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In Memoriam: Nicole Maxwell 1906-1998.
Nicole Maxwell, seeker of medicinal plants in the Amazon, former debutante, dancer, and artist's model, died in a nursing home in West Palm Beach, Florida in May. Maxwell, who became fascinated with native medicines on a 1947 trip into the Ecuadorian jungle while on a visit to Quito, Ecuador, spent 12 years running the first shoestring tourist service in Lima, Peru. She subsequently made dozens of trips into the remotest regions of the upper Amazon, befriending the local Indians and slowly learning the secrets of their vast medical lore. In 1958 she obtained a small grant from a drug company and made a special expedition to obtain samples of the medicinal plants she had been cataloging. She discovered what she felt was a variety of highly effective contraceptives and other botanicals used by the Indians to prevent tooth decay, dissolve kidney stones, heal burns, and cure or prevent many other maladies. Maxwell found out later, much to her disgust, that the company had no intent ion of researching the botanicals, but used her findings as a publicity stunt. Hoping to salvage some of her work, she wrote Witch Doctor's Apprentice, published in 1961 and reprinted in 1975 and in 1990. She returned to South America and continued her research until 1986, eventually collecting more than 350 plants used to treat more than 100 common ailments. She continued her work compiling a manual on Amazon remedies, confident that it would be recognized by mainstream science. "As soon as I'm gone," she said, "they'll come running."

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Barbara A. Johnston