. In other words, roots put the lead in your pencil! I must point out, too, that roots is good for many things and not only do I drink it for sheer pleasure, but also to calm the nerves".
Interior decorator Gary Bell agrees: "It keeps the nerves calm," he attests. "To me, it's a nerves roots and that's the reason I drink it. People have differing views on it. For me, it's just for the nerves."
Michael Williams, slippers-maker who sells in Premier Plaza in Kingston, is an occasional drinker: "I drink it three to four times per month. It puts strength in the body... I mean the entire body. It is best, however, when you boil it yourself. Roots is a good thing, it is natural... I mean, anything that God produces is the right thing... the real thing."
Sean Ankle, a Corporate Area taxi driver agrees: "I drink it mainly because it frees up the bowels. Also, it is a natural thing that gives the body energy. Prior to the mass manufacturing of roots, I used to buy it by the quart and take sips of it two to three times per week. When I go out these days, I normally pass up the regular alcoholic drinks for the roots."
But Dr Betton, who operates his private practice at the Mannings Hill Medical Centre on Mannings Hill Road, St Andrew, advises that medicine in any form has its drawbacks in that "what is good for the goose may not be good for the gander".
"I saw a patient once who bought a bottle of roots (tonic) at a school gate, drank it and went mad because the drink had marijuana in it. He was never the same again," the doctor claims.
But Betton acknowledges that some plants store a lot of nutrients underground and "some of these plants have little or no impact, or complications". Some are also aphrodisiacs, he says.
Betton, a former head of the local Red Cross, further warns that "there are some hazy things that need to be cleared up" about roots.
"I don't think that people have studied them significantly. All I am saying is that one should be careful when they talk about roots. More research needs to be done."