YES Weekly – Healing touch, big medicine

Yes WeeklyBy: Ogi Overman – YES Weekly
Originally Published: August 26,2009. 

If Robert Frost took the road less traveled, Amy Greeson has taken the road, the path, the trail, the river, the stream, the tributary and, in many cases, the way where there was not even a road to take. Her life’s journey has taken her places where no one in Western civilization has gone before. She has taken the road not traveled, both literally and poetically.

And, as with Frost, “That has made all the difference.”And, as with Frost, “That has made all the difference.”

Greeson is a pioneer, but not a Daniel Boone; an explorer, but not a Columbus; an adventurer, but not a Sir Richard Branson. She is not on the vanguard of a movement — she is the movement. One day there will be others — perhaps many others — but as far as she knows, she and her intrepid crew are the first and only. By profession, Amy Greeson is a pharmacist. She followed her dad’s footsteps to UNC, got her degree in that discipline, joined the family pharmacy in Thomasville and began managing her dad’s business. For anyone else, that’s where the story would’ve ended. But, instead, the younger Greeson took her knowledge of traditional medicines, her love of the wilderness and her innate desire to help others and began a transformative journey that led to her forming an organization called Healing Seekers.

The project is dedicated to the discovery of indigenous plants, organisms and esoteric therapies that could one day be synthesized into cures for any number of diseases. Given that most medicines have their origins as organic compounds found in nature, she is convinced that there is a wealth of undiscovered (at least by Western medicine) plants with curative properties in the subtropical rainforests of the world. And she has a wealth of information at her fingertips to back up her claim.

“Only one-half of 1 percent of the higher plant species on earth have been extensively studied for their medicinal value,” she noted. “From less than 5 percent of our natural resources we have derived over 55 percent of our pharmaceuticals.

And over 80 percent of antibiotics are found in nature. What’s more, over 70 percent of the compounds with anti-cancerous properties are tropical.”

Greeson effortlessly recited example after example of drugs discovered in nature: a new diabetes drug formulated from the saliva of the Gila monster, a fungus that suppresses the immune system and makes organ transplants possible, a plant mixture that led to the development of anesthesia drugs, an HIV-1 drug from the bark of a tree found in the Amazon rainforest.

But, regarding the HIV-1 drug, she also told a cautionary tale. “Ethnobiologists from Harvard discovered that a particular tree bark seemed to knock out the AIDS virus,” she said, “but when they went down to the rainforest to get more bark, they found that the trees had all been cut down by loggers making way for development. That’s a truly scary prospect, that we’re losing so much land that is so biodiverse in potential remedies. That’s why Healing Seekers has as its dual goals not only educating people about these indigenous therapies and healing practices, but of preserving the rainforests and similar remote areas.”

Healing Seekers is in essence a six-person documentary film crew that has made expeditions to Ecuador and Madagascar, with three more planned to New Guinea, the Congo and Borneo. The fearless crew consists of producer Grace Kanoy, videographers Esteban Berrera and Kerry Kanoy (Grace’s husband), sound editor Josh Jones and scientist John James. Each trek into the jungle lasts between three weeks and a month, and may cost between $90,000 and $120,000.

“Believe me, we’re not staying in five-star hotels,” she quipped. “We camp and eat granola and do everything we can to cut costs. But it’s expensive, first of all, just to travel with a crew to these regions, and once you get there you have to hire guides and interpreters and get special transportation to get to the really isolated areas. But it’s worth it if it gets us what we need to get.” Once they return with the raw footage (not to mention the indigenous plants, roots, soil and flora), the post-production and editing is done by Sherri McWhorter and Diane Stevio of McWhorter Concepts, based in Greensboro.

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