I started my own company, focused on bringing indigenous treatments back home and sacrificed my time, energy, and savings to pursue a life devoted to researching plants and specimens and creating educational videos.
Through my journey, I’ve been amazed by the strong and effective treatments routinely used by indigenous people — natural remedies for everything from infections and arthritis to depression and diabetes.
I dream of a world where some of these treatments, which have been used safely and effectively for generations, are respected as much as our present-day clinical trials. Though I don't think they should completely replace our current health care system, these healing modalities can be used harmoniously with modern medicine to create healthier and more mindful communities.
Here are a few of the amazing takeaways on natural medicines I've learned firsthand on my recent travels:
1. They don't need to be cleaned or packaged.
In Madagascar, a healer I was traveling with pointed to a bush about 7 feet high. Reaching as far as he could to the top of the plant, he gently cut a section off with his machete and squeezed until a small amount of liquid emerged from its opening. He allowed the clear sap to slowly drip onto his index finger, and then placed it in the corner of his right eye. It was a simple treatment, and he claimed that after a few days, the sap would get rid of any eye irritation or infection.
Even though many people (including me!) would consider the bush dirty and unsanitary, its vines produce potent medicine that has safely treated individuals for generations. Nature surprises with its gifts, as some of the most incredible discoveries come from the most unlikely places. Without any preservatives or sterile methods, the medicine is as clean and effective as any product in a pharmacy.
2. Their growth patterns are meaningful.
When my team was in Papua New Guinea — a diverse island territory off the coast of Australia — a healer pointed to a tree nestled in a large open field and simply said, “snakebite.” It turns out that the tree’s bark was the antidote to one of the area's most deadly snakes. It was amazing to learn that the venomous snake thrived in the same area as the medicine used to combat it. Finding natural treatments so close to their culprits is actually not unusual — a plant that causes horrific skin reactions may have a remedy just a few feet away.
3. They double as food and medicine.
The achachairu fruit of Bolivia is a small, egg-shaped fruit that’s been part of the local diet for hundreds if not thousands of years. It's sweet, tangy, and full of potassium, folate, and antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene. Though delicious to eat, the benefits from the fruit extend far beyond its pleasing taste and nutritional value. It can also be used as a remedy for fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, blackheads, and acne blemishes.
4. They prove the importance of conservation.
Many fungi have made significant contributions to our world of Western medicine, so, on a trip to Papua New Guinea, my interest was piqued once I came across a local mushroom species. But there were limited amounts of the mushrooms available for study, which meant limited research. This served as a poignant reminder that it’s imperative to protect our natural environments. Every lost species is also a potential lost treatment or cure.
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