The American Botanical Council sponsored the Austin Herb Society’s “Health from the Rainforest” seminar featuring Leslie Taylor at the Zilker Botanical Gardens on Saturday, February 12, 2005. The morning began with a delicious array of food samples with rainforest origins such as chocolate, coffee, yerba maté, cashews, Brazil nuts, and many others. With sounds of the Amazon rainforest emanating from a CD player in the background, the mood was set for the talk on Amazonian medicinal plants.
Taylor began her presentation with background information on her life and how she became interested in herbs. She spoke about her personal connection to the Amazon, its people and animals, and the role herbal medicine played in saving her life. Suffering from a rare, acute form of leukemia that conventional medicine could not cure, she sought alternative cancer therapies. After working with a traditional Chinese healer, Taylor decided to conduct her own research into what alternate resources were available for the treatment of cancer. She learned about cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa [Willd.] DC, Rubiaceae), which led to her work with Amazonian plants. Taking the research to another level, she started Raintree Nutrition, Inc. Raintree products include more than 80 plants from the Amazon rainforest that Taylor says are grown and harvested sustainably by the indigenous people. During the seminar, Taylor provided overviews of some of the herbs she works with such as graviola (Annona muricata L., Annonaceae), all parts of which have a long history of use by the indigenous people of the Amazon, and the leaf of which has been studied in vivo for its hypotensive, uterine stimulant, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antioxidant, antiulcer, and serotonin receptor binding activity.1 She also discussed rainforest plants that grow well in central Texas including (1) Kalanchoe pinnata (Lam.) Pers, Crassulaceae, commonly known as life plant for its propensity for forming offsets, or pups, in its leaf margins, and (2) Hamelia patens Jacq., Rubiaceae, which is commonly known as scarlet bush, Mexican firebush, or just firebush. The K. pinnata leaf has demonstrated antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity.2,3 Scarlet bush leaf extracts have demonstrated anti-inflammatory,4 analgesic, diuretic, and hypothermic actions in vivo,5 as well as antifungal and antibacterial activity in vitro.6-8 ABC staff and interns grew the life plant (from leaves provided by a previous ABC visitor) and sold them at the event. Interns also made a topical oil of the scarlet bush, jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis [Link] C.K. Schneid., Simmondsiaceae) oil, and copaiba (Copaifera spp., Fabaceae) oil to offer to attendees.
Approaching medicinal plants from political, economic, and social perspectives, Taylor offered insight on the difficulties of operating an Amazonian herbal company in the United States, managing sustainable cultivation and harvesting of plant resources, and the relationship Raintree has with the indigenous people of the Amazon. After her presentation, Taylor autographed her newly-released book, The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs: A Guide to Understanding and Using Herbal Medicinals.1
Among the diverse displays that were part of the seminar were handcrafts from the Amazon including: a box constructed of laminated cross-sections of vines made by orphans in Brazil; carvings of tagua nut (Phytelephas aequatorialis Spruce and Phytelephas macrocarpa Ruiz. and Pav., Arecaceae), which are a sustainable vegetable alternative to ivory; a short carved stool, which the Amazon natives carry with them to sit on when visiting others; and a small container made from an orange peel turned inside-out. There was also a rainforest recipe contest with entries featuring mangoes, papaya, guava, and chocolate. ABC is grateful to Ms. Taylor for the donation of her time, energy, and knowledge, and to Wisdom Natural Brands for their generous contribution of herbal teas for the event.
— Lan Truong, ABC Intern
1. Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
2. Shirobokov VP, Evtushenko AI, Lapchik VF, Shirobokova DN, Suptel EA. Antiviral activity of representatives of the family Crassulaceae. Antibiotiki. 1981;26(12):897-900. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
3. Rai MK, Upadhyay S. Screening of medicinal plants of Chindwara district against Trichophyton mentagrophytes: a causal organism of Tinea pedis. Hindustan Antibiot Bull. 1988:30(1/2):33-36. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
4. Sosa S, Balick MJ, Arvigo R. Screening of the topical anti-inflammatory activity of some Central American plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;81(2):211-215. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
5. Esposito-Avella M, Brown P, Tejeira I, et al. Pharmacological screening of Panamanian medicinal plants. Part 1. Int J Crude Drug Res. 1985;23(1):17-25. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
6. Misas CAJ, Hernandez NMR, Abraham AML. Contribution of the biological evaluation of Cuban plants. VI. Rev Cub Med Trop. 1979;31:45-51. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
7. Camporese A, Balick MJ, Arvigo R, et al. Screening of anti-bacterial activity of medicinal plants from Belize (Central America). J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;87(1):103-107. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
8. Lopez Abraham AN, Rojas Hernandez NM, Jimenez Misas CA. Potential antineoplastic activity of Cuban plants. IV. Rev Cubana Farm. 1981;15(1):71-77. In: Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.