Medicinal Plants of the Amazon

Have you ever wondered why so many alternative and health stores tout products that purport to be the Brazilian "secret" to beauty or good health? While the exotic origin may be a top selling point, it is believed South America holds the key to lasting health and youth thanks to their natural resources. The Amazon rainforest, for one, yields a great bounty of plants, herbs and trees used for medicinal purposes.

You could say the Brazilian rainforest is nature's pharmacy. For centuries, its people have utilized the leaves, roots, and bark of various trees and plants to remedy a variety of conditions. Here is just a sample of what the rainforest has to offer in the way of good health:

Cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao): Of course, when we think of cocoa, we hardly associate it with good health, just good taste. While the cocoa tree is known more for the beans it yields, which in turn becomes the chocolate we enjoy, other parts the tree are equally useful. The tribes of the rainforest have been known to use other parts of the tree to treat anxiety and fever, coughing and fatigue. Note, too, that chocolate in its darkest, purest form is rich in antioxidants, good for purifying the blood.

Annatto/Lipstick tree (Bixa orellana): Contrary to what you're thinking, this tree doesn't exactly yield ingredients for lipstick. It gets its name for its bright red fruit, which is somewhat shaped like lipstick. The lipstick tree is known in the rainforest especially for its topical remedies - the plant pigment Bixin, derived from the oil of the plant, is known to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. The Lipstick tree has also been used to treat bug bites and similar skin abrasions.

Papaya (Carica papaya L.): We may be familiar with this tropical fruit, but did you know the roots and leaves of the papaya have been used in tribal medicine as a diuretic for years? Also, an unripened fruit contains a type of sap consisting of Papain, an enzyme believed to relieve indigestion.

The Amazon Rainforest is not only a symbol of natural beauty, but a sound source of good health. When you research what the plants, trees, and herbs of the Brazilian forests have to offer as alternative medicine, you may be amazed. However, take caution before trying anything new; consult your physician if in doubt.