Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
An herb from the rainforest may seem more exotic than one from an American or European environment, but that’s not the only difference. Because of its diversity, the rainforest produces herbs that are naturally more potent healers.
“More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals, and insects live only in the tropical rainforests, which make up about 15 percent of the planet,” says Leslie Taylor, ND, author of Avenca: Nature’s Secret for Weight Loss and other books about rainforest herbs. “The diversity of plant species in the Amazon,” she adds, “is the highest on earth.”
All of this diversity creates an immensely challenging environment. An abundance of different species of mold, fungi, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and insects—not to mention animals—can attack and kill a plant at any time. In response, plants must work harder to defend themselves, which they do by producing chemical substances.
“These chemical defenses—much like an immune system for plants—include a wealth of very potent, highly active plant chemicals that provide medicinal uses for humankind,” explains Taylor.
In short, because they work so hard to survive, rainforest herbs are especially rich sources of healing substances. These six herbs are Taylor’s top choices for different situations.
Avenca for Weight Loss
Used to treat respiratory and other ailments for nearly 2,000 years, avenca is a type of fern. Lab and animal research has shown that it contains an array of substances that support a balanced immune system, reduce harmful inflammation, and promote weight loss.
Taylor has found that taking this rainforest herb can lead to significant weight loss without dietary or lifestyle changes (although a healthy diet and exercise are always optimal). The herb reduces absorption of sugar, starch, and fat during digestion; leads to less storage of fat; and increases release of fat from fat cells.
Taylor recommends taking avenca with 16 ounces of water, 10–15 minutes before each meal and snack. The dosage depends on the size of the meal. Take 1.5–2 grams before a large meal; 1 gram before an average meal; or 500 mg before a small meal or between-meal snack.
Chanca Piedra for Kidney Stones, Gout, and Viral Infections Its name in Spanish means “stone breaker,” and it has been traditionally used in the Amazon to treat kidney stones. It also treats gallstones and can prevent the formation of both.
Chanca piedra lowers uric acid levels, which helps prevent and treat gout attacks. It also enhances liver function, helps relieve short-term muscle pain from exertion, and helps to prevent or enhance recovery from viral infections, including herpes and stomach viruses.
To treat stones, take 500 mg, 3 times daily, until the stone is gone. If you are susceptible to gallstones or kidney stones and want to prevent them from forming, take 500 mg, 2 times daily, every 3–4 days. Follow a similar regimen for gout attacks or viral infections.
Anamu for Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
This rainforest herb has broad-spectrum anti-microbial effects and can treat drug-resistant bacteria as well as intestinal parasites. Anamu helps balance the response of the immune system and reduce harmful inflammation.
When traveling to an area where bacteria, parasites, and viruses pose a risk, take anamu for protection against bacteria and parasites along with chanca piedra for protections against viruses. A typical dose of anamu is 1–2 grams daily.
Cat’s Claw for Immune Support and Arthritis Relief
Cat’s claw is a vine whose name comes from the shape of its hook-like thorns. It enhances healthy immune response, tames harmful overactivity of the immune system, and reduces damaging inflammation.
One study of 45 people with osteoarthritis found that, compared to a placebo, cat’s claw reduced pain within the first week. Another study, which lasted for 24 weeks, tested the herb among 40 people who were taking medications for rheumatoid arthritis. Compared to a placebo, cat’s claw reduced the number of painful and swollen joints.
A study of this rainforest herb for immune health found that taking 350 mg of the herb, twice daily, sped up and enhanced the immune response to a pneumonia vaccine.
Taylor recommends taking cat’s claw for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as for a healthy immune system. A common daily dose is 1–1.5 grams.
Sangre de Grado for Wound Healing and Digestive Conditions
Also called “dragon’s blood,” this rainforest herb is actually a sap from the tree of the same name. It can be applied topically to wounds or taken internally.
Topically, it acts as a natural liquid bandage on any type of cut, scrape, or puncture. It seals a wound and stops bleeding while fighting bacteria, preventing scarring, and enhancing healing. When taken internally, it helps to calm inflammation in the digestive tract, heals internal wounds such as ulcers, and relieves diarrhea.
Taylor recommends it for any type of inflammatory stomach or bowel condition, such as ulcerative colitis. Look for a liquid form without alcohol. For internal use, make sure the product is a dietary supplement and take 10–15 drops, twice a day, until you get relief. Mix it in juice to disguise the taste.
Graviola (Annona muricata) to Enhance Chemotherapy
Concoctions made from the leaves, stems, roots, and bark of the graviola tree—also called soursop—are among the traditional remedies used to treat cancer and other diseases in tropical regions. Taylor considers this rainforest herb to be a valuable aid in cancer care, not as a substitute for medical treatment but to enhance the effects of chemotherapy by killing drug-resistant cancer cells.
More than 200 chemical compounds have been identified in the plant. Lab and animal studies show that graviola can inhibit new cancer cells from growing and kill mutated cells that resist drugs. A chemo-enhancing dose could be 1 gram, taken 3 times daily.
“I believe the rainforest and its immense biodiversity and sheer number of plant chemicals hold the key to unlocking cures for devastating diseases,” says Taylor. “And today, they provide highly effective remedies.”
A 4-square-mile patch of rainforest—one-tenth the size of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.—can contain up to:
- 1,500 species of flowering plants
- 750 species of trees
- 400 species of birds
- 150 species of butterflies
For comparison, in the entire continental United States, there are only 679 native species of trees, according to a U.S. Forestry Service report.
For more information about the Amazon rainforest and its herbs, visit Taylor’s Tropical Plant Database.