Chemistry of the Amazon, edited by Seidl, Gottlieb, Kaplan
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Drug discovery of Amazon' s flora has mainly been done by the indigenous people. Amongst the research done by scientists, the plants have mainly been investigated for only one of their biological functions (often cancer-related). It is very difficult to estimate the number of species which may be a medicinal agent. One thing is sure, the indigenous are the most knowledgeable and if we don't catalogue the knowledge of the shamans, the information might be lost forever (difficulty fro the native tribes to maintain their traditions... )
Examples of therapeutic agents discovered through ethnomedical knowledge: mandrake, henbane (yields scopolamine), coca leaf, opium (morphine, codeine), curare (tubocurarine), calabar bean (physostigmine), digitalis (digitalis glycosides), cinchona (quinine). Unfortunately the percentage of drugs derived from plants has steadily decreased in Northern countries and the richness of the biome is still untapped. In developping countries, they remain the main mean of medication.
Possibility of creating team of pharmaceutists to refernce indigenous knowledge with fair remuneration and patent because it is the result of years and years of trial and error. Need for germplasm banks.Possibility of marketing medicinal plants especially now with new interest for more natural products and homeopathy.
Vegetable oils and fats
species with fruits containing glyceride oils. usually plantation unnecessary (sufficiently abundant naturally). some species have been selected by indigenous people and adapted to plantation. Examples: buriti palm (Mauritia flexuosa), tucuma (Astrocaryum) -> red pulp oils (market to be developped)
babacu -> lauric type oil, already commercialized
pupunha or peach palm-> good native specie for propagation in areas which have been cleared
use: ß-carotene in food (buriti, tucuma and piquia oils), base components for cosmetics (from ucuuba fat, butter-like pequia pulp oil and bacaba oil), analgesic and anti-inflammatory creams (andiroba oil), salad oils (pataua pulp-oil).
residues of vegetable oil manufacture. The cellulosic fibres can be converted to digestible food for the ruminants by steam explosion. Oil-cakes (from Brazil nuts and kernels) are good food for non-ruminants.
high-protein native plants: caraparu in wet areas in very big amounts ( near mouth of Jari river). inexhaustible supply of raw material for animal feed
rosewood (need to be planted in disperse manner in natural habitat)
good item for local community production because easy to produce and good price if sold through distributors in retal market. The support from a central chenical laboratory is necessary for quality control (such sceme has been very successful in Bolivia with Canadian IDRC participation).
insecticides and pest control agents
example: Derris roots produces rotenone concentrate which contribute to the insecticidal activity. Could be used on some markets where people don't like the product to be treated with petrochemical derived pesticides. other species: quassia amara (sucking insect control) , carapa (mosquito and chigoe flea repellent). Such a market is estimated to reach a few hundred million dollars!
exudates from the bark of the Amazon trees. they have the function to protect the tree from microbial agents and fungi, so they can be used as microbicidal agents (ex: copaiba oil treats inflammations, acts as skin antiseptic; the resin from Vismia species must be solved in alcohol and will act agains fungal skin infections and on wounds). This market is not profitable right now the way it is organized. There are too many intermediary dealers for the producer to gain enough from the production. Need of direct channel from distributor to retailer.
All these native plants are a great
potential resource for the sustainable development of Amazonia. Some would
need the development of a big market and be extracted on a large scale
with the help of big companies. Others can be harvested on a smaller scale
and sold on local markets. I will use some of these in the buffer zones
of my farm.