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Aztec indian collecting medicinal plants Plants have been used to treat diseases going back at least 65,000 years!
The first known written records of the use of medicinal plants; done by the Egyptians, Aztecs, Incas and Sumerians; date back at least 5,000 years.
Egyptian Ebers Papyrus Civilizations in India and China still relay for a great part, after many thousands of years, on herbal medicine.
Typical Ayurvedic pharmacy Using medicinal plants is not something of the past or old fashioned; on the contrary; the far greater part of the world's population up to this day relies heavily on plant material; herbs and extracts as medicines.
Dried plants for Chinese herbology Matter of fact, at least 25% of today's pharmaceutical drugs still have plant ingredients and/or (synthetic) derivates from these.
Among the 120 active compounds currently isolated from higher plants and extensively used in modern medicine today, 80 percent show a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they are derived.

Chopping down the rainforest The total number of plants worldwide is unknown, new species are still being identified.
There are an estimated 310,000 to 422,000 plant species on earth and many have or may have medicinal applications.
Chopping down the rainforest There is widespread destruction of tropical rainforest ecosystems and extinction of numerous plant and animal species happening at this very moment everywhere on earth; especially in the tropics.
The consequence may be that in the future fewer medicines against diseases such as cancer and HIV are being developed.
In this century, between 94,000 and 144,000 species are at risk of dying out and many of these have not yet been named!
According to a report published recently in the journal Science, between 22 and 47 percent of the world's plants are endangered.
However, botanists have still not compiled and catalogued many plant species.

For many thousands of years plants have been the major source of medicine for mankind.
Many of today's useful drugs find their origins in the earliest medical plant folklore.
Think of quinine (from Peruvian bark), morphine (from opium poppy), atropine (from deadly nightshade) and many others.
China and India for instance, have a very long and old tradition in the use of plants against many ailments and diseases. In the Amazon rainforest, many plants and herbs also have been used for thousands of years to cure, treat and prevent many illnesses and diseases. This continues up to this day.
Modern research also has unlocked many new applications.
Many potent phytochemicals (chemical compounds occurring naturally in plants) have been identified and are used as such in treatments.
Vinca Rosea For instance, this can be seen in the use of the Rosy Periwinkle (Vinca rosea) from Madagascar against childhood leukemia.
Also the use of Taxol (Paclitaxel), derived from the bark from Pacific Yew tree against several types of cancer.
There are many more examples of the use of botanicals in modern medicine such as an enzyme from the Papaya (Carica papaya) that helps to shrink or dissolve ruptured disks in the spine.
Pilocarpine (from the Pilocarpus shrub in the Amazon rainforest) and Arecoline from the Betelnut (Areca catechu) to treat glaucoma. Pilocarpus
Capsaicin from Cayenne pepper (Capsicum fruticosum), to treat the pain of arthritis, shingles and nerves.
Quinine, used as a cure for malaria, is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree.
Curare (from which d-turbocuarine is isolated) and that is used as a general anesthesia and to treat muscular disorders.
Strychnos toxifera The cancer treatment drug Topotecan is extracted from Camptotheca (Happy tree).
The list can go on and on but still too many plants, herbs and fungi are not utilized in mainstream medicine for many reasons.
Using plants and herbs in the treatment of diseases and illnesses is almost universal among emerging markets and third world countries; they often are more affordable than buying expensive pharmaceuticals (refined or synthesized drugs).
Unfortunately, the trend is moving away from natural substances and to rely heavily on synthetic drugs.
A few of the reasons why may be due to the following:
  • In general, pharmaceutical firms are not willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in research for plants it may have difficulty to obtain and of which the content may be medically ineffective.
  • Many traditional medicinal preparations are not of interest to the pharmaceutical industry since they generally cannot be patented.
  • It is sometimes difficult to obtain enough raw materials to produce the drugs.

  • The most important reason though why relatively few plant based medicines have been utilized in main stream medicine in the last 100 years is the fact that patenting plant compounds is very difficult to do.

    However, for a few decades now, there has been renewed (although not general) interest in reusing medicinal plants in western medicine. Some of the reasons can be; the need for alternative treatments for drug- resistant pathogens and the existence of ailments without an effective pharmaceutical treatment.



    PHYTOCHEMISTRY OF PLANTS

    Fruits on the market Plants synthesize an enormous variety of phytochemicals.
    These are all products of the primary metabolism of the plant; the chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism. Plants also synthesize additional components of which the main groups are alkaloids, polyphenols, terpenes and glycosides.
    These are called secondary metabolites; they protect the plant against fungi, bacteria, animals, insects and other hostile plants.
    Vigna inguiculata The medicinal effects of plants are a result of the combination of secondary metabolites that are present in it.
    It is estimated that as many as 10,000 different phytochemicals potentially may affect diseases. Although there are far more, these have not yet chemically been characterized.
    Mangifera indica, Mango There is evidence that certain phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer.
    The phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods can be destroyed or even removed by some processing techniques such as cooking.



    HERBAL MEDICINE

    This medical treatment is based on plants throughout history and this tradition is still practiced up to this day in most parts of the world. Plants are used for medicinal purposes; however, it is not only strictly based on evidence gathered using scientific methods.
    A more scientific approach is done by phytotherapy that works only with modern standards of effectiveness testing herbs and medicines, derived from natural sources.
    Red Ginseng It can be considered as the study on the effects and clinical use of herbal medicines. The medicines used in phytotherapy differ from plant-derived medicines in standard pharmacology.
    In phytotherapy, the complexity of substances from plants is preserved with relatively less processing while standard pharmacology (the working of medicine in the body) focuses on isolating active compounds from plants.
    Traditional phytotherapy is synonymous for herbalism; besides the approach to scientific methods other means such as historical and traditional knowledge, are also incorporated.
    Traditional knowledge can guide the selection of optimal dose, species, time of harvesting and target population.
    Chinese shop Herbalists use extracts from parts of plants, such as roots stems, bark, flowers and leaves but do not isolate particular phytochemicals.
    Pharmaceutical medicine prefers single ingredients citing that the dosage this way can be more easily quantified.
    However, isolating plant compounds may change or destroy the medicinal effect.
    Herbalists often reject the idea of single active ingredients; they argue that the different phytochemicals present in many plants will interact to enhance the therapeutic effects of the plant and dilute possible toxicity.
    The phytochemical interactions and trace components present in plants can alter the drug response (in the body) in ways that cannot be replicated with a combination of a few isolated active ingredients.
    The many phytochemicals in the plants exert therapeutic effects; more than any single compound alone can do.
    Claims of synergy and multi-functionality have been supported by science; synergism plays an important role in therapeutic efficacy of plants.
    In many cases additional substances in the plant, enhance activity of the components actually responsible for this synergistic effect.

    We at TROPILAB make use of all available sources in standard and ethno-pharmacology, modern and traditional phytotherapy for further research and applications of plants and extracts against illnesses and diseases.



    MEDICINAL PLANTS IN SURINAM

    Being an intrinsic part of the Amazon rainforest, many of the indigenous plants from Surinam can also be found in the greater part of the other countries of this largest, still existing, forest of the world.
    However, due to large floods of immigrants from other parts of the world, many plant species not indigenous to this country are now also growing abundantly in Surinam.
    In this website we describe how plants from Surinam can be utilized and applied in the treatment of many illnesses and diseases.
    Traditional Surinam medicine (locally called Oso Dresi), includes for the most part native Amazonian elements, but also imported ones, like those from Africa and Southeast Asia namely India and Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia).
    Many plants used in traditional medicine from India (Ayurvedic medicine) and Indonesia (Jamu) are part of the Osodresi. There is growing interest in Surinamese medicine since the country is virtually located right in Amazon rainforest which is home to an immense biodiversity of plants, animals, amphibians, insects and fungi.
    From the movie Medicine man The traditional use actual means that countless trial-and-error tests have been conducted over the centuries by South American Indians and Maroons. All this points the way to natural therapeutic use of plants.
    Indigenous uses of plants by Surinam traditional healers (shamans), have a high success rate and as such often lead to unexpected leads for further research.
    Present research of plants, used for ages as medicine, brings more and sometimes unexpected results and application to light.
    However there is no magic bullet for diseases as is suggested in the film Medicine man with Sean Connery but rather hard work and scientific research.
    There are more than 1,200 plants that are used against numerous diseases and most of those plants have more than one working.



    THE AMAZON RAINFOREST

    The vast Amazon rainforest Pyllanthus amarus Let us now embark on a tour through the Amazon rainforest and check on some of the plants used for a wide array of illnesses and diseases.
    We will find humble plants such as Chanca piedra (Phyllanthus species) growing abundantly in the plain costal area to lianas (woody vines), to the mighty Kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra).
    Ceiba Pentandra, Kapok tree These plants are all employed in phytotherapy; Chanca piedra is used against liver and kidney ailments as well urinary tract and bladder infections. Moreover, it works excellent against hepatitis.
    Monkeyladder Lianas such as Abuta (Cissampelos pereira) and Dobrudua (Strychnos melinoniana) are used respectively against women's ailments and as an aphrodisiac.
    Cissampelos pereira The biggest tree of the Americas, the Kapok tree, used against fevers, dysentery and venereal diseases.

    There are a number of dangerous tropical diseases* such as malaria and leishmaniasis.
    Against the malaria, Surinam bitterwood (quassia amara) can be used and for the latter one Mullaca (physalis angulata) and Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) are available.

    Tropical almond red leaves And than there are also not indigenous medicinal plants originally from South-east Asia, such as the Tropical almond (Terminalia catappa), which are now growing abundantly in Surinam. An extract from the fallen red leaves can be successfully used again liver ailments such as cirrhoses. Banaba (Queen flower) leaves The leaves extract of the Banaba (Lagerstroemis speciosa) is applied against diabetes, obesity, gout (acute inflammatory arthritis) and hyperlipidemia (high fat levels in the blood).

    The list goes on and on but for the sake of readability the scope of the plants to be discussed has to be limited though.


    *Tropical diseases encompass all diseases that occur solely, or principally, in the tropics. In practice, the term is often taken to refer to infectious diseases that thrive in hot, humid conditions, such as malaria, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, Chagas disease, African trypanosomiasis, and dengue.
    (from the W.H.O website)

    Malaria

    Anopheles albimanus mosquito Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in the world up to this day; The WHO (World Health Organization) says that in 2010 there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria, resulting in 660,000 deaths – 1.2 million deaths. Many of these were children in Africa.
    Malaria is endemic in a broad band around the equator, in areas of the Americas, many parts of Asia, and most parts of Africa.
    Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease and is caused by a parasite. The most deadly of these is known as Plasmodium falciparum.
    Simarouba officinales The symptoms are fever, chills, and flu-like illness; if left untreated; patients may develop severe complications and even die.
    Malaria can be prevented and it is treatable. The most effective medicines against this disease are the natural ones.
    The Amazon rainforerest has many plants that are effective in treating malaria.
    A few are: Mullaca, Pao Pereira, Quassia, Simarouba, and Spanish cedar.

    Dengue and Chikungunya

    Aedes aegypti mosquito Dengue fever is a tropical disease caused by the dengue virus.
    This virus (Flavivirus) is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species).
    Euphorbia hirta Dengue fever occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical regions; it is common in warm, wet areas.
    The number of cases of dengue fever is between 50 and 528 million people infected yearly. Carica papaya It can cause mild to severe flu-like symptoms and in severe cases this disease can be fatal.

    Cymbopogon citratus Chikungunya is an infection caused by the Chikungunya virus.
    This disease is transmitted in the same way as dengue fever to humans by the virus-carrying Aedes mosquitoes.
    Rodents are also a viral reservoir for this disease; it differs from that of dengue which has only humans and nonhuman primates (monkey’s and apes) as hosts. The common symptoms of this virus infection are fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.
    Most people start to feel better after 7 to 10 days but some people will develop longer term joint pain.

    Natural ways to treat these diseases are with plants that increase the dwindling platelet count of the blood (Thrombocytopenia), without notable effects in red blood cell and white blood cell counts.
    Some of these plants from the Amazon rainforest are: Asthma weed (Euphorbia hirta), Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), and Papaya (Carica papaya).

    Besides the above mentioned tropical diseases, there are others that are still neglected and for many the mainstream western medicine has no real answer to.
    However, medicinal plants and herbs are available and they can be successfully applied. Besides the ones mentioned above; a few other are: Trachoma and Onchocerciasis (river blindness).


    This database also contains information about medicinal plants originally from South-east Asia, which are now growing abundantly in Surinam.


    The story of Quassi
    Kwasimukamba Kwasimukamba or Graman (Grand chief) Quassi, also called Quacy, Kwasi and Quasi, (1692 - 1780) was a celebrated Surinamese healer, and botanist. His roots were among the Akan people of present day Ghana; as a child he was enslaved and brought to Surinam in the New World. He learned indigenous medicine from Indians in the Amazon rainforest and had according to the slaves the means and magic powers to heal. He was very often directly consulted, not only by the slaves, free blacks, and Indians but also by the white elite and European colonists for their illnesses.
    His advice was also sought from Europe, from where he received letters addressed to him as: "The most honorable and most learned gentleman Master Quassi, professor of herbology".
    He worked as a renowned healer and did this with such success that he got his freedom. He became a rich man who owned a large plantation.
    Quassia amara One of his most successful remedies was an extreme bitter tea that he used to treat infections by intestinal parasites; malaria and fevers. This was based on the extract of the plant Quassia amara which Carolus Linnaeus, the famous Swedish botanist, named after him, as the discoverer of its medicinal properties.
    Carolus Linnaeus He was sometimes referred to as "Professor of Herbology in Surinam" and was presented to Prince Willem V of Orange, Stadtholder (chief executive) of the Dutch Republic, in The Hague in 1776.
    From the mid-18th century Quassia amara began to appear in western pharmacopeia. Quassia is still used today; as a natural insecticide, in herbal medicine and as an additive in the food industry.


    (Chapter one)

    Persistent health problems at the start of the 21st century

    It is obvious that many health problems still exist today and there is a need for newer, more effective drugs with far less dangerous side effects that the flood of drugs, many with exotic commercial names, that are used today.
    They also work more on the symptoms than on the root cause of the (health) problem. There is an urgent need to utilize plants, fungi and molds that were used for centuries by traditional healers.

    However there are unfortunately also other factors to take into account such as the state of the health care systems in the developed world (rich countries) and Third World (poor countries). Both face major but different challenges.
    Even in the most developed countries, such as the USA, access to quality care is outrageous expensive, while in the Third World many people have no access to whatever system at all.
    Partly due to this reason, epidemic and pandemics often starts in underdeveloped countries in Africa.
    The rapid growing world population, especially in the Third World, is also a very worrying situation that needs to be addressed.
    People in these countries are for a great part only served by local healers working with medicinal plants and herbs gathered in the vicinity from where they practice.

    Other specific problems such as the overuse of antibiotics resulting in resistance of bacteria against these are another world-wide problem.

    Antibiotics
    Ancient healers were keenly aware of certain substances having antibiotic properties; however they did not understand what caused infection.
    It was not until the start on the 19th century that mankind knew that bacteria were the culprit.
    One of the first natural medicines was used by the ancient Egyptians. It was a mixture of lard, honey and lint that was pressed into wounds.
    Enzymes found in the honey converts glucose and oxygen together into hydrogen peroxide, a very well known disinfectant. We now know that Honey also kills the bacteria by drawing water out of them.
    In the Dark Ages in Europe, moldy bread was used on wounds to heal or prevent infection. The use of mold was also practiced in China and India. Penicillin, one of the first modern (natural) antibiotics was isolated from a piece of moldy bread. This "discovery" did not happened until 1928.




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