It grows to become a magnificent tree, tall with open limbs reaching to the skies; but its bark does something very interesting – it peels. The bark of a Gumbo Limbo tree looks like peeling skin from a sunburn, hence why Belizeans name it the ‘Tourist Tree’; well pretty much like the skin of tourists who get sunburned the most while vacationing in Belize.
Its bark is green, but the outer layer flakes red; hard to miss while venturing the coastline of Belize. Interestingly enough, the tree is used to treat sunburns. How About That!? Yes, this herbal healer has anti-inflammatory properties that are excellent to treat sunburns and rash from poison wood (locally known as Chechen in Maya).
Many a times, you find yourself looking for over-the-counter medication to heal a sunburn or that nasty rash you get when rummaging in the jungle. It happens a lot living in the tropics, but an added advantage of being in the tropics also means finding home remedies that are as efficient and even more readily available for instant relief.
Quite conveniently, the Gumbo Limbo trees grow in the same area of the Black Poison wood trees. When wondering through the jungle getting in contact with black poison wood is pretty much inevitable as it’s in abundance in Belize. You will know almost instantly that you have had contact with it’s ‘fiery’ bark as a serious rash develops on your skin. The first thing to do is to find a Gumbo Limbo tree. Here is where the Tourist Tree comes in handy – cut a piece of the tree’s bark and wipe the inside on the affected area. You can hang on to this bark and reapply several times as needed.
The Many Wonderful Properties of the Tourist Tree
The bark is a common topical remedy; strips of bark are boiled in water and then used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes. It is also drunk as tea to treat backaches, urinary tract infections, colds, flu, and fevers. Young leaves rubbed on skin exposed to poison wood can prevent reaction and will sooth itching and speed recovery. It’s an excellent tree to come upon in the tropics as it’s the medicine of choice for poisonous stings and bug bites.
Gumbo Limbo is also a source of very, very soft and light wood used for making toy airplanes, boats and carousel horses. It is also used in light construction and as firewood; the tree’s resin is used as glue, varnish and incense.
Rising skyward between 75 and 100 feet, the tree is very sturdy and wind-tolerant (hurricane resistant). It is planted along the coastline to serve as wind protection for crops and roads or as living fence posts; small branches readily root and grow into sizable trees in a few years.
So! On your next trip to Belize, keep an eye out for your friendly pal the ‘Tourist Tree’, it might just save you some sorrows and also warn you that Poison Wood is nearby. It’s just one of the many plants/trees that make Belize so interesting and a wealth of knowledge in the medicinal world. All you need to identify is its red pealing bark. So Now You Know!!