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The Tragedy of
Hidden Jungle Knowledge

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page A7 in the March 10, 2010 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

On the Amazon River
View of spectacular Machu Picchu, Peruvian Andes Dr. Kujtan atop Machu Picchu, Peru
Dr. Kujtan atop Machu Picchu, Peru

There is a romantic idea about the Amazon jungle containing answers to all human disease. Watching "Tarzan" movies as a child imprinted images of what a "jungle" might be on me, but actually traveling through a jungle injects brutal reality into those childhood memories.

The rate of rainforest destruction is shocking and should be of greater concern to us all. Despite the existence of a traditional medical structure, I was surprised to find people relying on jungle shamans in the highlands of Peru. This is probably more likely a result of poverty than belief. Medication is expensive and so is travel to a hospital.

The Shamans are simply locals who have inherited a good knowledge of plants and insects and how they can be used to treat various maladies. Some treatments are simple and straightforward such as drinking "Cocoa" tea from the cocaine family to ward off fatigue and hunger, or inhaling the frangrance of "Mucha" plants to aid breathing problems. Digestive problems seem to be a common complaint and there are numerous concoctions to treat them.

We have a historical perspective on jungle medicine. The arrival of European conquerors in the 16th century introduced new diseases such as measles, smallpox and influenza. Shamans were helpless against the new scourges despite their knowledge of jungle medicine. Study of ancient mummies also suggests South America had endemic syphilis, tuberculosis and cancers. Infections such as malaria, chagas, and yellow fever continue to afflict locals. No wonder, outside of larger centers, there is still mistrust of preventive measures such as immunizations. Many children go without - despite available programs.

It seems contradictory that we in the developed world continue to find new treatments amid the depths of others' poverty. The Amazon is the richest area of diversity on the globe. Locked within it are undiscovered mechanisms regulating plant and animal life that could enrich the health of humans. I am truly saddened that I may be one of a generation who will be the last to witness the Amazon jungle. The loss of this hidden knowledge base containing cures and remedies should be a global priority.

Related resources:

Note: A number of Shamanism tours and workshops have sprung up as more people are interested in learning about the healing powers of herbal medicine in the Amazon.

Amazon Rainforest from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A journey to the Amazon Rainforest for healing. Jungle medicine - David von Ava's story about his journey to Amazon rainforest in May / June 2009 to study shamanic healing tradition of Chayahuita tribe.

Welcome to the Rainforest - Pharmacy to the World from Raintree Nutrition.

Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Ayahuasca Traditional Medicinal: The Amazon - Peru.

● Book Review: The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs: A Guide to Understanding and Using Herbal Medicinals by Leslie Taylor. "A guide to over seventy rainforest botanicals and their uses. Rainforests contain hundreds of plants - over half the planet's vegetation - and for centuries tribal shamans have used these plants as health remedies."

● Book Review: Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism by Stephen Harrod Buhner. Buhner "looks at the long-standing relationship between indigenous peoples and plants and examines the techniques and states of mind these cultures use to communicate with the plant world... For each healing plant described in the book, Buhner presents medicinal uses, preparatory guidelines, and ceremonial elements such as prayers and medicine songs associated with its use ... first in-depth analysis of how the Native Americans communicated with the plant world to heal human ailments."

Large Amazon Forest Reserves Crucial for Species Survival.

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