Forest medicines / Poetra RH
Forests are a vital source of medicinal plants for both traditional and modern healthcare systems.
Glossy-leaved tree with pink blossoms / Poetra RH
March 21, 2023
Category : General news

Approximately 80 per cent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines to meet their primary healthcare needs. Similarly, modern medicine often depends on compounds sourced from nature. For instance, half of all anti-cancer drugs introduced since the 1940s are either natural products or their derivatives.  

Research has shown that the success rate of discovering new drugs is higher when components are sourced from nature, and when drug candidates are based on Indigenous knowledge. Globally, 25 per cent of drugs used in modern medicine are derived from rainforest plants, many of which might still be unknown if not for the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples. Here are some examples:

  1. Quinine, used to treat malaria. Isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree, it was long used as traditional medicine by the Quechua people in the Andes.
  2. Physostigmine, used to treat glaucoma. Isolated from calabar beans, it was used by the natives of tropical forests in Africa.
  3. Cortisone, used in birth control pills. Came from wild yams found in tropical rainforests of South America, where it was used by native Americans as traditional medicine.
  4. Tubocurarine, a muscle relaxant used in surgery. Derived from curare lianas found in Amazon rainforests, it was originally used by Indigenous Peoples as poison to coat arrow tips.
  5. Vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat pediatric leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease. Derived from the rosy periwinkle, a plant used by traditional healers and found in the rainforests of Madagascar.
  6. Calanolide A, an anti-HIV compound. Derived from a rare tree species found in the tropical rainforests of Sarawak, Malaysia.
  7. Calanolide B, another anti-HIV compound.

Using local medicinal plants has always been part of Indigenous cultures. But due to forest degradation, acculturation, and rural-urban migration, new generations are losing this traditional knowledge. Interestingly, forest certification can help preserve Indigenous knowledge and, in turn, increase our chances of novel drug discovery.

Certification has often proven equal to, or even more effective than, legislation to protect species, habitats, and culture, as pressure from the market is often stronger than from governments. FSC forest certification standards help protect the rights of Indigenous peoples, their resources, and traditional knowledge.

Quinine bark close-up / Likit Supasai