Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Medicinal Plants in the Rainforest

Medicinal Plants in the Rainforest: There are thousands of rainforest plants used for medicine

- Trumpet tree or Cecropia peltata is widely used in traditional medicine in Central and South America. Every part of the tree is useful. The plant is helpful in treating various diseases which include respiratory illnesses and rheumatism.

- Clavillia or Mirabilis jalapa, a perennial herb which is mainly used to kill viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. This plant offers many active compounds like triterpenes, proteins, flavonoids, alkaloids, and steroids.

- Curare or Chondrodendron tomentosum is a large poisonous vine rich in alkaloids which help in muscle relaxation. The alkaloids are also used as an arrow poison. It is used as an anesthesia and also to treat fever, bruises, edema and kidney stones.

- Suma or Pfaffia paniculata is a large vine which spreads on ground with an extensive root system. It is considered a tonic and an adaptogen which helps the body to resist adverse influences of various factors. Suma root is recommended as an appetizer. It also enhances blood circulation, balances blood sugar levels and improves the immune system, muscular system and memory. Suma root is rich in saponin. (up to 11%). Saponins are beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol and they offer many other benefits too.

- Cocoa tree or Theobroma cacao has more than 150 chemicals in its leaves, seeds, fruit, and bark. Various parts of the tree are used to treat anxiety, fever, fatigue, and coughs. Since hundreds of years, the plant is being used to treat kidney stones and cuts and burns, etc. According to recent researches, polyphenols present in chocolate can prevent heart diseases.

- Annatto/Lipstick tree or Bixa orellana has been used for making things like insect repellent or medicines for lowering blood pressure or even for preparing love potions. Recent researches have approved its use in various medicines and beverages or other useful things. The plant is also used to treat snakebites. Bixin are the carotenoids or the plant pigments, present in the oil of the plant which protects against UV rays. The plant is found beneficial in treating heartburn.
Endangered Plants in the Rainforest: Innumerable number of plants in the rainforest are at the verge of extinction. Orchids, rafflesia, some bamboo species, triunia robusta are some of the examples. According to the statistics available, 23 species are extinct in the wild, 151 species are endangered, 274 species are vulnerable and 688 species are rare. These plants are in danger of extinction in the next 10-50 years unless strict action is taken to reverse their decline. Long-term effects of fire, weeds and pests on plants, grazing pressure from domestic stock and animals such as rabbits, changing fire patterns, the spread of weeds, loss of natural habitat through land clearing for pastoral purposes, urban development and agriculture are the main causes of decline of species.

Rainforests are virtual libraries of chemical invention where drugs like quinine, muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs were found. So many new drugs are still to be discovered. Researches are going on to discover effective drugs for AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's, etc. According to the expert's estimations, we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day, due to rainforest deforestation, which equates to 50,000 species a year. With the disappearance of the species of the plants in the rainforest, human beings could be deprived of many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.

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