It’s no secret that trees and plants have healing properties. For centuries, people around the world have been using healing remedies from leaves and bark to treat illness and infection.
- The Australian Aborigines inhaled tea tree leaves to prevent nasal, throat and chest congestion, grinding it into a paste to relieve burns and skin infections.
- In India, extract from a shrub called Rauwolfia provides an antidote for snake bites and insect stings. It was even discovered to treat hypertension and mental disorders.
- Native to North America, Birch trees possess concentrations of salicylic acid, the predecessor of aspirin.
Trees are also sources of a wide variety of medicines. Non-timber forest products include familiar things like mushrooms and ginseng, as well as more than 120 distinct chemicals derived from plants that are used in a variety of drugs.
- Anti-cancer drugs based on Taxol come from the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) of the Pacific Northwest.
- Theophylline, a drug used to treat asthma, comes from the plant Theobroma cacao, found from southeastern Mexico to the Amazon basin.
The National Cancer Institute says that more than two-thirds of all cancer-fighting drugs come from rainforest plants and more discoveries of these types of plants are made each year. Recently, scientists found a compound in the needles of the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) that can be used to fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection that kills thousands of people every year.
Although many drugs that come from trees have been replaced by more potent synthetic versions, trees do remain a source for ingredients. It is truly amazing that the same trees we swing from can have so many other benefits. In the great words of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” And trees can become almost anything!