MANAGUA – Eucalyptus trees were in full view and ignored for years in Nicaragua, but now no one can live without them. In less than a day, its leaves have become as desirable as toilet paper during the global coronavirus lockdowns.
This is the latest “fever” unleashed by the COVID-19 epidemic in Nicaragua, where according to the Ministry of Health, there are 254 cases and 17 deaths from the virus.
Eucalyptus leaves, which until last weekend were worth nothing, were being sold Tuesday at prices ranging from 30 cents to $1.50.
And Nicaraguans were snapping them up as if they were the long-awaited vaccine or low-cost N95 masks.
The leaves are sold at traffic lights, markets, next to boulevards, and are even home-delivered.
“I am using eucalyptus with my family for prevention. We are not infected,” said a man on his social media networks.
Many comments appeared alongside viral recipes on social media, in which eucalyptus leaves are mixed with ginger, lemon, garlic and other natural ingredients.
What encourages Nicaraguans to face the pandemic laden with eucalyptus leaves is probably its properties.
According to the National Center of Traditional Folk Medicine Foundation, eucalyptus is “decongestant, antiseptic, antibronchitic, anticatarrhal, antitussive, antibacterial and balsamic,” ideal characteristics against pneumonia and flu.
Doctor and surgeon Jose Antonio Vasquez, a member of a team of specialists who provide free teleconsultations about COVID-1e, recognizes the properties of eucalyptus, but explains that a cup of tea with the ingredient will not make a difference in a patient with the novel coronavirus.
“Actually what it (has) is a placebo effect. You think it will help you and suddenly you feel better. It is not important to face COVID-19, although there are patients who take eucalyptus and associate their improvement to that,” the doctor said.
The speed with which eucalyptus trees in some boulevards of Managua and other cities have lost their branches shows how much Nicaraguans associate it as an effective weapon against COVID-19.
“I am now earning some money with the branch,” said a woman who sells the leaves at a traffic light in Managua.
Another street vendor claimed to have earned the equivalent of $25 from selling leaves on his first day, a dream amount for most of the inhabitants of the second poorest country in Latin America (after Haiti).
Children too have gotten into the eucalyptus business, selling at traffic lights, while others do not want to pay for something which they had free access to days ago.
This has caused the National Police to carry out nightly rounds to check on the trees, something the authorities have never done before.
Vasquez finds no reason to leave eucalyptus trees leafless as he has a range of treatments for a range of symptoms, such as paracetamol, anti-flu meds, anti-inflammatories or antibiotics.
For the specialist it does not matter if the patient takes eucalyptus, as although it will not save him from the virus or cure it, at least it will not bring negative effects, and it could inspire a sense of calm.