Naturopathy: Medicine from the rainforest

Naturopathy: Medicine from the rainforest

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The tropical rainforests are the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth and probably these species also offer the most healing substances. Aborigines on the Amazon, in the Congo or in the dwindling tropical forests of Borneo have handed down a large number of already known medicinal plants; but most of the active ingredients are probably still undiscovered for science; In Costa Rica alone, researchers have discovered 400 new plant species with promising potential in the past 25 years.

The rainforest: the threatened pharmacy

“Plants directly or indirectly produce all of our food, most of our medication, our clothing. They not only nourish our bodies, but also our souls. With colors and fragrances. And what do we do? We wipe them out. If we continue as before, we will have eliminated a third of all known species by the middle of the 21st century. Are we really crazy? ”Dr. Peter Hamilton Raven, until 2011 director of the St. Louis Botanical Gardens.

The biologist Dr. Andrea Flemmer says more than 7,000 drugs have been developed from plants in the tropical rainforest; scientists had only examined two percent of the plant species there. Plants from the rainforest already help against cancer, tuberculosis and malaria, and are effective against constipation and cough. One in four medicines with plant origin come from tropical forests.

The Madagascar evergreen Catharanthus roseus contains viblastin and vincristine and thus agents against Hodgkin's disease and lymphatic leukemia. The evergreen increases the chance of recovery from 20 to 80 percent in both cancers. Five other evergreen species in Madagascar have not yet been studied.

The cat's claw from Peru contains an active ingredient against rheumatism, the Jaborandi shrub from Brazil helps with the substance pilocarpine against the glaucoma; the flowers of the Philippine ylang-ylang tree relieve depression, insomnia, stress and nervousness. An edelweiss, Wira Wira, grows in the Andes: it cures cough, runny nose and hoarseness in the form of teas and ointments. Ginger from the tropical forest of Southeast Asia helps against digestive problems and relaxes the mucous membranes.

Dragon blood resin from a tree in South America helps against injuries, germs and infections as well as against herpes. Caihu, a Bolivian pumpkin, keeps blood pressure in balance, lowers blood lipid levels and thus helps against arteriosclerosis. The flowers of the passion flower from the rainforests of Mesoamerica are effective against headaches, nervousness and panic attacks; the Manayupa flower from Belize helps against low back pain and nerve pain.

The yam root contains an active ingredient for the contraceptive pill; the muscle relaxant tubocuranin is contained in the South American curare, and the Amazon bark tree contains quinine, the remedy for malaria.

Scientists from the University of Bonn found more than a hundred plants in Mexico that affect blood sugar. The guarumbo tree offers substances that could cure diabetes. Thai palm trees and butterfly flowers contain saponins and ditterpenoids that are effective against cancer. African Affodil plants apparently help against leukemia.

The Niembaum from tropical India is considered a panacea: it has defenses against bacteria, viruses, fungi and infections; it has an anti-diabetic effect, it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, it has a preventive effect because it paralyzes sperm. Locals use its bark, leaves, flowers and seeds in the form of tea, powder, juice and oil. Doctors use it to treat leprosy, hives, digestive problems and thyroid disorders.

1,300 species of rhododendrons bloom from Turkey to the Far East of China. So far, 600 substances have been extracted from rhododendrons that have a healing effect: some paralyze, others stem cancer.

In Brazil, indigenous people know the Marapuana root, which promotes potency, the Jabuti bark, which combats hemorrhoids, the Saratodo wood, which heals wounds, the Crujirú, which fights infections, and Uxi-Amarelo, which alleviates the symptoms of menopause.


Cocaine is an illegal and "demonized" drug in the West. Compared to the leaves of the coca bush, it behaves roughly like seventy percent straw around a glass of Federweisser. The indigenous people of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia have been using coca (or coca) for thousands of years: They put the leaves under their tongues - they relieve hunger, make breathing easier and keep you awake. They help against toothache, abdominal pain, depression and rheumatism. Without coca, mountain farmers in the Andes would hardly be able to do their job at several thousand meters.

The coca bush grows in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia at heights between 300 and 2,000 meters. Today it is also common in India, Sri Lanka, Java and Africa. Coca needs high humidity, lots of rain and clay soil with a lot of humus.

Cocaine is highly psychologically dependent, however, with coca leaves there is no danger if you use them like the locals: They chew the leaves together with lime ash. These transform cocaine into ecgonine, a substance that does not make you addicted.

In the countries of origin, coca is not only a drug, but an indispensable remedy. Dried leaves contain alkaloids, especially cocaine, but there are also carbohydrates, calcium, proteins, iron, vitamin A and vitamin B 2. For the indigenous people, cocaine is one of the few ways to get calcium. Coca helps against hunger, fatigue and cold. Above all, it relieves altitude sickness. This occurs because the oxygen content in the air decreases in the mountains; However, coca leaves improve the absorption of oxygen. They contain: alkaloids, in addition to cocaine, also cinnamoylcocaine, and truxillins, hygrin and cuskygrin, as well as tannins and essential oil with methyl salicylate.

Evo Morales in Bolivia is committed to legalizing coca. His slogan is: "Coca yes, cocaine no." Teas, shampoos, toothpaste - the possibilities for coca products are immense. This is countered by the “war on drugs”, which the United States in particular operates. Colombian soldiers, supported by the CIA, destroyed countless coca fields.

The industrialized countries are preventing tropical countries from using a resource, while Western pharmaceutical companies are also biopirating by marketing medicinal products from the rainforests without involving the locals. The war on cocaine cannot be explained rationally: alcohol causes countless deaths in industrialized countries, destroys families and personalities, and unlike cocaine makes it not only psychologically but physically dependent, but is also legal in the United States without the cocaine substance to have positive qualities.

"Mate de Coca", the coca tea, is widespread in the Andean countries and is sold in tea bags. Each bag contains approximately one gram of coca leaves. It helps against stomach ailments and has a slightly stimulating effect. No physical side effects are known, at least not more than with black tea.

The war against coca has no medical, but historical and political reasons. The Spanish conquistadors used the properties of the plant to exploit the indigenous people. Gonzalo d Zárate wrote: "The Indians in the mines can stay 36 hours a day without sleeping and eating".

In 1946, the Soviet embassy in Lima fought against the “drug slavery” of American companies. US politicians then raved about the benefits of enjoying cocaine in front of the United Nations. However, under George Bush, the Elder, and his successors, the US government pushed the war against cocaine, primarily because leftist guerrillas got involved, and the Kali and Medellin cartels became serious powers. Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela consequently saw the legalization of coca as a liberation of the national heritage from US imperialism.


"They prepare curare for their arrows by making a brew from the red skin of certain strychnos roots, which they condemn over the fire until the mixture has a doughy consistency." Claude Levi-Strauss

Curare describes various poisons that indigenous people in the South American rainforest use to hunt animals. They rub their arrows with these poisons and make them from the extracts of lianas. Indians of Guiana make curare from lunar seedlings, which they store in bamboo tubes. The turbocarin contained in it was a proven narcotic in Western medicine. Indigenous people in Venezuela and Colombia get their curare from crushed nuts: it contains strychnos alkaloids, including alcoferin and toxiferin.

Curare paralyzes the muscles and causes death because it paralyzes the respiratory muscles. The effect makes the poison, and Turbocarin can be used as a muscle relaxant. However, it also releases histamine, affects the bronchi and lowers blood pressure. Because of this, other narcotics are used today that do not have these side effects, such as atracurium, mivacurium, pancuronium, vecuronium or rocuronium.

The effects of Curare resemble that of hemlock, nicotine in tobacco, cytisine in laburnum, epibatidine of poison dart frogs (dendrobates) and arecoline of betel nut.

Healing animals

Not only the plants, but also the animals of the rainforest produce medically interesting substances. Cone snails have innumerable poisons that attack the nervous system and can therefore be important for treating neurological diseases.

Pumilitoxin, the poison of the poison dart frog Dendrobates pumilio, strengthens the heart muscle, the poison of one of its relatives from Ecuador can be used for pain relievers. The mucus of an Australian tree frog works against various types of bacteria. What is special about him is that he also kills multi-resistant germs against which normal antibiotics are powerless.

The frog secretions have a devastating effect on bacteria: they let the germs burst. Conventional antibiotics can no longer do anything if the bacterium changes a protein. The frog poisons can also destroy these bacteria if they mutate.

A Mexican frog produces a substance that lowers blood pressure and can thus prevent a heart attack. Another frog from the north of the continent is able to stop blood cancer cells. The camo frog on the Amazones produces a poison that relieves stomach problems as well as migraines. It contains demorphin, a narcotic that is more potent than morphine. It could also be used against malaria.

However, many of these "healing frogs" could have died out before their benefits were fully recognized. The amphibians disappear the fastest of all groups of animals; The reason is a fungus that spreads across the continents and has already wiped out several species and for which there is no antidote.

New exploitation?

Ethnomedicans are researching medicinal plants in the Amazon, and pharmaceutical companies are hoping to win millions. Biopiracy on a large scale is to be feared: the indigenous people have the knowledge; are western companies now taking patents under the nail?

In addition, the traditional medicine of the indigenous people fades away; they lose their land to agricultural corporations, struggle as pariahs in sprawling megacities; the tropical forest shrinks by 13 million hectares annually. With the rainforest, the cures disappear - many of which have not even been discovered. (among others)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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