Malagasy Jungle Remedy: Multipurpose Lemon




About: I want computers to be wilder.

Health Lessons from Professional Porters in Madgascar

When doing scientific exploration in Madagascar (our project:, you get the added benefit of hanging out with the Malagasy people. Not only are they incredibly nice, the people we worked with were also amazing masters of navigating and living in the jungle. The way they moved through the rainforest was awe-inspiring, and made your own feet feel really stupid. Also, despite traversing dozens of kilometers of unexplored rain forest BAREFOOT and in shorts, their feet and legs survived much better than ours.

Obviously they are much more experienced than we were, but there also seemed to be an extra secret to their success:


Most of the porters always carried a lemon around with them. They would rub it all over their legs to fight infections, fungus, and leeches.

This is not a very complicated instructable. It basically comes down to two points for health when you are in the jungle:

  • Always Carry a Lemon
  • Rub it all over

For more descriptions, insights, discussions of parasites and diseases (and pictures of lemons in the jungle!) check out the next steps.

This is all part of the project exploring biology and technology with Dr. Brian Fisher and Hannah Perner-Wilson:

Step 1: Lemons Everywhere

It took me just one day into the expedition to start noticing the prevalence of LEMONS EVERYWHERE. The malagasy always had a lemon in hand. It became a sort of fun game to snap a photo and try to hunt down the lemons in the scene!

Step 2: Remedies: Leeches, Foot Rot, and Refreshment

Here are the main uses we noticed for this all-purposes jungle remedy. They usually start by smashing up the lemon a bit to get its juice flowing easier.


Rub the lemon juice all over your legs and the leeches seem to not attack you as much! It also feels like it cleans up your wounds a bit and stops them from getting infected.

"Foot Rot"

This was the big cure! Daily rubbing with lemon juice seemed to prevent foot rot in the first place. (As well as not wearing shoes).

The local cure for advanced cases of foot rot sounded a bit painful though!

Advanced "Foot Rot"

  1. Hold down the patient (they are gonna be kicking in pain)
  2. Heat up a lemon to boiling over a fire
  3. Rub the boiling lemon juice really hard all over their feet (They are going to scream)
  4. The painful burning supposedly lasts 3-6 hours after

Only one member of our team tried it out, and according to him it was super painful, but the day after his foot rot started going away pretty good! All the people who wimped out of the treatment, their feet just kept getting worse.


It was so hot, and arduous moving through the jungle (especially with all our gear), that sucking on a lemon MADE YOU FEEL AMAZING. Those little bits of extra sugars and citrusy chemicals gave you the super powers you needed to keep hiking for the rest of the day (even without any food!)

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    8 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    It's not the properties of the lemons per se that offers the advantage but rather that the fluids inside fruits, defended by the immune system of the plant, is sterile. Likely, such plant sources are the only sources of sterile fluids available in the wilds as all the water is contaminated by voracious microbes. Just being able to clean a wound will sterile fluids helps tremendously.

    In a jungle (tropical rain forest), infection is a massive risk. The humidity promotes microbial growth everywhere and owing to the biodiversity, there are a vast number of ambient pathogens. Fungus infections, rare in temperate zone are rife. Common athlete's foot fungus can sudden proliferate in the universal damp within a couple of days into a version of WWI's trench foot so severe as to require amputations.

    The sterility of fluids in fruits is so pronounced that during WWII, clear, raw coconut milk was used as field expedient saline solution feed into IVs.

    The citric acid and sugar in the lemons likely helps some, as well as getting some small dose of the anti-microbial toxins secreted by the lemon in its rind. A sugary fluid, if concentrated, can make an effective sealant of a wound. Something like a liquid bandage.

    But mostly, its just that it's lemon juice is sterile.

    1 reply

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Whew! I thank the Lord for S.C. heat. Its closer to fresh lemons.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I'm wondering if this fruit is also a potential repellent against the Candiru...

    Set apart this thought, this is really a useful I'ble and I thank you to have made it. You have my vote!

    1 reply

    3 years ago

    I should think that it would? just not as quickly perhaps... maybe


    3 years ago

    very interesting, I wonder if other citrus fruits bear the same properties

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    We were wondering about it too. Also if there is anything to heating up the lemon at all, or if a cold lemon will provide the same results!