Jan 16 2016
By Tim Rose

When our medications come to us as uniform pills in childproofed bottles, it can be easy to assume that they originated in labs—but 40 percent of prescription medicines actually come from plant extracts or compounds. These plant-based medicines are more ubiquitous than we may think. Drugs from aspirin to quinine are derived from nature through natural products chemistry, as are many of the powerful ingredients in high quality multivitamins. 

The vast majority of plant-based vitamins and medicines known in the West were first discovered by indigenous cultures around the world. In the Amazon jungle alone, where one third of Earth’s animal and plant species live, indigenous tribes have medicinal uses for 2,000 to 3,000 known rainforest plants. Among these is the acai berry. 

Known to the west for only two decades, acai berries have been used for thousands of years by Amazonian tribes such as the Shuar to cure a wide range of ailments; they used it to increase their energy, protect their hearts, support their sexual health, and ward off diseases. They even used it to successfully treat a disease affecting 10 million Brazilians called schistosomosis. Acai makes up over one third of some tribal diets. 

Western researchers learned of acai in the 1990s, and an antibiotic derived from the acai berry is now used to fight Staphylococcus aureus. Acai is also now known to lower cholesterol and is full of natural antioxidants. It contains essential fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, and minerals. 

Wheatgrass, which Western scientists began studying under 100 years ago, has been used for its medicinal benefits for millennia—ancient Egyptians and possibly even Mesopotamian civilizations knew wheatgrass supported their health and vitality. More recently, the Interior Salish people of British Columbia used wheatgrass in food preparation. Studies have shown that wheatgrass can reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis and the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer. It’s packed with nutrients, including fiber, iron, zinc, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6. 

Botanicals like acai and wheatgrass have had a pervasive impact on our society—and they never would have reached us without being discovered by indigenous people, who passed down knowledge of their health benefits from generation to generation. While the plants hold the healing properties, Earth’s tribes are the keepers of knowledge about those plants and their great potential to strengthen and revitalize human life. As global citizens, we must work to preserve indigenous cultures and their intimate knowledge of the world’s botanicals. It is only by partnering with tribes that we can preserve our world for our children.

Vitanova proudly supports organizations that respect and preserve tribes, tribal knowledge, and the plants yet to be discovered by Western medicine. We include acai, wheatgrass, and other botanicals in our vitamins, knowing that it is thanks to the world’s indigenous cultures that we have the knowledge to create potent whole-foods vitamins. We support Living Tongues in its preservation of indigenous languages, without which great wisdom will be lost. And The Answers Project, our partner organization, is seeking new Dalai Lamas and bringing them to the forefront so their rich historical knowledge and wisdom can be shared with the world.