Rainforest Plants Used to Cure Disease

The rainforests and the many species of plants and trees that are native to them have proved to be a treasure trove of medicinal plants and compounds. Long recognized by peoples indigenous to the rainforest regions, these plants have radically changed the way we treat diseases in the modern world.

  1. Cancer

    • Camptotheca acuminata

      Cancer treatment has been greatly enhanced by rainforest medicines. According to the National Cancer Society, 70 percent of the plants with anti-cancer properties are native to tropical rainforests. The majority of chemotherapy medications are made from plants that exist only in the tropical rainforest. The Madagascar periwinkle, also called the vinca, produces vinca alkaloids used to treat Hodgkins lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. Topotecan and irinotecan are made from the Camptotheca acuminata tree. Topotecan is used mainly for ovarian cancer therapy, while irinotecan is used for metastatic colorectal cancers. Etoposide and teniposide are synthesized from epipodophyllotoxin, which comes from the Mayapple.

    Heart Disease

    • Strophanthus

      People suffering from heart disease and hypertension also benefit from medications derived from rainforest plants. Hypertension is often treated with reserpine, which is made from rauvolfia. Heart disease is often treated with digoxin, which is made from foxglove, and oubain, which comes from the ripe seeds of the stropanthus plant. Extracts from the khella plant are made into medications to treat angina, and aspirin was originally manufactured from the bark of a willow tree found in the rainforest.

    Skin Diseases

    • There are also a number of skin diseases that are treated with rainforest plant-based medications. Dithranol, which is made from the araroba tree, is used as a salve for psoriasis. Cat's Claw, sarsaparilla and pau d'Arco also produce compounds that are used to treat eczema and psoriasis.


    • While malaria is not as much of a threat as it has been in past years, it is still a concern. One of the main treatments for malaria is quinine; this medication is made from the bark of the cinchona tree. However, modern medicine relies more on other drugs to treat malaria now, so quinine is not in as much demand and is used only rarely for malaria.

    Other Potential Medications

    • Licorice root

      In addition to the plants mentioned above, there are a number of additional plants that are currently being tested. The licorice plant root is showing promise for treatment of Addison's Disease/Cushing's disease, and the velvet bean is being looked at as a possible treatment for Parkinson's Disease. Also, Calanolide A from the Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum tree, and Michellamine B, which is derived from a liana vine, Ancistrocladus korupensis, show great promise for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

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  • Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

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