One reason to protect the Amazon rain forest is that we are still discovering major new drugs there. For thousands of years, people around the world have lived intimately with botanical healing agents and evolved effective healing traditions, and pharmaceutical companies regularly mine the wisdom of ancient cultures in this way. The Mayo clinic has recently revived the healing wisdom of Pacific Island cultures by testing a plant extract described in a 17th century Dutch herbal text for its antibiotic properties. The rise of superbugs means that we constantly need to discover new and powerful antibiotics.

Early results show that extracts from the Atun tree effectively control bacteria that can cause diarrhea, as claimed by naturalist Georg Eberhard Rumpf in the journal he kept in 1650. Researcher Brent Bauer says, “Natural products are invaluable sources of healing agents?consider, for example, that aspirin derived originally from willow bark, and the molecular basis of the anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agent Taxol was derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. So it?s not so far-fetched to think that the contributions of an ancient text and insights from traditional medicine really may impact modern public health.”

Researcher Eric Buenz says, “Our work shows just how much we can learn from [ancient cultures]. But to make the most of what is fast becoming lost knowledge, we have to respect, preserve and work with traditional healing cultures.”

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