The Science & Medicine
of the Rainforest

The importance of the rainforest has long been overlooked. It is only in recent times that the world as a whole has seen and acknowledged its immense significance. Tropical rainforests are home to half the world’s plant species and cover less than 6% of the Earth’s land area.

It has become imperative that all humankind understand the contribution the rainforests and its species make in our lives. Most of us recognize that they provide us with coffee, sugar, fruit and cocoa. We also acknowledge that they provide us with nearly half of our oxygen supply. What is not commonly known is that they help to supply us with a great deal of our pharmaceutical supply. One quarter of the world’s medicines are derived from rainforest plants and 37% of the United States’ prescribed medicines have active ingredients that are derived from the rainforests.

This may not seem like a big deal until you realize how quickly the rainforests are disappearing. Many rainforest species are endemic and once they are lost, they are gone forever. Experts say, each day 137 species are lost to the destruction of the rainforests (Leslie Taylor, 2004). As these species vanish, so do the possible cures they could have offered. Rainforest plants have been used for generations for medicinal purposes. From headaches to malaria, arthritis to leukemia, even in childbirth, medicinal plants have served a great purpose to those suffering.

While western societies have shied away from these remedies and have moved to more advance medicines, developing countries are still largely dependent on traditional medicines, based on medicinal plants and animals, for their primary healthcare. Western society is starting to stop and take a second look at medicinal plants that could help them improve their quality of life.

Rise of Alternative Medicine
in Western Culture

In today’s society, a greater number of people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for their health needs. Harvard Medical School (1997) estimates 50% of U.S. adults 35 to 49 years of age use at least one type of alternative therapy. Between 1990 and 1997, there was an increase in the use of herbal supplements in the United States of an astonishing 380 percent. CAM consists of a number of alternative practices including ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathic medicine, chiropracty, and vitamin therapy.

Why is there such a strong interest in CAM? Conventional medicines hold a valuable purpose for emergency medicine, but people are finding it lacking for long term care and prevention. CAM requires a patient to take an active role in their health, in contrast to conventional medicine’s passive role. In total, 80% of the world’s people are finding their basic health care outside the hospital and with some form of alternative medicine.

alternative medicine