Ripe Cocao Pod in Basket, Ecuador. Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2009

Featured Medicinal Plants

Some medicinal plants simply loom larger than others, and do more for more people. In this section we identify plants that are of especially high health value, and give you more information on those plants and their uses.

Rhodiola rosea, maca, cocoa, kava, turmeric, tamanu oil and others are especially deserving of extra attention. Think of them as botanical stars in the spotlight. (We've listed them in alphabetical order.)

Euterpe oleracea

The first time I ever tried acai, the fruit was served to me in 1997 as a drink by an Ipixuna Indian woman, when I was living on the Amazon river for a month. Acai, Euterpe oleracea, was as deep purple as any food I had ever seen. In fact, a spill stained a favorite t-shirt of mine forever. I loved the rich flavor of acai, and the energy it imparted, and consumed as much as I could during the course of my time on the river.

“Even without the practices that make Sambazon Acai a highly praised model of sustainable business, the fruit itself is a hands-down winner. Acai is a staple food throughout Amazonia, and that status owes directly to its marvelous flavor.” - Chris Kilham, on Samazon Acai

Withania somnifera

Of all the medicinal plants used in India’s several millennia old tradition of Ayurveda, Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is the most highly prized. Use of the root can be traced back as far as 3,000 years. Ashwagandha is classified as a rasayan, a rejuvenating or life extending agent. The rasayan are the most esteemed of Ayurveda’s herbs, as they imbue the user with life itself. The root of the plant appears in remedies for cough, rheumatism, gynecological disorders, fatigue, emaciation, inflammation, ulcers, sore eyes, and diminished brain function.

“Ashwagandha has been studied as an adaptogen, that class of natural plant agents which enhance overall immunity and build non-specific resistance to various stresses.” - Chris Kilham, on Ashwagandha

Banisteriopsis caapi & Psychotria viridis

Ayahuasca, traditionally administered in special healing ceremonies by highly trained shamans known as ayahuasceros, is sometimes referred to as a hallucinogen. But it is no such thing. For while a hallucinogen produces visual phenomena rooted in the individual psyche, ayahuasca opens up channels to the spirit world, and the drinker/participant bears witness to that landscape. Best to name ayahuasca a sacred plant medicine. For among those with whom the ceremonial healing use of ayahuasca is a way of life, the brew is referred to as “La Medicina,” the medicine.

“If you ask the ayahuasca for healing, it will usually provide what you seek. There are many thousands of cases in which people have been healed of physical, mental and emotional disorders, and many curious cases of recovery from grave and even fatal disorders. There is much to investigate about the healing properties of ayahuasca. A large number of people have been cured of addictions through a few ayahuasca ceremonies, and the cases of post-ayahuasca cancer remission are too numerous to ignore. ” - Chris Kilham

Cannabis species

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years, and is the most widely consumed illicit substance on earth. Originating from northern Asia, cannabis enjoys many hundreds of studies, and shows numerous benefits for health. At Medicine Hunter, we offer information on both the cultural and health uses of cannabis. The criminalization of cannabis is itself a crime, and we advocate the complete legalization of this plant and its use. Cannabis is safer than either tobacco or alcohol, both of which are legal and deadly. Enjoy our articles and segments.

“As state and local laws mutate and change in favor of greater tolerance, perhaps cannabis will find it’s proper place in the home medicine chest.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health

Capsicum annum

The substances that make chilis hot are a group of natural oleoresins called capsaicinoids. These substances account for between 0.1% - 1% of the total composition of a chile pepper. Of these compounds the hottest is capsaicin, which tips the scales at over 16,000,000 Scoville Heat Units. Capsaicin and di-hydrocapsaicin together make up 80-90% of the capsaicinoids found in peppers. The sensation of burning produced by the capsaicinoids is physiologically similar to the sensation of burning caused by heat or fire. The capsaicinoids open cell membranes in a way that allows calcium ions to flood into cells. This triggers a pain signal that is transmitted to the next cell. This same process occurs when cells are exposed to excessive heat. The blazing capsaicinoids are wonders of nature. Only a tiny amount produces an extraordinary sensation of heat. Imagine the surprise of the very first person who ever bit into a chile!

“People don’t eat super hot peppers because they like the sensation of mucous membranes being seared raw. Chile aficionados like the evil little vegetables because they cause the brain to produce profuse amounts of endorphins, morphine-like substances that can alter your mental state significantly, if you get enough going at once.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health

Cocoa (Chocolate)
Theobroma cacao

The rainforest tree from which cocoa originates is Theobroma cacao, which owes its name to the 18th century Swedish scientist Carl von Linne’. The Latin binomial Theobroma cacao means food of the gods. Substantive science now shows that cocoa is very good for us indeed. Cocoa, which is the primary ingredient in finished chocolate, is rich in antioxidant polyphenols, a group of protective chemicals found in many plant foods such as red wine and tea, which have been the objects of scientific investigation for their beneficial influence on cardiovascular health.

“Cocoa and chocolate have emerged as health superstars. This odd turn of events is of course thrilling to cocoa and chocolate lovers.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Fox

Eleutherococcus senticosus

Studies of Eleuthero (aka Wucha’s) effects on human performance conducted in both Russia and China show that Wucha increases human tolerance to a broad range of stress factors, including heat, noise and increased exercise. When taken regularly, Wucha increases work output, endurance, athletic performance and mental alertness. Wucha also shows remarkable protective benefits under conditions of serious oxygen deprivation. Due to its stress -reducing and extraordinary performance-enhancing powers, Wucha is popular among factory workers, athletes, miners, soldiers, deep sea divers and others who engage in physically and mentally demanding tasks and occupations. The effect of the plant upon sexual function is almost taken for granted. In cases of sexual fatigue, wucha restores vigor. In cases of impotence, wucha restores erectile function. The root boosts desire in both men and women. It is widely used as a tonic, in tea and also in small glass ampules filled with extract.

“I would rather have a handful of Wucha (aka Eleuthero) than a cartload of gold and jewels.” - Li Shi-Chen (Famous Chinese Herbalist, late 1500's)

Lycium barbarum

A small red Chinese berry once obscure in other parts of the world has made its way into the US and European markets. That berry is goji. Also known as Chinese Wolfberry, goji is a nutritious snack and a widely used agent in traditional Chinese medicinal formulas for overall health and vitality, liver detoxification, and for improving eye health. The botanical name of goji is Lycium barbarum, and the bush from which this berry derives is cultivated on a very large scale in the Ningxia Autonomous Region of China, right up against the southern border of Mongolia.

“While the traditional claims have yet to be fully corroborated by medical studies, research shows that goji berries do impart health benefits. The compounds in the berries appear to help to normalize immune function, and the berries are unquestionably rich in protective antioxidants.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health

Piper methysticum

Kava enjoys unusual status among health-enhancing plants. For while thousands of herbs may be of potential value to health and well being, kava is one of the very few that you can actually feel. And while it is not possible to faithfully reproduce the exotic atmospheric experience of drinking kava in a tropical paradise, some kava products do in fact deliver the tranquil effects of this beneficial Pacific root.

“I'd say that kava, probably more than any other plant, demonstrated to me how a plant can be at the center of a culture, center of its rituals, and of the lives of the people.” - Chris Kilham, Natural News

Lepidium meyenii

Maca is an annual plant in the mustard family which grows in the highlands of Peru, and is consumed extensively by the people of that region. Maca has been dubbed “Peruvian ginseng,” even though it bears no botanical relation to ginseng. But like ginseng, the root is reputed to increase strength, energy, stamina, libido and sexual function. Chris Kilham is widely known for his sustainability work with maca and the native people of the Peruvian Highlands, where maca is grown. Maca has been cultivated as a life-sustaining substance in the Andes for 2000 years. It is legendary for delivering energy, mental clarity, and enhancing libido.

“Maca was so highly prized by the Inca that at the height of their civilization, it was used as a form of currency.” – Chris Kilham, Fox News

“(Maca) might just cause Chinese New Year’s fireworks in your pants.” - Chris Kilham, CNN

Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola’s potent protective and enhancing activities are due largely to the compounds rosavin, rosin, rosarin and salidroside. The sex-enhancing effects of Rhodiola rosea are likely due to its capacity to reduce body levels of stress chemicals which can impair sexual function. Rhodiola rosea supplements can enhance your overall sense of vitality and strength. The recommended daily dose of Rhodiola rosea extract is approximately 300 milligrams, standardized to at least 1% salidroside, and 2-3% rosavins. You should notice improved mental and physical effects after ten days.

“Every herbalist has their favorite plant. Mine is Rhodiola rosea. Why? Because it improves energy endurance and stamina, it improves mental clarity, it enhances your ability to concentrate, it gives you a great night's sleep even though it's an energizer, it improves sexual function, and it improves your immune system too.”Chris Kilham, Fox News

Schisandra Berry
Schisandra chinensis

Schisandra is the berry of a climbing vine native to northeast China and parts of Russia. It is cultivated in long rows, and harvest takes place at the end of July and the beginning of August. In the current climate of berry crazes, Schisandra could sound like one more fruit to toss into your morning blender drink, but this unusual berry holds a top spot in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its superior medicinal benefits. Schisandra chinensis enjoys millennia of traditional use for prolong life, retarding the aging process, increasing energy, as a fatigue-fighter, and as a sexual tonic. Schisandra also possesses significant protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Thus it helps to maintain healthy cells throughout the body. It is considered one of the most highly protective of all medicinal plants, and the berry is included in many traditional herbal formulas for improving energy and mental health.

“Schisandra, the berry of Schisandra chinensis owes its name Wu Wei Zi (Five Flavored Berry) to the fact that it is sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health

Calophyllum inophyllum

Tamanu oil possesses a unique capacity to promote the formation of new tissue, thereby accelerating wound healing and the growth of healthy skin. This process is known as cicatrization. For this reason, it is a widely used traditional topical aid. In Pacific island folk medicine, tamanu oil is applied liberally to cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites and stings, abrasions, acne and acne scars, psoriasis, diabetic sores, anal fissures, sunburn, dry or scaly skin, blisters, eczema, herpes sores, and to reduce foot and body odor. Tamanu oil is also massaged into the skin to relieve neuralgia, rheumatism and sciatica.

“Tamanu oil is employed by Polynesian women for promoting healthy, clear, blemish-free skin, and is also used on babies to prevent diaper rash and skin eruptions. Here today, gone Tamanu.” - Chris Kilham, on Tamanu

Tongkat Ali
Eurycoma longifolia

Tongkat Ali is a popular folk name for Eurycoma longifolia, a medium size slender tree reaching 10 metres in height. The name Tongkat Ali means “Ali’s walking stick.” Another folk name for the plant is Longjack. Tongkat Ali is native to Malaysia, lower Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia. The root is employed as a traditional remedy for the treatment of malaria, high blood pressure, fevers, fatigue, loss of sexual desire, and impotence. Tongkat Ali enjoys both a long history of traditional use, and a growing body of serious science corroborating its efficacy.

“In the case of Tongkat Ali, we have a safe, natural plant agent which causes the body to produce its own testosterone, thereby boosting sexual desire and function. Tongkat Ali gets to the absolute essence of human sex drive, and improves it.” - Chris Kilham, on Tongkat Ali

Curcuma longa

Among the many medicinal plants that have been well studied is turmeric root. Turmeric is a spice originating from Southeast Asia. Widely used in foods and for cosmetic, and medicinal purposes, turmeric imparts a rich yellow color to curry, and is used by food industry to color cheese, butter and other foods. Turmeric is highly revered in India’s 5,000-year-old system of Ayurvedic medicine, with a history of use for treating respiratory conditions including asthma, allergy, coughs and sinusitis; for liver disorders; for rheumatism; and to heal diabetic wounds.

Natural, plant-based remedies are the most widely employed medicines on earth, more than over-the-counter and prescription drugs. You can relieve pain and do so naturally and safely. For more information, read Turmeric – Kitchen Rx and Curcumin: A BIG Medicine, both on Fox News Health.

“Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric, inhibits multiple inflammation pathways in the body. It is also a potent antioxidant. Some of the benefits associated with curcumin include immune system modulation, protection from oxidative stress, and support for the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health