Anthropology

Could ancient remedies hold the answer to the looming antibiotics crisis?

“Botanical medicine, Quave learned, not only predates civilization — it is older than humanity itself. Our earliest human ancestors continued such traditions, and until relatively recently, plants were our primary source of medicine. Although ethnobotany and the longstanding co-evolution with plants that preceded it have provided us with some of our most essential medicines, their purified and generic final forms are so divorced from their origins that most of us are oblivious to this immense botanical debt.”

Ethnobotany offers a few distinct advantages. Instead of relying on random screenings of living creatures — an arbitrary scoop of soil or seawater — it is the only strategy that benefits from a pre-made guide to some of nature’s most potent drugs, honed by thousands of years of trial and error in traditional medicine. And as far as organic drug factories go, it’s difficult to beat the complexity and ingenuity of plants. Plants are nature’s chemical wizards. If a plant finds itself in an unfavorable situation — feasted on by pests, ignored by pollinators — it cannot kick up its roots and relocate. Instead, plants regulate the chemistry of their environment, perpetually suffusing the ground, air and their own tissues with molecular cocktails and bouquets intended to increase their chances of survival and reproduction. Even in the jungle, the dominance of modern Western medicine was overwriting vast stores of knowledge about powerful tonics hidden in surrounding ecosystems. “there is chemical… [interaction] around all of us all the time — in plants. When you’re really embedded in nature, you can see that.”

Original Article (New York Times):
Could ancient remedies hold the answer to the looming antibiotics crisis?
Artwork Fair Use: Leslie Seaton

Initiation into a Living Planet

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