Is manglier tea really a cure-all? Curious Louisiana digs into age-old south Louisiana remedy

  • by JOANNA BROWN | Contributing Writer
  • Feb 5, 2023
MaryAnn Armbruster talks about manglier tea at the Urban Naturalist on Monday, January 30, 2023 in Lafayette, La..STAFF PHOTO BY BRAD KEMP

The groundsel bush, known in French as manglier, is probably flourishing somewhere not far from your backyard.

The unassuming shrub is ubiquitous from here to Houston and can be found along fence lines, railroad tracks and road sides. When you see its white or light gold blooms in the fall, make a note of it.

You just came across a folk-medicine superhero.

Manglier tea leaves at the Urban Naturalist on Monday, January 30, 2023 in Lafayette, La..STAFF PHOTO BY BRAD KEMP

The healing properties of manglier were historically known to Native American, Black, Creole and Cajun communities, where the leaves were often brewed as a tea and taken as a remedy for fevers and respiratory illness. Maurice resident Anje Broussard asked manglier’s healing powers as part of the Curious Louisiana series.

In 2018, researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Rutgers University confirmed that the plant has incredible anti-inflammatory properties, capable of combating metabolic conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“I call it a cure-all,” says Rebecca Henry, founder of the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas.

MaryAnn Armbruster shows off some talks manglier tea leaves at the Urban Naturalist on Monday, January 30, 2023 in Lafayette, La..STAFF PHOTO BY BRAD KEMP

The daughter of sharecroppers in St. Landry Parish, Henry’s family used manglier as a necessary remedy. Today she still prepares it for her family.

“We needed to use different things for different ailments because we didn’t have doctors out in rural areas,” Henry said. “Nothing was affordable for us as slaves, Creoles, Blacks — whatever the case may be. That’s how we got into folk medicine.”

Dr. MaryAnn Armbruster, co-chair of the Healer’s Garden at the Vermilionville Historic Village, says that manglier is one of their mainstay plants, alongside up to 50 other medicinal plants that were historically used in this region. She takes manglier herself to treat congestion and frequently prepares it as a tea or tincture.

Marcus Descant stands near some Manglier tea leaves at the Urban Naturalist on Monday, January 30, 2023 in Lafayette, La..STAFF PHOTO BY BRAD KEMP

The Healer’s Garden was created based on a master’s thesis by Charles Bienvenu, titled “The Negro French Dialect of St. Martin Parish” and submitted to the LSU French Department in 1933. He asked people to tell him about their home remedies in their own language, and his research produced over 500 first-person accounts of how local plants were used to treat illnesses.

Both Henry and Armbruster find that there has been increased interest in manglier and other native remedies since the pandemic, and they often field calls from people looking to learn about the properties of manglier leaves.

“So many people want something because it’s more natural,” Armbruster said. “Or people are looking into things that their family might have used.”

Manglier’s increasing popularity tracks with the rise of wellness culture, which has encouraged people to seek more information on where food and medicines come from. This is unsurprising to Henry, who points out that “modern medicine comes from folk medicine.”

Before pharmaceuticals were widely available, tight-knit communities passed on knowledge on how stay healthy using what was available on the land.

With the increased interest, Henry warns against indiscriminately pulling plants off the side of the road or preparing it without the proper know-how.

“You have to know a lot about a plant before you consume it,” she said, — like how it will interact with any prescribed medicines.

“You have to know where to go, when to give it and how to take it,” she said. “Just because you see it on the highway, it may have just been sprayed with Roundup.”

Armbruster also advised to proceed with caution. Look for the plants growing organically in nature or cultivated on someone’s property organically.

“You never want to collect anything within about 30-40 feet of a roadway,” she said. “You’re gonna get all sorts of exhaust particles, tire particles, pesticides — God only knows what.”

If you go out searching for manglier, you probably won’t have to look far, said Marcus Descant, Lafayette’s Urban Naturalist.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “It tends to grow best in areas that have been undisturbed for two or more years.”

Manglier holds its leaves throughout the year, unlike most deciduous native plants, and is very appealing to pollinators, making it a useful plant for bees and butterflies as well as people.

Be aware that the leaves have an extremely bitter taste, and it is best taken with lots of honey and lemon. No matter what you do to it, it’s a pungent cure.

“If it’s not bitter,” Henry noted, “it’s not manglier.”