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The evolution of traditional medicine

From shamans and witches to contemporary use of medicinal plants and health tourism, Stephen Mortlock looks at traditional medicines through the ages.

Seeking relief from pain is a common instinct to both man and animals, for example chimpanzees in Gombe national park in Tanzania eat the leaves of a plant called Aspilia rudis, which is not part of their usual diet, yet they seek them out and carefully eat the spiky leaves. Interestingly, local herbalists use extracts of the same plant for stomach upsets as it demonstrates both antibacterial and anti-parasitic activities. Capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica rub their fur with leaves from the Piper plant (Piper fimbriulatum), a member of the chilli family that contains compounds like germacrene A and D (C15H24) that deaden pain and kill off insects. They also rub their fur with millipedes, which make toxic chemicals known as benzoquinones (C6H4O2) that keep other insects away, as well as killing bacteria.

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Image Credit | Wellcome-Collection 



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