Ma Bett is a secondary character in Jessamine. She's a healer, a herbalist wise in the way of plants. Women turn to her, both when they are barren and when they wish to remain childless. Arabella meets Ma Bett when she goes to visit the home of a child who has been violently assaulted. Grace meets her too, though only briefly. When Grace is drawn into Arabella's world, it is Ma Bett who realizes what is happening and sends Grace back to her own time. The following is an interview with Ma Bett.
EO: Ma Bett, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I really appreciate it. Could you tell my readers how you came to know so much about plants and their medicinal properties?
MB: It is good you want to know more about plants for I can see that your generation prefers to turn to pills first before they make use of the old knowledge. I learned about plants from both my father and my mother. They were herbalists, too, and they learned from their parents, all the way back to Africa.
EO: I've heard it said that some of your knowledge also came from the Tainos and the Ciboneys. Is that true?
MB: Yes, that is true. When our African ancestors were brought over, they recognized some of the plants but others were new to them and when they mixed with the people who were here first, they learned their uses. We added their knowledge to ours.
EO: Can you share some of what they taught your ancestors?
MB: Eeh. You want to know my secrets. It is alright. I will tell you some. I will not tell you all. You know the annatto. They did not just use the dye from the seeds. The leaves also were used - boil them, put them in your bath and it will help your muscle spasms. If you've had a heart attack, tea made from the leaves of the custard apple will help prevent further attacks.
EO: What about things like a sprain? Like if I sprain my ankle?
MB: Well, then you will want to make a poultice from the Touch-Me-Not Balsam and apply it to the sprain for half an hour or so, two or three times a day until the swelling goes down.
EO: And if I have a fever, what do you recommend?
MB: You could try grinding a half cup of the seeds of the okra and boiling that for about 15 minutes. When it is cool, you can take it after every meal.
EO: But what about infertility. Can a plant really cure that?
MB. When a woman comes to me who wishes to be with child, I tell her to boil arrowroot pap and eat it as frequently as she can stand.
EO: And does it work?
MB: (laughs) Nobody has ever asked me for their money back but if the problem is a difficult one then I might have to use other measures, other treatments.
MB: That I will keep to myself for now.
EO: In Jessamine, you treated a child who had been raped. What did you use?
MB: I used more than one thing because not only was she bleeding but she had a fever and she was having bad dreams. First thing I gave her a bath using many plants - ginger root, avocado leaves, carambola leaves, bay leaves, and a few others then afterward I made her drink a tea of plantain leaves mixed with lemongrass for the fever and the bleeding. At first, she could only take a few sips but after a few days her strength began to build back up. The poultice, too, that helped to stop the bleeding. Sometimes, when the hurts are so bad, you can't use one thing alone.
EO: Thank you for talking to us, today, Ma Bett. It's been very informative.
MB: You're welcome. Pass it on.