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5.21.2012

A Haitian Treasure: Kalbas (Calabash)

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Calabash or Kalbas (in Haitian Creole), Lagenaria siceraria, is a member of the gourd family.  It is a small evergreen tropical tree with simple leaves and a rough bark.  Its fruits are light green, with white flesh and smooth skin. The fruit has a remarkable likeness to the shapes of bottles and bowls, with ranging lengths, widths, and colors depending on its variants.  Kalbas is thought to be one of the first cultivated plants in the world, originating tens of thousands of years ago.  It is also believed to be a "spiritual fruit", since it has incredible significance in a variety of world religions. Kalbas is grown all over the world, including, yes, Haiti.
Source
Kalbas has special significance to the Haitian culture and the Voodoo religion.  In Haiti, the fruit is often called kalbas kouran, which translates to "running calabash".  This kalbas is used to make a "sacred rattle" in the Voodoo religion, called an asson, which summons the lwa. In the book, Haiti, Hisotry, and the Gods, Joseph Dayan presents a scenario where the calabash tree, also known as repossi, is described as a place were the spirits dwell, and as a source of strength, endurance, and protection.  It is also described as a means to transport sugar cane, palma christi oil, and milk.

Fun fact:

Do you know how the Haitian currency got the name gourde? Well, calabash, a gourd, was once the national currency in the 1800's!  It had so much importance that the great King Henry Christophe of Haiti once declared that all gourds must become property of the state.


In Haiti, as in many other countries in the Caribbean, one of the biggest uses of kalbas is in the arts, where it is used to create everything from utensils and water jugs, to maracas and drums, to handbags and canvases, to masks and bongs (yes....bongs). The list of kalbas' uses go on and on. There are plenty of Haitian sites and stores where you can view and purchase Calabash art.

You know I couldn't present this Haitian treasure, without exploring its health benefits and uses in holistic healing and traditional medicine!


Some Benefits:

  • anti-hypertensive and anti-carginoegininc
  • high in dietary fiber
  • contains Vitamin B and C, as well as minerals and trace elements
  • restores liver function
  • prevents excessive loss of sodium
  • quenches thirst
  • prevents fatigue
  • natural antacid

Some Uses:
  • ingredient in soup, stir-fries and curries
  • reduces constipation
  • induces labor
  • treatment for menstrual cramps
  • tea or syrup made from the leaf can treat a variety of illnesses, including diaherra, headaches, asthma and fever
  • used to clean wounds

Know your treasures!
The "Haitian Treasures" series explores the magnificent benefits and uses of Haiti's natural resources, which I call "Haitian Treasures" because they are truly national gems.   Naïka in Balance is the premiere source for information on the tie between Haiti's natural resources and natural, traditional, and holistic healing.
Learn about other Haitian Treasures explored on this blog here!

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N
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*Medical Disclaimer: Though Naïka of Naïka in Balance is in pursuit of a medical degree, she is NOT a licensed health practitioner. 
Naïka believes individuals have the power to make informed health decisions on their own. If you feel that it is necessary to consult your healthcare provider before using any of the remedies mentioned, please do so. Knowledge is power and your health is your wealth.

7 comments:

  1. Such fascinating information. I knew nothing about Kalbas, although I used to see it everywhere in Haiti. Thank you for writing this post and all the Haitian Treasure posts.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! It's a pleasure to write about these treasures :)
      N

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  2. I must say, those are some sexy water jugs. Getting water with style lol.

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  3. Ditto to the comments above. Here’s to many more years of Haitian Treasure posts.

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  4. people in the country side used kalbas to make basins and bowl it is a big help in the kitchen area

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  5. Hi, although the information is great but I'm still a bit confused. Growing up in Haiti, I saw this plant and explored it because of my grand mother. I would pluck one from the tree, make a quarter size hole on top and gut it. Once empty we would fill it with water and let sit for a few hours and drink it. The water had this unforgettable sweet perfumed aroma. I was told to not eat the flesh and was never given a reason. From the list of benefits you presented, it appears that it's not only from making tea with the leaves. Am I to believe that this plant was actually consumable and missed out on this national treasure from dumping the flesh out?

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