Check out this article about Amazonian medicine, specifically the Caesalpinia pulcherrima. This pretty red and yellow flower holds some powerful medicine, as Western science is just beginning to fully explore. For centuries, it has been used by rain forest tribes for a variety of purposes, from fevers to sores to coughing. The most interesting usage, though, is to induce abortions.
West African slaves used the plant’s brown roots to rid themselves of pregnancies caused by rape, or to save the life of a mother who wouldn’t be able to carry a baby full-term. The article in the Boston Globe gives an overview of how tribes may have figured out the different uses for the plant over centuries of trial and error. They probably used the same scientific method that researchers currently used, it just took them a helluva lot longer to get it all done. Lack of funding can be a bitch.
It’s a well-written article, but I always wince when I read lines like this:
Through their trial and error studies, and some might say over generations of empirical observations, they knew long before we discovered molecular biology that this plant could be used as a medicine.
It strikes me as the same kind of us vs. them thinking that would be immediately looked down upon (rightfully so) if it went the other way (i.e., “they were still chewing plants and dyingÃ‚Â before the age of 40Ã‚Â when we were inventing vaccines”). It’s “pompous scientist” vs. “wise medicine man,” the modern day equivalent of yesteryear’s “civilized man” vs. “savage beast.” It would be nice if the press could just recognize the value of natural remedies like this while acknowledging the further good that can be accomplished with state-of-the-art testing and refinement. It’s not really about “Western” medicine and “African” or “Eastern” medicine, it’s just medicine, and it either works or it doesn’t. Those tribes practiced science to the best of their abilities — let’s use that knowledge and add to it. That’s science, and scienceÃ‚Â has nothing to do with national boundaries or skin tone.
Whew, I’d better stop there before I have everyone start singing We are the World.