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Health Benefits of Amazon Rainforest Herbs

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Lisa Lambson • updated: 6/27/2011

The plants growing in the Amazon Rainforest have traditionally understood and scientifically validated health benefits. This introduction to a series on individual herbs provides basic information about Amazon herbs and a summary of the herbs in the series.

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    Amazon Herbs

    According to the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER), the Amazon Rainforest is home to almost half of the world's animals, plants, and insects. It has critical impact on the global climate, and is known as the "lungs of the planet" due to the large percentage of oxygen generated by the Amazon plants. About 25% of pharmaceuticals, including 70% of anti-cancer drugs, are based on rainforest botanicals.

    These plants are growing in a pristine natural environment, away from the pesticides, pollution, and destructive agricultural practices that affect most of the plants we grow for food and medicinal purposes. The soil is incredibly fertile and in some areas is constantly renewed by seasonal alternations of flooding and drying.

    The deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest primarily for lumber, grazing, and monoculture crop growing threatens this environment. Fortunately as we begin to realize that it is more valuable kept alive and sustainably harvested for its herbs and fruits, the likelihood of saving it increases. (One company, the Amazon Herb Company, was highlighted in a recent Cousteau special as a model of the type of eco-commerce that can make a difference in this region.)

    Thus by using these botanicals, we can derive great health benefits for ourselves, as well as benefiting the indigenous communities in the Amazon Rainforest and contributing to its survival. The herbs are most effective in their natural form, not in individual chemical extracts or overly processed supplements. Many of them have broad activities that span multiple body systems. Many are also considered adaptogens, meaning that they help the body to function under stress, and help to mediate body systems to bring them into balance. (This is in contrast to prescription medicines, which often can go too far and take the body out of balance in the opposite direction.)

    Here is a very brief summary of some key Amazon herbs and their benefits. Each herb's name links to a separate article with detailed information about it.

    Chanca Piedra (Quebra Pedra)

    Chanca piedra or quebra is known as "stone breaker" for its benefits in dealing with kidney stones and gall stones.

    Jatoba

    Jatoba is highly antifungal and thus has health benefits that include both topical and internal applications.

    Maca

    Maca is known as "Peruvian ginseng" and is renowned for its effects on sexual health and fertility.

    Sangre de Drago (Sangre de Grado)

    Sangre de drago or sangre de grado is highly antioxidant. It is used by indigenous communities for wound healing, and it has a vast array of benefits when taken orally and when applied topically.

    Suma

    Suma is called "para todo" due to its unusually broad array of health benefits. It acts as an aphrodisiac and helps with cardiovascular function, among other actions.

    Uña de Gato

    Uña de Gato or Cat's Claw is perhaps best known for its immune support function, but it has many other uses.

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