Nature’s Medicine – Greeson Explores Remote Regions to Find Indigenous Plants that Heal
By Amy Greeson, RPh. –
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I found myself revisiting a section of the Amazon which I had explored four years prior. Anxious to submerge myself, my psyche, and my spirit into this environment, I was quickly struck with a sudden awakening. Before me, on both sides of the river were intermittent sections logged and destroyed. My heart sank. As the journey continued, I witnessed two barges carrying
bulldozers. My emotions mounted . We continued traveling for another four to five hours, veering off to journey up a tributary. In this more remote region, I saw that the “Westernization influx” had extended even to these villagers. I saw Nike shorts and even a Tarheels baseball cap. Life was drastically changing, and I completely understood. Such advancements are eagerly embraced as the desires for Western amenities are quite luring and often difficult to resist.
I began to see, however, that there was something deeper, and that perhaps the consequences of these changes were more devastating than I had imagined. We were not only losing these precious environments at an alarming rate, we were losing the people and their cultures—the wisdom and knowledge of hundreds and even thousands of years. We were losing countless species of life and we were destroying one of Planet Earth’s greatest natural pharmacies. I gasped; we were destroying ourselves.
Traveling up the tributary, I had felt a deep inner peace listening to the sounds of the jungle and admiring the spectacular scenery, including the lush green vegetation called river lettuce. River lettuce is quite interesting, for within this water plant’s root system lives baby piranha. These piranha babies eat mosquito larvae, which helps to keep the mosquito population in balance. However, with logging and destruction of these areas, plant life such as the river lettuce is being destroyed. With the destruction, the piranha babies no longer have their safe haven from predators, and there becomes a missing link in keeping the mosquito population in balance. If the numbers of mosquitoes escalate, there is the increased likelihood of diseases. Diseases with the possibilities of spreading worldwide. Our world is immensely interconnected.
We have yet to truly explore Planet Earth’s healing potential. From less than five percent of Earth’s life forms, we have created approximately 55 percent of our pharmaceuticals. They have been derived from, synthesized, or patterned after natural sources such as fungi, bacteria, plants, flowers, amphibians, and animals. These medicinal products have included chemotherapy medications like vincristine and vinblastine to treat childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease (want to know what turned a deadly childhood cancer into a treatable one?). They are medications to fight diabetes like metformin (Glucophage) and Byetta; statin drugs for cholesterol; blood pressure meds like captopril; antibiotics like penicillin, cephalosporins, and vancomycin; and blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin. Our planet holds infinite potential.
The beauty of integrative medicine is that it combines the best of all worlds of medicine —from chemotherapy, radiation, and pharmaceuticals to meditation, reiki, acupuncture, shamanism, and herbal remedies. Perhaps for most of us, the ultimate in healthcare resides somewhere in between. Perhaps with new perspectives, we will begin to understand and appreciate on deeper levels. Take for example, the Pacific Yew tree. The Pacific Yew tree was once considered a nuisance by loggers who routinely discarded it because it had no commercial value. A National Cancer Institute program, through Research Triangle Institute, isolated a compound (an alkaloid) called paclitaxel from the bark of this tree. Paclitaxel had an amazing, unique chemistry that researchers found to be tremendously powerful in the treatments of cancers like advanced ovarian and breast cancers. This activity was unlike any other treatment in the way that it stopped cancer.
There was a problem though, and that was the difficulty in supplying the raw material. In fact, it was estimated that it would take 62,480 trees to yield enough paclitaxel to treat the 12,000 American women who died of ovarian cancer each year. (1992). Attempts to harvest the compounds failed to yield enough of the active compound. Therefore, it became imperative that scientists re-create the chemistry, or semi-synthetically make it. It became critical that we utilize the best of both worlds. This approach of finding the blueprint in nature and then recreating it in the laboratory has been quite effective in many ways.
Maybe one of the most wonderful and powerful movies about the significance of nature, its cures and the preservation of our environment is the movie, “Medicine Man” with Sean Connery. As in the movie, nature’s secrets are often difficult to find and quite unexpected. The Pacific Yew tree is yet another great example. For you see, it was later discovered that it wasn’t just the bark of the tree that produced the paclitaxel, it was the symbiotic relationship of fungi with the bark, that produced the paclitaxel.
It is vital that we preserve these environments and these cultures. It is imperative that exploration and discovery continue, as it has been proven innumerable times that nature not only holds the secrets, but remains the greatest alchemist and teacher in curing disease, promoting health and healing, and re-establishing balance. And, as nature teaches us, the beauty comes when we unite and work together. Healing Seekers is a non-profit, multimedia project whose mission is to explore the most remote and bio-diverse regions of Planet Earth in search of medical treatments and cures. With the extensive video footage of our expeditions, we are creating entertaining and educational media projects. We are also collaborating to have plants and specimens analyzed in laboratories. Healing Seekers is honored to be a member of this global team devoted to protecting, sustaining, and healing our world.