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River Scene, Amazon Brazil. Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2007

The Shaman's Pharmacy Workshop
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Amazon Bridge

"We are destroying the world’s greatest pharmacy. It is very important that we protect the rainforest in everything that we do.” - Chris Kilham, NBC Nightly News

You can hear them at night, hard-bitten men wielding snarling chainsaws in the jungle, ripping deep into the heartwood of magnificent old-growth trees, the amplified crashing of the arboreal giants driving to earth, splitting other trees in half in their fall, ripping tons of branches down along the way, smashing to ground with thunder that shakes the roots of all other trees for acres. They log illegally and they log non-stop, grim-faced, bearing rifles and ready to use them, working with spotlights where they cut, dodging poisonous snakes, and loading gigantic logging trucks in the forest darkness, trucks that grind and heave over rutted dirt tracks, some deep in mud, working when it doesn’t rain, working when it does, these huge mechanical beasts with bright headlights glaring far into the deep rainforest green. I have heard them cutting at night, seen them rolling by, men sweating and grimy conveying stacks of giant tree sections chained to battered truck bodies, roaring engines belching great spumes of thick black exhaust smoke, destroying the greatest rainforest on earth. The loggers do this for money. There is no other reason. Somewhere in the dark heart of every man who takes a chainsaw to a massive tree in the Amazon, there is recognition, however much suppressed, that the destruction of the greatest rainforest on earth is morally wrong. Any person who assesses the situation with an informed and sober mind can tell that this is a disaster and disgrace of epic proportions, a spree of sickening slaughter that will go down in history as one of the worst of all wrong-headed human campaigns.

In many parts of the Amazon, the trucks come down in the face of gigantic bulldozers with massive front blades, able to clear acres of primary, virgin rainforest in minutes. Some areas of the forest are chained down, trees felled by the thousands by huge chains dragged between immense tractors. And yet in other areas of the great green Amazon, the forest is simply burned to the ground, thousands of species of plants, insects and animals gone up in roaring flames, by the thousands of acres. Often people ask me “is that still going on?” I’m surprised and horrified that they don’t know, that all of humanity is not vigilant and demanding on this issue. See: Amazon Rainforest Facts.

The Amazon rainforest is the greatest of all forests on earth, home to an estimated eighty-thousand higher plants, home to perhaps millions of types of insects, and a broad array of rapidly diminishing populations of rare and unusual animals. The Amazon rainforest provides twenty percent of the world’s oxygen. It is the most magnificent of all natural places for its rich diversity of life and unrivaled verdant beauty. The Amazon rainforest is home to the mighty Amazon river, the largest of all the rivers on earth, the greatest body of fresh water in all of known history. The great Amazon is also home to many other very large rivers, the Rio Negro, Rio Blanco, Rio Napo, Ucayali to name a few. The Amazon rainforest is home to a last remaining couple hundred thousand native people, scattered throughout the entirety of its boundaries. And the Amazon is home to medicines, perhaps thousands of extraordinarily beneficial plant-derived medicines, some of which are already well known and widely employed, and others yet to be discovered. Given that only an estimated three percent of the plants in the Amazon have been investigated for their potential medicinal value, the forest may easily yield potent cures for AIDS, diabetes, all types of cancer and other major health disorders. This is likely.

This is where I come in. As a medicine hunter, I travel the world in search of beneficial plants that enhance overall health and cure sickness and disease. This work takes me to many natural places, including the Amazon rainforest. There over more than a decade of work, I have had the opportunity to live with native people, to canoe and hike into the forest, to travel many of the Amazon’s rivers, and to learn about medicinal plants and their uses from various herbal experts, including many shamans. A shaman is a person who bridges the spiritual and phenomenal worlds, who possesses healing knowledge, and who enjoys an esteemed place in traditional Amazon native society. The shaman is a doctor, an herbalist, a priest, an advisor, a psychologist, a guide. Even as the developed world is racing away from the healing benefits of nature and into the toxic arms of big pharma, shamans bear precious knowledge of great value to suffering humanity, and employ plants for the treatment of all ills, from colds and hernias to cancer and psychosis.

Over the course of time, I have developed a tremendous love for the Amazon and its people, and an abiding sense of heartbreak at the demise of the forest and its native cultures. On an ongoing basis I work in the Amazon to help develop sustainable projects with medicinal plants. And I am deeply committed to finding ways to protect this rainforest and its indigenous people. Thus this story, The Shaman’s Pharmacy. I would like to share with you what I have seen and experienced. Let me take you on a journey to the great Amazon rainforest and areas nearby, to the land of the shamans, who carry vast medicinal knowledge, and are willing to share their secrets. This is a journey of mind, of heart, of spirit.


About Chris Kilham, Medicine Hunter

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter, author and educator. and has conducted medicinal research in over 20 countries. CNN calls Chris “The Indiana Jones of natural medicine.” Chris is the FOX news Medicine Hunter, writes a weekly feature column for FOX News Health online, and appears on TV in 83 countries, in segments about plant-based medicines.

Chris is Explorer In Residence at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he has taught the popular ethnobotany course “The Shaman’s Pharmacy” since 2000. Chris also conducts botanical educational programs for the natural products trade, and is an advisor to major corporations in the food, beverage, cosmetic, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries worldwide.

Since 1994 Chris has worked, traveled and studied with shamans in Brazil, Peru and North America. He has participated in many dozens of ceremonies, both with and without the ingestion of ceremonial psychoactive drugs. He is experienced with ayahuasca, San Pedro cactus, peyote, coca, and tobacco.

Chris is recognized as a chief in Vanuatu, South Pacific, is known as “Maxipe” which means “black vulture” by the Macuxi indians, and has lived with and visited dozens of native tribes in Amazonia and in other cultures. Shamans in both Brazil and Peru recognize Chris as one of their kind and a bridger of worlds, and have engaged in numerous ceremonies to bolster his energy and support his work with medicinal plants and native cultures.

Chris is the author of fourteen books, including Hot Plants (St Martin’s Press) Psyche Delicacies, and Tales From The Medicine Trail both published by Rodale Press, and Kava, Medicine Hunting in Paradise.

Chris lectures extensively on holistic health and botanical medicines, throughout the United States and abroad. He held the diplomatic post of Honorary Consul to the United States for the Republic Of Vanuatu from 1997 through 2000. Chris has appeared on over 1500 radio programs, and 400 TV programs globally, and has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, Outside, Parade, Boston Herald, Vogue, Natural Health and Men’s Health. An avid body surfer and adventure traveler, Chris is married to artist/activist Zoe Helene, and lives in Western Massachusetts.

For more about Chris, please visit About Chris Kilham.