Rainforests of South America

The following are a few of the many beneficial herbs found in the rainforests of South America.

Lapacho (Tabebuia avellandedae, and T. impetiginosa). Also commonly known as Pau D'arco, this is perhaps the best known South American remedy available in the U.S. It has been recommended for many ailments, including cancer (esp. Leukemia), candida and a host of other infections, relief of pain in chemotherapy, arthritis, etc. It demonstrates a marked anti-oxidant effect and has been shown to be an effective inhibitor of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. In folklore it is also listed as a diuretic, sedative, decongestant, and hypotensive. It is considered one of the world's great tonic herbs.

Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Another popular South American herb, growing in the rainforests, but. now cultivated in large sub-tropical plantations, is this member of the holly family, renowned for its stimulant and nutritive effects. Yerba mate has been used by natives, especially the Guarani Indians, as a dietary staple during times of drought or famine. They thrive on it due to its high nutritive content. Mate is also used as a treatment for hay fever and asthma and is often combined with lapacho to enhance the action of that herb. The plant is often used to improve digestion, to both curb and enhance the appetite, to combat fatigue, as a cardiotonic, and an immunotonic. Like other xanthine-containing plants, mate's most consistent application is as a mild stimulant. Unlike similar plants (coffee, tea, guarana, kola nut), mate use does not lead to caffeinism, upset sleep, physical tolerance, and adrenal stress.

Guarana (Paullinia cupana). Another xanthine-containing plant, guarana is widely used throughout South America as a stimulant. Certain guarana-based.drinks are also popular in the U.S. and Europe. Considered to be a more powerful stimulant than yerba mate, guarana exhibits properties and side effects more closely aligned with the other caffeinaceous plants.

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata). This is perhaps one of the earliest (1569) rainforest plants to be exported and eventually cultivated in Europe and the U.S. It has always been used as a sedative, to reduce anxiety and tension. It also has a mild analgesic action. Passion flower is a favorite remedy for PMS and insomnia.

Suma (Pffafia paniculata). From the Amazonian rainforest, was introduced to the U.S. market in the mid-to-late 80's. Suma is known as 'Para Toda' by the indigenous people of Brazil, and was labeled 'Brazilian ginseng' by Japanese citizens of Brazil, the latter term giving some clue as to what benefits the consumer might expect to realize from its use. Para Toda, the Portuguese term, apparently means "for everything." Among the claims for Para Toda are these: ap hrodisiac, tonic, energizer, anti-cancer aid, immune enhancer, and diabetic remedy.

Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa). Also known as "Una de Gato" this is the most recent rainforest product to emerge in commercially available quantities. It hails from Peruvian forests. It is currently being touted as a possible remedy for cancer and AIDS, and appears to demonstrate considerable immunostimulant action. Available research is encouraging. Strenuous efforts are being implemented to prevent endangering supplies, a problem that has threatened both lapacho and suma.

Muira Puama (Liriosma ovata). A native folk medicine of Brazil, muria puama is best known as an aphrodisiac. Although it has been known for hundreds of years, its popularity waxes and wanes, and it has struggled to gain a foothold in the U.S. Early Italian research discovered an androgenic action similar to that of yohimbe, but without the side effects that yohimbe is known to possess. Muira Puama is cited in the conservative British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as an astringent and aromatic and reluctantly acknowledges its possible aphrodisiac action. It is recommended in the treatment of dysentery and impotence.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana). The leaf of the stevia plant, a native of rainforest in Paraguay and Brazil, is several hundred times sweeter than sugar, calorie-free, health promoting, completely free of side effects, and poses a great threat to the giants of the artificial sweetener business. For this reason the FDA has banned the import of stevia for many years. Recently, the ban was lifted, probably because some large manufacturer is planning to utilize it in the artificial sweetener industry. Suppliers are still prohibited from making sweetener claims for stevia. At any rate, pure stevia leaf and various extracts of stevia are currently available and make wonderful additions to the diet.

Boldo (Pneumus boldus). Found in Chile and Peru, boldo leaves have been used by indigenous peoples for liver ailments and in the treatment of gallstones. It is recommended by Western scientists as a diuretic, laxative and liver tonic. Boldo comes to the U.S. via certain European manufacturers. It is still not commonly found in our health food stores, but will certainly become more popular in the future.

Cinchona (Cinchona species). The entire modern era of ethnobotany and search for drugs in the world's rainforests began with cinchona, the only source of natural quinine, the original cure of malaria. Quinine was eventually synthesized, but it is still possible to obtain cinchona bark and to use it as an immunostimulant. It not only cures (but does not prevent) malaria, but has antiviral and antipyretic properties. It can also be used to as a tonic and stimulate the appetite, treat headaches, leg cramps and colds.

Jaborandi (Pilocarpus annatifolius). This native of Central and South America is perhaps the only 'true' diaphoretic currently known. Diaphoretics stimulate profuse sweating, usually through the action of glycosides. But in jaborandi, alkaloids have been found that directly and powerfully stimulate the sweat glands and salivary glands. Whereas other diaphoretics require concomitant heat, jaborandi can be consumed cold and still be effective. The drug pilocarpine is derived from this plant, but the action of the whole plant is more effective, and devoid of serious side effects unless consumed in copious amounts.

Papaya (Carica papaya). Papaya, or the pawpaw tree, is the source of the powerful proteolytic digestive enzymes papain and chymopapain.

Ipecac, lpecacuanha (Cephaelis ipecacuanha). Hailing from Brazil, ipecac is principally known as an expectorant, but is also an emetic, and care must be used in its application. Many European doctors still use ipecac as the agent of choice in bronchitis. However, in this country, ipecac is seldom used for this purpose, and other products are rapidly replacing ipecac in all areas of application. Nevertheless, for many decades ipecac was one of our most important medicinal agents.

Coca (Erythoxylum coca). One hesitates to list a plant with dubious reputation and which, as a source of cocaine, is a controlled drug in the U.S., but it should be noted that the indigenous dwellers of the rainforest chew coca leaves on a regular basis to relieve hunger and quench thirst and overcome fatigue, and only rarely become addicted.