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© Kat Morgenstern
December 2004
Vol.III Issue:5

This Issue:

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Happy Winter Solstice everybody (28K)I don't know about the rest of you, but I am celebrating the return of the light today and I must admit that I am quite glad to see this year coming to an end. With any luck things will look brighter next year.

I guess it is not just a matter of luck though, but also what we make of it. The end of the year is always a good time for taking stock, reviewing what has been achieved and making promises to one's future self. It is a time of selecting the seeds from the previous harvest with which to sow new hopes and dreams in the coming spring.

I hope your harvests have been plentiful and that you have much to be grateful for as you sift through the memories of the past year. May the seeds you will select for the coming year reflect your highest and truest aspirations, so together we will sow a brighter and greener future for ourselves, our children and for mother earth.

helpinghands.jpg (15K)In this spirit I wish you all a peaceful and happy season of love and light.

Green Blessings
Kat Morgenstern

21 December 2004

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Well, it's December again, and for a forager this is not exactly the busiest time of the year. Even if the ground isn't frozen solid yet or covered in snow, there just isn't much out there and what there is, is not particularly crisp and appealing. Nature's life-juices have retreated. About the only thing I forage during the winter months are rosehips and sloes, if I can find them. Blackthorn, or sloe is one of those plants that, due to their thorny and inhospitable nature, are a favorite with farmers who use them extensively as a hedging plant. In places where the hedges haven't been ripped out to make room for bigger, squarer fields, sloe is commonly used to guard the plot - and incidentally provides a welcome wildlife habitat for small animals and birds who seek refuge among its dense branches.

Sloeflower.jpg (10K)In spring it is a welcome sight, as it is one of the first plants to dare put out its flowers. When the hedges turn white in February and you can't remember it snowing the day before it is more than likely that the blackthorn has burst into flower. Well, the early bird catches the worm and the early flower catches the bee. In February blackthorn reigns supreme.

The flowers incidentally are not just welcome early nourishment for roaming bees but also for roaming foragers. The flowers appear before the leaves. Both can be used for tea, but usually only the flowers are used. They are mildly stimulating for the whole body: mildly diuretic, mildly diaphoretic and mildly laxative. They 'cleanse the blood', and make a great supportive tea for those who like to do internal spring cleanses. Collect flowers on a dry day. They are best when they are still a little bit closed. Dry them in an airy and darkened space to avoid discoloration and mould.

sloe.jpg (22K)Alas, right now February still seems an awful long way away. Winter solstice is only just upon us. If you have sloe in your neighborhood you might like to investigate if you can find any berries. Sloe is an ideal winter foraging bounty, as it does not really become edible until after it has been bitten by a few frosts. Before then it is incredibly astringent and sour and in fact quite unpalatable. So wait until it has been really cold for a few days and then sample some sloe from the bush, you'll be able to tell immediately whether the frost has been hard enough or not. (Some people cheat, it must be said, picking the fruit as early as September and giving it an artificial frost treatment in the freezer. Well, personally, I prefer to let nature do her job herself.)

Sloe berries, for those who don't know, a dark blue and look as though they are 'frosted'. Be careful when you pick them, the bush's legendary thorns are quite formidable. If you want to make the most of the fruit you have to collect them in quantity, as unfortunately there isn't much to them in the way of actual fruit flesh. A rather meager layer of yellow pulp surrounds the large stone. So don't fret and pick a good quantity, there are lots of tasty ways to use them:

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Sloe schnaps

Take a fork or toothpick to poke the sloes all over. Fill into a large pickling jar or Rumtopf. Cover with sugar and fill the jar with the Gin and the Brandy or Sherry until about ¾ full. Leave to infuse in a warm place for about 3 months, shaking the jar occasionally. Then remove the fruit and fill the alcohol into another bottle. Let it rest for at least another 6 months.

The alcohol infused sloes can be used to make sloe chocolate:

Remove the soft fruit pulp from the infused sloes and pass through a sieve. Stir into melted chocolate. This mixture is great for (Christmas) baking to use instead of regular chocolate.

Sloe syrup

Harvest your sloes after the first frost, clean and fill into a pot. Pour boiling water over them so that they are just covered. Cover with a lid and leave to rest for a day. The following day drain the liquid into another pot, bring to the boil and pour it back over the sloes. Repeat this procedure for another two days. Then strain the juice, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Bottle while still hot.

The same procedure is used to make sloe juice, just add less sugar (about half).

Sloe Preserve

You can add a little pectin and make a tangy preserve, which is particularly nice to use instead of standard jams in Christmas baking:

Follow the instructions on the packet of pectin for making the preserve.

Wine making

Although I have found some wine recipes for sloe I personally don't find it an ideal fruit to use. It's better as a liqueur or infused in Gin. However, those who like to experiment might like to try adding some to other fruit wine recipes for its very characteristic note. The secret is to allow the wine to rest for a long time. Leave for at least a year to give the astringent quality of the fruit a chance to mellow out.

And here is a recipe to look forward to when spring comes:

Blackthorn flower syrup

Pick the flowers early in the morning and place in cold water to soak for a little while. Then slowly heat it up and bring to a simmer. Strain and press out the flowers and filter the water, return to the heat, add the sugar and simmer to the mixture becomes syrupy.

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That all the earth is fragile and that we must not take from her beyond what she can sustain. Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful plant species to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.

Here are the rules that every forager should live and breathe by:

Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. Which animals like it or dislike it? With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? How does it 'fit' into its environment? What can you learn from its chemistry? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem. Its a lengthy process, but vital if you want to truly get to know your plant friends and the habitat you share.

It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, lest they inadvertantly end up on your dinner plate, which could be most unpleasant or in the worst case scenario, even lethal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. Some people hold the false and dangerous belief that what can be found in nature cannot harm them. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE. When you think you know a plant, think again and see what other, non-edible look-alikes might be fooling you. This is even more important when it comes to collecting mushrooms, as there are many poisonous mushrooms out there that have evolved to be masters at fooling unsuspecting mushroom hunters. There are also many more potentially deadly mushrooms with edible look-alikes than there are deadly plants with edible look-alikes.

Don't be greedy!

Familiarize yourself with the plants that are listed on the endangered species list for your area. Apart from being unethical, it is also highly illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.

Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be especially conscienscious when it comes to harvesting roots and barks. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect. Consider growing some in your garden rather than depleting natural stands. Collecting barks can also be fatal to a tree. If you must collect this part, try to collect it from smaller branches rather than the stem, from branches that have fallen, or from trees that are due to be cut for other purposes.

However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subjected to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). And don't collect from nature reserves either - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!

Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while - as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of. When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind, but try to bring some back with you - I always carry two bags, one for foraging and one for litter picking. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.

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candle.jpg (9K)Christmas again. Isn't it amazing how it creeps up on you? One minute you were just going about your business enjoying the fall colors and the scent of wood fires in the air and suddenly it dawns on you…only a few days to Christmas. I don't know how other people really feel about this occasion, whether they really enjoy it or whether they just have convinced themselves to believe in all the hype, or whether deep down they hate it, but feel obliged to be good family members and make the most of it or whether they stress themselves out with the preparations to such an extent that when the day comes they just collapse into oblivion. But I know I have had mixed feelings about this so-called celebration of love and life since I was a child. No, I am not trying to be a spoilsport, party pooper or Christmas grinch, and I don't find anything wrong in celebrating love and life, I do it every day.

Yet, there is something that really bothers me about Christmas. Where I am at I am fairly sheltered from the flood of commercialism with which the season rolls into the stores and flattens my feelings, but still, it is hard to avoid becoming aware of the wastefulness and excessive gluttony with which the occasion is marked. It seems to me that life and love should not be expressed in material goods bought at the store - special offers abound, that's how the store shows you its love to make sure you'll come back for more.

It just always seemed to me that those most in need are often forgotten altogether, or just about remembered in token fashion only, as we give alms on the day of good will. But alms never right the injustice, they just pour oil over social wounds to soothe the pain, while the root causes of poverty and hunger continue on Christmas Day and beyond, in our neighborhood, in our community, in our country, in our society and it's just the same throughout the world.

That is one of the things that has always bothered me, and, yes, I am afraid there is more. It also bothers me that mother earth quietly suffers while we celebrate her very gift of life. All year we have been fretting about global warming, soaring oil prices and the changes of the climate - but will that stop us from wasting god knows how many gigawatts of electricity for all the electric lights we feel we need to brighten up the season? Probably not. Or has anybody ever calculated the number of trees that are cut every year, not just to adorn the living room, but also to make cards and wrapping paper, all of which is chiefly produced to simply be thrown away. I wonder by what kind of percentage our 'ecological footprint' increases just for these few week of holiday season. What size do you wear?

Does that sound mean? I don't mean to be mean, but personally I have decided to send my loved ones electronic Christmas greetings and let them know that my gift this year will be a tree, an acre of rainforest or a donation to a worthy cause, to feed a hungry child throughout next year, to support a fresh water installation in a poverty stricken community or one of 5 dozen other causes that will make a difference in the world. I can't change everything, but I can change some things, and I hope others will join me so our impact will be that much greater. In this spirit I will quietly and peacefully burn my candles and give thanks to the returning light, to all the love, given and received and to life itself. And in this spirit my heartfelt thanks and blessings go out to all of you who will likewise give a thought and act in the true spirit of love and respect for life.

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Find out the size of your ecological footprint:

Ecological Footprint Quiz

Here are some resources for giving:

Save trees for peanuts

With the season of giving just up ahead of us - why not consider making a present that will last and that instead of adding to the environmental burden, will help to reduce it? Why not give your friends and family an acre of rainforest?

or save trees for peanuts...

Please visit The World Landtrust

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bocas1.jpg (7K)sanblas3.jpg (8K)Are you still wondering where to find a romantic hide-away in the midst of winter? Instead of freezing and feeling SAD why not take your loved one and give yourselves a treat with a romantic winter vacation in Caribbean. Panama is waiting for you...

Adventurous activities coupled with exquisite pampering at exotic jungle lodges with panoramic canopy views, gorgeous gardens, as well as spa facilities and exhilarating activities such as climbing Baru volcano, white water rafting or exploring the exotic flora and fauna of the jungle trails. If you are looking for a unique setting for a romantic get-away, honeymoon or engagement, that offers both luxury and adventure, look no further.losquezales.jpg (28K)

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herbseller.jpg (17K)In the last issue we explored the roots of western medicine and found that the medical masters of the distant past did not shy away from using herbs, on the contrary, they employed them quite skillfully. Thus one might conclude that the roots of western medicine and western herbalism are in fact the same. In some ways they are, but what today is practiced as modern herbalism is a very far, distant cry from the wilderness that is the domain of traditional herbalist.

As in all cultures, western herbalism and healing are intricately entwined with the realm of magic and mystery. It arose hundreds and thousands of years ago at the nascent beginnings of civilization itself, when the gods still walked the earth and the world was a vast mysterious place inhabited not only by humans, plants and animals, but by spirits and elves as well. Shamans and wise women who knew the secrets of each herb, their songs and spells, are the ancestors of herbal medicine. The herbal lore that has survived as fairy tales are but the thinnest shreds of ancient vestiges, echoes from a long forgotten past. In time healing became the domain of women and of midwives. Women naturally took care of nurture and sustenance, not just of their babies, but of their clan. The knowledge concerning the plants that feed and the plants that heal is very closely linked. Often they are the same, depending on how they are used. Woman, naturally also learned about the cycles of fertility and the herbs appropriate for each stage of womanhood.

It is difficult to investigate the history of western herbalism without considering the political dimension, the persecutions during the Middle Ages that sought to extinguish the flame of herbal knowledge with the same swooping campaign that was to extinguish the old religions with its ancient gods and sacred trees. A campaign that specifically attacked the rights of women and their herbal healing practices. A brutal campaign of flames and torture that left behind an intellectual and cultural wasteland governed by the fear of god and by ignorance. Only in the remotest corners, hidden valleys and far off wildernesses, where the iron arm of the inquisition did not reach did the stories of ancient gods and spirits survive along with the herb lore and healing art.

Parallel to this development a new caste of medical professionals was bred at the universities, learned men who spent their years of training debating the old masters, but rarely saw an actual sick person, suddenly claimed the domain of medicine as their own. They practiced mostly in the cities, where trade was lucrative. In the countryside, where the herbalists had mostly been burnt at the stake (and any that hadn't were forbidden to practice), the task of healing ironically fell to the monks and nuns, who started to grow medicinal herbs in their monastery gardens. They of course freed themselves from the actual responsibility of affecting a cure, for they claimed that sickness was god's punishment for earthly sins and healing was his grace. This is how it came to be that those who felt a calling towards healing increasingly sought refuge within the folds of the church, the very instrument of the demise and torture that had been leashed on countless numbers of country healers that had gone before them.

And this is why today we find that the path to the roots of western herbalism leads through the monastery gardens where in the process of assimilation the ancient gods were clad in pious garb and their herbal lore was reinvented to fit the gospel rather than the old pagan tales.

In North America Herbalism took yet another turn. When western Europeans first began to settle there they did not know many of the plants that grew around them and depended instead to a large degree on the herbs and medicines that came by ship from the old world. But this journey was a long one and often the herbs by the time they reached the shore were spoilt. Also, much like in Europe, people in the countryside, far away from the cities had to learn to rely on their own knowledge and skills - and the knowledge of their native neighbors. Some people did not shy away from trying to learn the healing skills from the native people, or, later on, from the slaves. And that is how it came to be that today modern herbalism also makes use of many Native American or African American remedies. Prickly Ash or Golden Seal or Poke Root or Sarsaparilla and Sassafras to name but a few are all remedies that have recenty been added to the medicine chest of the modern herbal practitioner. In the course of its separate development in the United States herbalism sprouted all sorts of branches, which soon developed into 'isms' like Thompsonism and 'Eclecticism'.

Today we have quite a comprehensive body of knowledge regarding the action and composition of herbs, but this knowledge is derived more from the science of pharmacy than from herbalism. We also have a number of different herbal philosophies. In an effort to become more acceptable and in-line with the materialistic/rationalistic worldview modern herbalism has left the plant spirits and devas that were once the sould of traditional herbalism far behind. The modern practice has become 'clinical' and one would barely guess that the pills and tinctures on the shelves have any relation to the wild herbs in the fields and forest.

Only rarely now does anybody venture to find the old windy path of traditional herbalism. Indeed, it is not easy to find, since it just does not fit into the rationalistic and scientific cosmology of an age where any child can manipulate a computer to spit out a list of possible herbal candidates for a given complaint, complete with their action and constituents at the click of a mouse button. But this ability does not make anybody a healer.

Maintaining equilibrium

While the practices between traditional and modern herbalism have changed drastically over the centuries, the core principle has stayed the same: to heal is to make whole. Wholeness is maintained through equilibrium, the natural balance between body and soul. Sickness is defined as a loss of that equilibrium. Thus, the primary aim of the practitioner is to assist the body to regain his inner balance once it has become disturbed. The body is not viewed as an inert machine that simply goes from birth to death in a process of gradual decay, but as a psycho-spiritual and physical entity that continuously strives for balance. Of course, our conscious mind can, and often does, interfere. At other times the imbalance is due to outer circumstances, but invariably the body-mind will try to adjust in order to regain its equilibrium. The healer's task is to assist the body in its efforts, usually by keeping the channels of elimination open, which affects an inner cleansing process.

Yet, over the centuries the methods employed have vastly changed. Where the old herbalists would regard healing not only as a physical, but as a psycho-spiritual process that requires time for introspection, the modern practitioner and patient are usually far too impatient for nature to take its course and sadly often don't give much thought to the psycho-spiritual dimension of disease and healing, but simply want to affect a cure, as quickly and painlessly as possible, and so the remedies that are given usually come in concentrated form. Labeled old fashioned and complicated the old applications, liniments, poultices, compresses, decoctions, tisanes, syrup, herbs mixed with wine or milk, steams, baths and washes, salves, oils, ointments, herb waters, potions, lotions and talisman have mostly been are mostly abandoned in favor of pills and tinctures.


These days nutrition is often treated quite separately from herbal medicine, but in the old days the distinctions between food and medicine were not drawn as sharply. The plants that feed us are often the same that heal. Some foods can be beneficial for some people but harmful to others, or act quite differently on the body depending on how they are prepared. Thus, the knowledge regarding the healing property of foods was naturally also the domain of the herbalist. Today, nutrition is still considered important, but nutritionists specialize in this aspect of health. The rules are simple. While there is no 'one-fits-all' dietary plan, the basic premise for all constitutional types should be to avoid highly processed and refined foods, to eat if possible only organic, additive free foods, avoid excessive amounts of meat and grease, not to eat more than your body needs, eat slowly, chew well and don't worry your mind while you are eating. Drink clean water or simple cleansing herb teas.

It sounds simple, but it is far more difficult to practice than to preach. In this day and age it is hard to even find unprocessed foods (let alone the time to prepare them), and thus wrong diet has probably become the single most important factor in serious diseases such as diabetes, stomach problems, cancers and heart disease, not to mention gout and arthritis and a host of other ailments. Before herbs will have any lasting therapeutic effect the diet must be addressed. But regular dietary needs apart, we should also never underestimate the healing power of common foods. If used properly common items of anybody's kitchen shelf can be employed remedially for a whole range of ailments, from burns, to colds and coughs and much more. (More about this in a later issue).


Generally speaking hygiene has much improved over the centuries and many diseases have disappeared completely, mostly because our sanitary services have improved, especially as far as the availability of clean water and vastly improved canalization is concerned. Thus, personal hygiene has also imporved - to the point where it has become almost obsessive, much to the delight of the cosmetics/household chemcial industry. But personal hygiene goes beyond regular showers and the ample use of soap. In fact overuse of soap and obsessive cleaning (with environmentally toxic substances) of either the body or our immediate environment can actually lead to an increased vulnerability towards disease causing organisms and sensitivity towards environmental toxins.

The idea of hygiene implies periodic cleansing, to rid the body of accumulated toxins. It is a term that should be applied not only to the physical body, but to the mental, emotional and spiritual body as well. In the old days people would set a few weeks in early spring aside to cleanse body and soul. They would fast and pray and drink cleansing teas, or would dispel the heavy winter sluggishness with fresh greens and bitter herbs. Fasting and sweating or steambath were also popular and not just with Native Americans, who practiced sweating as a method of inner cleansing. Herbal bath were used for healing as well as remedially for mental or emotional ailments.

Most of us carry far too much 'baggage,' yet we do not deem it important to purge ourselves of this excessive weight. Heavy thoughts that prevent us from moving on can make the body as sick as undigested food that lingers in the stomach. Lingering fear, hate or jealousy and other negative emotions can poison us from inside. These also must be cleansed. Yet, sadly instead of addressing them in terms of mental and emotional hygiene, doctors will prescribe prosac while many herbalists now have a tendency to prescribe 'anti-depressant herbs'. Traditional herbalist on the other hand would find a way to 'embody' such negative feelings and draw them from the person into an object, which could then be ritually buried or burnt. They might also prescribe baths with fragrant herbs, or advise the burning of incense to dispel the fears. They might also give calming herbs that bring light and strength to the soul to help it regain its balance.

Fresh air and exercise

Given our current level of movement, movement on our own two legs that is, it seems plausible that human beings will soon evolve to be born without legs altogether. The average lifestyle of a typical westerner is incredibly sedentary. We sit at work, in the office and at school and we sit more when we get home, mostly in front of the TV or computer. Our way to and from work is spent sitting in the car. The average American walks less than 1.4 miles per week! That includes walking around in the house, walking to and from the car and walking around the supermarket. Mothers deem it dangerous for their children to play outside. But muscles and bones need to be used in order to retain their strength. The blood and all cells of the body need oxygen. But movement and oxygen are not in rich supply when one lives in a sedentary, air-conditioned world. People wonder why they have circulation problems and look for an herb to stimulate their blood or their metabolism, when all they need to do is go for a brisk walk once or twice a day. One does not have to be superman or super-woman to maintain a healthy level of fitness that allows even older people to use the bicycle or walk for the pleasure of it. Instead of making use of one of the simplest and cheapest ways to achieve well-being and a good body tone many people rely on herbs or pills for cures once the damage has been done. It must be stressed though, that one can also overdo it. Not all exercise is good. Excessive exercise can wear out cartilages and bones and cause irreparable damage. Moderation in all things...

Traditional herbalism is a dying art, yet proportional to the degree that pills and tinctures are conquering the herbal market, the knowledge of the herbs from which they are derived drifts further into the nebulous world of forgotten knowledge. While we lament the loss of plant knowledge of a distant unknown Amazon tribe, we don't even notice how that same knowledge slips away from right underneath our own noses. Although the path of traditional herbalism is overgrown it can be rediscovered by anybody who chooses to embark upon the adventure and follow the call into the wild green yonder.

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Plant Profile: PINE

PINUS ssp.
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FAMILY: Pinaceae
Synonyms:Pine, [English], pinho [Portuguese], pino, piñon [Spanish], pino [Italian], pin, pignon [French], pijn, [Dutch], Kiefer [German], fyr [Danish, Norwegian], tall [Swedish], mänty [Finnish], sosna [Russian], bor, mura [Bulgarian], bora, molike [Serbo-Croatian], peuke, pitys [Greek], çam [Turkish], chir, kail [Hindi], thong [Vietnamese], Matsu [Japanese], song [Chinese]. Pinus cembra, edible kernels = Arve, Pinus edulis, = Pinion, P. sylvestris = Scotch Pine, Forest Pine, Norway Pine, etc.


The ancestors of our present day pines already colonized the earth during the Jurassic Age, 300 million years ago. Like Gingkos they belong to the gymnosperm division, which comprises the oldest type of seed-bearing plants on the planet. People often find conifers difficult to distinguish, as their appearance superficially is very similar. A characteristic mark of Pines is the arrangement of their needles, which always grow in bundles. The number of needles in each bunch varies according to the species. In their useful stage pines all tend to look the same, a pyramidal crown upon a feeble stick of a trunk. Later the crown often flattened out. The lower parts hardly ever show any branches.. The bark tends to be gray to reddish brown, becoming scaly, flaky and deeply fissured with age, though the stems of young trees and branches can be quite smooth. Pine trees, like other conifers, exude a pungent resin, especially where the bark has been injured. The resin is very sticky at first but soon dries into brittle tears. The fresh, sticky resin has a characteristic pineol fragrance, balsamic, yet 'clean' and fresh.

Note: Depending on one's taxonomic point of view the genus pinus comprises between 90 and 120 species. They are treated generally here with references being made to specific species where appropriate.

Habitat & Ecology:

Pines grow abundantly throughout the northern hemisphere. They occur from Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska and as far south as northern Africa, Sumatra and China, but here they are restricted to the mountainous regions. Pines are very hardy and adaptive. Almost no environment is too hostile for them. They find hollows and cracks in the most unlikely places and seemingly defy all the odds by clinging to impossible rocks. The greatest diversity of species occurs in Mexico, Southern United States and also in China. However, the better-known species originate in the northern parts of central Eurasia where they grow profusely.

Pines naturally grow in harsh and difficult environments, often acting as pioneer species that make the ground more hospitable and act as protectors for other, more sensitive species. In their natural habitat they rarely crowd each other, leaving plenty of gaps for sunlight to penetrate the spaces between one tree and the next, thus ensuring a healthy and varied undergrowth development. Pines grow fast and have a light wood and very straight stems which have made them popular as a commercial timber species. Logged areas can re-grow at a relatively fast speed if they are not entirely clear-cut. However, commercial logging companies are often too greedy to give nature time to regenerate. Instead, monocultural plantations are planted in straight rows over vast areas of land, for easy harvesting. Such plantations are biologically dead. The dense growth does not allow for any understorey growth to develop, as no sunlight penetrates to the plantation floor, which, at any rate is usually covered with a dense layer of acidifying needles that make it even more difficult for other species to take a hold. There are no birds or small animals in this kind of 'dead' zone and the atmosphere is the exact opposite to that of a natural pine forest. Where the latter is lofty, serene and inspirational, the plantation is oppressive, forbidding, sad and gloomy.


Familiarity breeds contempt. So common are Pines that we hardly pay any attention to them at all, except, perhaps in recognizing them as a cheap and common timber species. Yet anyone who has ever hiked on a warm and sunny afternoon through a mountain forests populated with lofty pines, firs and spruces will agree that nothing compares to their fresh balsamic scent mingled with that of the soft forest floor beneath. Their resinous aroma permeates the air and each breath one takes is like sipping nectar, invigorating body and soul. It elevates the spirit, clears the mind and makes the feet move lightly along the path. With their crowns waving gently high in the sky above, they exude an air of loftiness and serenity and spread a sense of inner peace, tranquility and calm. They embody the essence of resilience and determination, the arboreal image of 'mind above matter'. Growing among rocks and stones where there is almost no soil, beaten by winds and weather, they inspire us to rise above difficulties and persist against the odds. They also show us how: the way to success is inner peace, calmness, serenity - and letting ones spirit rise to touch the sky. Those who are worn with fatigue and stress should make ample use of the refreshing and invigorating power of pines.

In folklore, Pines, Firs and Spruces are often treated as one and the same. They are indeed closely related and for most purposes can be used interchangeably. In mythology they are frequently associated with dwelling places of fairies and gnomes, and thought of as benevolent, refreshing places where tired walkers can safely rest in the protective aura of the tree. They symbolize humbleness, good fortune and prosperity , fertility and protection. Their needles stay green even through the harsh winter months, and thus their evergreen nature has been interpreted as a sign of their vitality. In the olden days, farmers sought to transfer this vital force and its protective powers to their barns and stables by sweeping them with brushes wound from Pine twigs and pinning some above the doors as well. They were thought to ward off witchcraft and protect house and cattle from misfortune, disease and even lightning. In Germany a modern practice echoes this belief. Once the foundations of a new building are laid, the raw structure is crowned with a decorated pine tree, to attract protection and prosperity.

Once upon a time, when winter supplies tended to be much sparser than they are nowadays, the nut-filled pinecones were a very welcome and important source of food. Perhaps the multitude of seeds inspired their association with fertility, prosperity and aphrodisiac powers. It was hoped that this property was transferred by means of sympathetic magic as cattle and children were lightly spanked with the twigs. The apparent life force of Evergreens was especially welcome in the depth of winter, when they alone hold the promise of life's continuity. Pine branches or logs (Yule logs) were decorated and brought into the house to provide light and warmth and to serve as a reminder of the immortal life force. The church tried to suppress such customs but eventually could not keep them at bay. The modern Christmas tree is a novel invention, only a few hundred years old but ties directly to previous pagan customs that celebrated the tree of life.

In ancient Roman mythology Pines were sacred to Attis, the lover of the earth goddess Cybele, who was gored by a boar. After his death he was changed into a Pine tree. At his festival, which was held at the spring equinox, a pine tree was cut and brought into the sanctuary of the goddess. The trunk was prepared like a corpse and decked out with flowers. Tied to it was an effigy of a young man, the image of Attis prior to his mishap. For two days the crowds lamented his death and on the third day of celebrations the priests would offer a blood sacrifice by cutting their own arms. The accompanying music was said to drive the crowds into a frenzy and several of the worshippers would offer blood sacrifices of their own, even to the point of imitating the emasculation of their God, by cutting off their own genitals. Blood and semen are the sacred fluids of life. By offering these to the Earth Goddess it was hoped that the life force (Attis) would be resurrected and thus the fertility of the Goddess restored.

Attis is identified with Adonis and other vegetation gods of the Mediterranean basin such as Tammuz, Dionysos and Osiris with whom he shares his fate and mysteries. His cult originates in Asia Minor but soon developed a widespread following throughout the region, even spreading to Greece and Rome. Similar rituals intended to restore the fertility of vegetation deities throughout the world frequently required a blood sacrifice as part of the grueling ceremony. The reason for this seems to be that these religious rites were essentially acts of sympathetic magic in which the worshippers imitated the course of nature. To grow corn it is first necessary to slay the corn-spirit (harvest), to break up his body and bury it in the life-restoring earth-womb. The spring rites of the resurrected life-force were nothing other than a ritual enactment of these mysteries of life. Later the actual sacrifice was substituted with symbolic offerings, much as the transmutation of Christs body into bread and wine at the catholic mass is now substituted with rice paper. Christ is but the latest incarnation of these ancient deities who signify the cycle of the life-force with its annual rhythm of life, death and resurrection each year at the Spring Equinox (Easter). There are numerous similarities between these ancient cults and the latest modern version, which gives indeed much cause to ponder. In fact, when the Spaniards first arrived in the New World and witnessed one such ceremony of the Aztecs they felt that the similarities between their own and this alien ceremony were so cunningly similar that the Aztecs must have devised it merely as a mockery of their own Christian ritual.

There are several suggestions to link the Attis/Dionysus figure to the pine tree. It seems the most obvious one is the evergreen, immortal nature of pine. In Lebanon the same rites were celebrated, but here the sacred tree was the cedar, as the local symbol of immortal life. Also, both cedars and pines bear phallus shaped cones and the multitude of edible Pine nuts provides further suggestive symbolic imagery. The sacred cedar/pine forests where the rites were celebrated were said to burst into flower at spring equinox, their forest floor being covered by red anemone (Adonis sp.), which were thought to spring directly from the blood spill of the hero/god. Although the Latin name for anemone is Adonis some people believe that the frenzied ritual was induced by fly agaric mushrooms, which would also grow among the pines and cedars, and with their red caps might also allude to the hero's blood. While it is entirely possible and indeed likely that some hallucinogenic substance might have been used in conjunction with these rites, there is not enough evidence to determine just what kind of substance was involved, for while fly agarics may be found among the pines it is another question whether it would make its appearance at Spring Equinox. However, in Greece Dionysus is the successor of Attis/Adonis and his rites were not just associated with ordinary drunkenness, but his wine thought to have been heavily 'fortified' with a variety of other ingredients.

Folk Medicine:

Pines, like other trees were much used in so called 'transfer magic', a folk magical healing rite intended to avert ones pains and transfer them to a tree or in some cases to birds that happened to be passing over the tree. The ritual usually involved scraping a small patch of bark off the tree and placing some token such as hair or fingernails in the hole while pleading solemnly with the tree's spirit to accept ones pains. In the case of pines this practice was mostly used to transfer gouty pains and warts.

On a more modern note, the edible pine kernel (pine nut pr pinon) gave its name to the 'pineal gland', which it resembles in size and appearance. According to eastern philosophies, the pineal gland is the seat of the soul. For a long time Western medicine was mystified by it, but now it seems clear that, though very small in size, the pineal gland plays an important role in regulating individual biorhythms, in itself a rather perplexing process.

Astrological Ruler: Mercury in Capricorn,
Element: Air
Associated Gods: Jupiter, Pan, Dionysus, Attis
Spiritual Properties: Inner peace, serenity, tranquility, rising above difficulties, resistance, vigor, determination, strength, rejuvenation - refreshing mind, body and spirit, purification, cleansing of sacred space and ritual objects, dispel negative energy, crystal cleansing, protection, fertility, birthing, inner strength, understanding, healing rituals, prosperity consciousness, manifestation



Needles, Inner Bark, Nuts, Resin


Collect the needles on a warm and sunny spring day and dry with gentle heat. They can be kept for up to 1 yr, but protect against sunlight and store in an airtight container lest they lose their scent - and strength. Don't collect from the tops as otherwise you will stunt the tree's growth.

Kernels ripen late in the autumn in the second year. Depending on the species they can be hard to collect, either because the trees are too tall or the kernels are too small. Often the kernels drop while the cones remain on the tree. Squirrels and birds usually manage to be the most successful collectors. Only gather where there is plenty and leave plenty more than you take.


Needles: high in vitamin C, sucrose

Inner Bark: Tannin, Quercetin, Phenol

Resin: Limonene, Essential Oil, Terpenes

Kernels - fatty oil



Externally: stimulant, anti-rheumatic, anti arthritic, antiseptic,

Internally: anti-scorbutic, anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant


In Europe the needles are the most frequently employed part of the pine. They constitute a very old home remedy that has stood the test of time. They are especially useful for afflictions of the respiratory system, such as sore throat, hoarseness, persistent cough, catarrh and bronchitis.

An infusion can be prepared by adding 10 parts of hot water to 1 part of dried needles. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey. This brew is also useful for kidney and bladder afflictions.

Externally a strong decoction of the needles can be used as a bath additive, liniment for aching muscles, rheumatic pains and neuralgia or as a steam bath for respiratory conditions. The decoction is made by adding 4 handfuls of needles to 1 liter of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 min. Be sure to cover the pot, as the essential oil of pine is very volatile and likely to escape unless restrained. Strain and add to the bathwater. This is one of the most wonderful blessings of the plant devas to help us cope with our stressful modern lifestyles. It is soothing and refreshing, stimulating yet relaxing. Especially recommended for burn-out syndrome, stress, nervous conditions, muscle aches and pains, neuralgia, headache and all congestive respiratory conditions especially when these are accompanied by fever. The same decoction can be applied as a liniment directly to sore muscles, aches and pains. A favorite old home remedy is pine honey, which is a strengthening, restorative sweetener that helps to loosen coughs and respiratory catarrh. It is prepared by boiling 1kg fresh pine or fir shoots in 4 liter of water. Leave covered to stand for 2 days, strain through a linen cloth. Add 1 lb of raw sugar and 1 jar of honey to the liquid and simmer until thick. Fill into jars while it is still warm.



Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic,


While Europeans mainly used the needles for medicinal purposes, North American Indians also used the inner bark. They would soak strips of inner bark in water until it became soft and could be applied to wounds, sores, ulcers and burns, which healed without becoming infected. They also used the pitch to make healing ointments and salves.


Dioscurides recommends pine kernels and cucumber seeds taken with sweet wine to cleanse the blood and kidneys, and the fresh cones simmered in sweet wine as a remedy against persistent cough and 'falling sickness'. The pine nuts also have a longstanding reputation as an effective aphrodisiac. (see below).


The essential oil of Pine is produced by dry distillation of the heartwood, needles and twigs, which yield a light, yellow, strongly aromatic oil with the characteristic pine aroma. It is one of the most popular (and cheapest) essential oils, and is a standby home remedy, popularly used for steam bath inhalations to remedy respiratory catarrh and congestion. Added to the bathwater it stimulates the circulation and acts soothing on the nervous system. Pine oil is both refreshing and relaxing and makes one of the best counter remedies for stress, fatigue and the modern malady of 'burn out', especially when accompanied by a cold or flu. Externally, its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action also makes it useful for cuts and sores. For muscle aches or rheumatic pains the oil can be added to a base such as almond oil and massaged into the aching parts. Pine is a high note fragrance which means it is very volatile and its essence easily 'flies off the top'. It can be captured by a 'heavy' balsamic base such as Benzoin.


Perhaps it is the multitude of seeds produced or perhaps it is the suggestive shape of the cones, which gave the pines their aphrodisiac reputation. Most modern sources suggest delicious pine dishes as an appetizer for love-making. The ancients too knew of this stimulating property of pine though they did not rely on the stomach as a transmitter, as this would necessitate eating the seeds for 3 days in a row before testing their strength. Instead, a decoction made of the still green seeds should be used as a douche to wash the 'private parts' (of the female in this case). According to Matthiolus this was said to work instantly by 'making them tighter and more sensitive'. A recipe from India from 1500 has a similar recommendation, though here it is pine bark that is to be decocted, along with cumin and stamen of lotus flowers, to achieve the same effect.


Pine kernels are very restorative and fortifying. They are an excellent addition to the diet during convalescence, though can be equally enjoyed at any other time, added to Muesli or baked into cakes. Pine nuts and Basil leaves are a particularly wonderful combination.


Pine Nut Pesto
  • 4oz of fresh Basil leaves
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1oz of pine kernels
  • olive oil

Place the Basil and Garlic into a food processor and grind into a paste. Add Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese and stir till smooth. Lightly toast the pine kernels and add them to the mix. Add salt to season.

Pine Nut Soup
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • pine nuts
  • mushrooms
  • milk
  • cream fresh
  • basil
  • chillie pepper

Sautee onion, add mushrooms, grind pine nuts, chili, garlic and salt into a paste and add milk to make it just runny, add to the mushrooms and onion, add a little vegetable bouillon powder and gradually pour in water to make desired soup consistency. Chop basil small and stir into soup, take off flame and refine with a spoon of crème fraiche.

Pine Needle Honey

A favorite old home remedy is the pine honey, which is a medicinally useful strengthening, restorative sweetener that helps to loosen coughs and respiratory catarrh. It is prepared by boiling 1kg fresh pine or fir shoots in 4 liter of water. Leave covered to stand for 2 days, strain through a linen cloth. Add 1 lb of raw sugar and 1 jar of honey to the liquid and simmer until thick. Fill into jars while it is still warm.



Pinewood is one of the most important timber species, valued for its straight growth and fine grain. Much commercial pinewood is derived from commercial plantations and thus thought to be 'a sustainable resource' Their fast growth rate and resilience to adverse climatic conditions all add to their popular demand. However, pine plantations are ecologically 'dead'. They are dark and oppressive places and nothing grows or flourishes between them, not even birds or deer find comfort in their midst. Although it is obvious that we cannot do without wood for all its manifold uses, perhaps we ought to consider different, non-monocultural methods (e.g. coppicing=managed woodlands) of cultivation along with wood alternatives where possible.


Pine wood is still one of the most important sources of fibre for the production of paper pulp - a terrible waste, considering the length of time required for a tree to grow to a reasonable size. Moreover, there are many plants that could be used as an alternative, with shorter growing cycles, just as serviceable as a source of paper pulp and with much less toxic by-products.


Pine also is the original source of turpentine, which is commercially very important as a solvent for waxes, fats, resins, coutchouc, sulphur and phosphorus, much used in the production of emulsions, paints and varnishes. Industrial Pine oil (produced under pressure as opposed to the essential oil, which is produced by distillation) is used to make non-glossy paints to give a 'flattening' effect and facilitate an easy flow under of the brush. Turpentine is produced by distillation of the resin. The crude residue left after distillation of the oil is known as Colophony or Rosin, deriving its name from the city of Kolophon in Lybia, which was noted for its high quality resin. It is now mostly produced in Portugal and is chiefly used by violinists for rubbing the bow. Formerly Rosin was also known as Brewer's Pitch and used to coat the inside of beer casks.


Observations of the Ponderosa Pine of the Southwestern US have led to the discovery of dendrochronology - determining age by examination of tree growth rings. Andrew Elliott Douglas, an astronomer traveling through Northern Arizona in 1904 used the method to date the construction of Anasazi ruins in the Southwestern US. Since then it has been much employed to track changes in climate and the varying composition of atmospheric gases over the past 7000, which has helped to illuminate questions surrounding global warming.

Veterinary Medicine:

Tar-water has been used as a remedy for horses suffering from chronic cough and also as an external rubefacient and anti-septic. Internally it is used as a vermifuge.


Although the balsamic aroma of pine resin and the fresh scent of the needles suggest possibilities for a fine incense, this unfortunately, is not always the case. The incense potential varies greatly between species. While some are indeed beautiful others can be distinctly unpleasant when burned. Pinon (P. edulis) and Ponderosa pine make notable exceptions; both their resin and needles have a very pleasant smell. The scent of burning pinon wood is delicious as anyone who has traveled in New Mexico during the winter months can attest; its sweet aroma hangs over all the dwelling places, infusing the air with its warm, inviting scent. In the mountains of Guatemala a local pine species is heavily used as incense. Its resin is mixed with sawdust and formed into little cakes, which are stacked and wrapped in corn husks. These play an important role in ceremonial offerings as the medium by which prayers are taken to the Gods. Generally speaking though, the closely related spruces and firs tend to make better candidates for incense materials.

Insect and Vermin Repellent:

The tar/turpentine can be used as an application against lice. Indians used it to stuff mattresses to repel lice and fleas.


Essential oil of Pine is an important fragrance additive in soaps, detergents, cosmetics and toiletries.


Pine Cones + Alum yield a rich orange dye. Best results are obtained with fresh plant material.

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Guest feature:

We are proud to present another guest feature. This one deal with a precious medicinal plant that faces extinction lest action is taken to protect it.

The article has been submitted by Dr Deepak Acharya, Anshu Shrivastava and Garima Sancheti) email:

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Introduction: Gymnema sylvestre - Boosts Your Insulin

In the following article, we will discuss the enumeration, medicinal value and conservation strategy for Gymnema sylvestre. The medicinal value of the plants is based on the information obtained from the tribals viz., Bharias and Gonds of Patalkot valley, and information retrieved from the internet and other libraries. The aim of this article is to make people aware of the herbal heritage of Patalkot. This is an attempt to inspire people to conserve the virgin land and its natives.

Location Profile:

Chhindwara district lies between latitude 21°23' and 22°49' north and longitude 78°10' and 79°24' east. Dense forest covers most of the area of the district. Patalkot is a lovely landscape located at the altitude of 1200-1500 feet in a valley near Tamia in the north of the district. Because of the great depth at which it is located, this place is christened as 'Patalkot' ('Patal means very deep, in Sanskrit). Patalkot is spread over an area of 79 Sq.Km. at an average altitude of 2750-3250 feet above Mean Sea Level. It is a treasury of forest and herbal wealth. There are 12 villages and 13 hamlets in this valley, with a total population of nearly 2000. Because of the inaccessibility of this area, the tribals of this region were totally cut off from the civilized world. Most of the people in Patalkot belong to 'Bharia' and 'Gond' tribes. This valley is situated on the Satpura plateau in the southern central part of the Madhya Pradesh.

During the survey, which was carried out from 1997 to 2004, Dr Acharya explored the area of Patalkot valley that includes- Gaildubbha, Karayam Rathed, Ghatlinga, Gudichhathri, Karrapani, Tamia Bharia Dhana, Bijauri, Pandu Piparia, Sajkui, Lahgadua, karrapani, Sidhouli.

All the co-authors of this article were involved in gathering information from various resources such as the Internet, University Libraries and oral information from traditional healers of their respective regions.

Why we select this plant?

Plants have been source of medicine since ancient times. Thousands of books and articles have been written so far. Several thousands of medicinal plants are discussed and used to cure various health disorders in India and abroad also. In India, almost 45000 plant species are growing naturally or being cultivated. There are many popular Indian herbs used in traditional practices to cure diabetes. Gymnema sylvestre has an important place among such antidiabetic medicinal herbs. It has shown experimental or clinical anti-diabetic activity {1} and it boosts your insulin level {2}.

During the early 1990's, this marvelous herb was found in abundance in Patalkot valley. But as it is a climber it could not survive well after the deforestation and cutting down of the big trees.

Nowadays, this herb is becoming rare in this valley. It prompted us to write an article and make it an issue so that, conservationists, botanists and NGO's may come forward to rescue and save this plant in the valley.

Plant Profile:

Gymnema sylvestre (Retz.) Schultes in Roem. & Schult. Syst. Veg. 6: 57. 1820; Wight, Ic. 2 (1): 3. t. 349. 1840; Hook. f. Fl. Brit. India 4: 29. 1883; Duthie, Fl. Upper Gang. Pl. 2: 53. 1911; Jagtap & Singh in Fl. India Fasc. 24: 89. 1999. Periploca sylvestris Retz. Obs. Bot. 2: 15. 1781.

Synonyms :

Periploca sylvestris Willd., Gymnema melicida Edgew.



English Name:

Suger destroyer, Periploca of the the woods.

Sanskrit names:

Ajaballi, Ajagandini, Ajashringi, Bahalchakshu, Chakshurabahala, Grihadruma, Karnika, Kshinavartta, Madhunasini, Medhasingi, Meshashringi, Meshavishanika, Netaushadhi, Putrashringi, Sarpadanshtrika, Tiktadughdha, Vishani.

Local Names in India:

Hindi- Gur-mar, merasingi; Bengali- Mera-singi; Marathi- Kavali, kalikardori, vakundi; Gujarati- Dhuleti, mardashingi; Telugu- Podapatri; Tamil- Adigam, cherukurinja; Kannada- Sannager-asehambu; Malyalam- Cakkarakkolli, Madhunashini;

Taxonomic Description:

Extensive, much-branched, twining shrubs. Leaves 3-6 x 2-3 cm, ovate or elliptic-oblong, apiculate, rounded at base, sub-coriaceous. Flowers minute, greenish-yellow, spirally arranged in lateral pedunculate or nearly sessile cymes. Corolla lobes imbricate. Follicles solitary, upto 8 x 0.7 cm, terete, lanceolate, straight or slightly curved, glabrous. Seeds ovate-oblong, glabrous, winged, brown. Flowering: August-March; Fruiting: Winter.


Grows wild in forest as a climber also found in the plains from the coast, in scrub jungles and in thickets; wild.

Distribution in India:

It is occurring in Bihar, Central India, Western Ghats, and Konkan.

Distribution in Patalkot:

Gaildubba, Harra-ka-Char, Kareyam, Raja khoh, Sajkui etc.

Medicinal Property:

The plant is stomachic, stimulant, laxative and diuretic. It is good for cough, biliousness and sore eyes. If the leaves of the plant are chewed, the sense of taste for sweet and bitter substances is suppressed (Gent, 1999, Persaud et al., 1999, Intelegen, 2004). The leaves are said to be used as a remedy for diabetes (Prakash et al., 1986; Shanmugasundaram et al., 1990; Grover et al., 2002; Gholap & Kar, 2003}. It has been included among the most important herbs for all doshas (Mhasker & Caius, 1930; Holistic, 2004). It has shown effective activity against Bacillus pumilis, B. subtilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus (Satdive et al., 2003). Tribals in Chhindi rub the leaves on affected body parts to cure infections.

The leaf powder is tasteless with a faint pleasant aromatic odour. It stimulates the heart and the circulatory system, increases the secretion of urine, and activates the uterus. Tribals of Central India prepare decoctions of Methi/ fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Gudmar (Gymnema sylvestre), Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), Ajwan (Trachyspermum ammi), gokshura (Tribulus terrestris), vayu-vidanga (Embelia ribes), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Harra (Terminalia chebula), and chitrak (Plumbago zeylanica) to cure diabetes and stress related disorders.

Traditional healers from diverse parts of India use this plant in various ailments. The leaf is given in gastric troubles in Rajasthan. Traditional healers of Maharastra prescribe it in urinary problems and stomach-ache whereas in Madhya Pradesh, tribals and local healers apply the leaf extract in cornea opacity and other eye diseases. In Andhra Pradesh it is used in glycosuria.

Gymnema in Vedas:

According to Charak Samhita, it removes bad odour from breast milk. It is aperitive. This plant is useful as purgative, in eye troubles. The leaf extract and flower is beneficial for eyes. Bark is given in the diseases caused by vitiated kapha (phlegm). According the Bagbhat, the rootbark is useful in piles. According to the Ayurveda it is acrid, alexipharmic, anodyne, anthelmintic, antipyretic, astringent, bitter, cardiotonic, digestive, diuretic, emetic,expectorant, laxative, stimulant, stomachic, uterine tonic; useful in amennorrhoea, asthma, bronchitis, cardiopathy, conjunctivitis, constipation, cough, dyspepsia, haemorroids, hepatosplenomegaly, inflammations, intermittant fever, jaundice and leucoderma. Root emetic and removes phlegm; external application is useful in insect bite (ENVISBSI, 30/10/04).

Chemical Composition:

The leaves contain hentriacontane, pentatriacontane, a-and β-chlorophylls, phytin, resins, tartaric acid, formic acid, butyric acid, anthraqui-none derivatives, inositol, d -quercitol and "gymnemic acid". The leaves give positive tests for alkaloids. Flavonol glycosides, kaempferol and quercetin have been isolated from the aerial parts of the plant (Liu et al., 2004). Three new oleanane-type triterpene glycosides were isolated from the leaves of the plant. Six oleanane-type saponins (Ye et al., 2000, 2001). Few new tritepenoid saponins, gymnemasins A, B, C and D were also isolated from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre (Suttisri et al., 1995, Sahu et al., 1996).

Companies in Product Manufacturing:

  • Active Ingredients Group., Inc., China
  • Amitco International Botanical & Nutritional Division, USA
  • Camden-Grey Essential Oils, Miami, USA.
  • Christina's Body & Fitness, USA
  • Dabur, India
  • Himalaya Herbals, India
  • Natural Remedies Pvt. Ltd. India
  • Philly Pharmacy, USA
  • S&D Chemicals (Canada) Ltd. Canada

(*Names arranged alphabetically)

Concluding Remarks:

It is the need of the hour to save this highly important medicinal plant of Patalkot valley. If proper initiatives are not taken in time, there will not be a single Gymnema plant left in the valley. Scientists, conservationists, researchers, NGO's and other bodies are urged to come forward and take steps to protect this important herb. Local farmers should be encouraged to cultivate this herb. Government and policy makers have lots of plans and ideas, but find problems in proper implementation. It is the youth and people from the literate world who should come forward to take this task into their hands.


Author (DA) is grateful to Dr S A Brown, Principal, Danielson College, Chhinwara for kind counsel time to time. Thanks are due to Dr MK Rai, Head, Department of Biotechnology, Amaravati University, Amaravati for supporting and encouraging me all the way. How can I forget to thank Dr Vipin Kumar (SRISTI, Ahmedabad) and Dr Sanjay Pawar (Chhindwara) for their moral support to me.

Authors Profile:

Dr Deepak Acharya - He was an Asst. Professor in Department of Botany, Danielson College, Chhindwara, MP, India. Recently, he has joined SRISTI ( His research interests include: Microbiology, Microbial activity, Ethno botany and Environmental Education. He has done herbal research among the tribal community of Patalkot for 6 years. He has Published nearly 25 research papers and more than 125 popular articles in various Journals/ Magazines/ News Papers of repute. Find more about Dr Acharya on .

Anshu Shrivastava- He was Senior Research Fellow at Botanical Survey of India- Jodhpur. He has now joined SRISTI ( as a Plant Taxonomist. He is expertise in the field of plant identification. Currently he is also working on ethnobotany.

Miss Garima Sancheti- She is a Senior Research Scholar at Department of Life Sciences, Rajasthan University, Jaipur.


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Book Review: Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones
Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with herbs

bookcover.jpg (41K)By Stephanie Rose Bird
ISBN 0-7387-0275-7
288 pages, including extensive index, bibliography, glossary and appendices
Released: June 2004

I welcome Stephanie Rose Bird's contribution to the herbal literature. Her contribution stands well apart from most works already on the market, not least due to her primary focus on the magical herbal traditions of African American origin known as Hoodoo. There are hardly any books available on this subject, neither as scholarly ethnobotanical works, nor as popular how-to literature. Stephanie Rose Bird's approach is refreshing - it is not a scholarly work, yet it is well researched. The true well of knowledge though from which this work is born is her own intimate knowledge of her traditions. She manages to explain many of the concepts of herbal magic in clear, down to earth terminology that is neither abstract nor wishy washy. As such she has written a book that has the user in mind. It is full of practical advice and suggestions as well as recipes.

Hoodoo, the herbal magic laid out in this work is a truly 'American Tradition' in the sense that it incorporates elements from various traditions and acknowledges the flow of knowledge between different ethnic groups, especially those that have become divorced from their home land. Hoodoo, although it contains elements of African folk magic, is a hybrid that has adapted old traditions to a new land with different plants. But, that being said, cultural traditions are only alive as long as their practitioners manage to adapt them to the changing circumstances of life - that is what makes them living traditions. Those practices that nobody any longer understands become dead, meaningless rituals.

This is a book that deals with African American herbal folk magic, which concerns itself with the problems of every day life: love, health, happiness, prosperity, grief, rites of passage, spiritual cleansing and protection. It also offers explainations for some spiritual concepts, gods and paraphernalia such as 'the bag of tricks' and 'Mojos' that are unique to the African American tradition. I also welcome the fact that she suggests alternatives to killing animals for making talismen and such, and also draws attention to the concern of endangered plant species.

Considering the number of books available on other American traditions e.g. Native American or Mexican American, this book has long been overdue and I am glad it is finally here. Although it will more than likely be grouped with the cookbook style pagan/magical herbals on the shelves of book sellers, this book actually stands well above them and distinguishes itself by its thorough research and down-to-earth practical approach and language.

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Agarwood: CITES backs sustainable management of high-value fragrant wood

Source: TRAFFIC Press Release, 13 October 2004 [] via NTFP

Governments today voted by an overwhelming majority to regulate the global trade in agarwood, a little known but high-demand product that is possibly the most valuable non-timber forest product worldwide. The efforts of Indonesia and other range States in Asia to request additional management controls under CITES should help ensure the centuries-old trade continues at more sustainable levels, says TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

"After more than a decade highlighting the dangerous trends of over-harvesting to supply this trade, TRAFFIC is very pleased to see some collective action on this issue," said James Compton, Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. "TRAFFIC's work with range States from India eastwards to Papua New Guinea has shown that this unique group of agarwood-producing tree species is clearly threatened by trade, and that unless this is better regulated, long-term supplies remain in jeopardy."

The trade in agarwood, resinous deposits of which are found in tree species of the genera Aquilaria and Gyrinops, dates back 2000 years and meets the cultural, medicinal and religious needs of societies from the Middle East right across Asia to China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Japan. It is also used in the production of high-grade incense and perfumes. In addition to the Appendix II listing endorsed today, CITES Parties have called for an important dialogue between producers and consumers to be held prior to the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES.

"As the global trade involves issues of economic, cultural and medicinal benefits, in addition to the management of the tree species, TRAFFIC is extremely supportive of efforts to bring producers and consumers together to ensure that the trade continues," Compton continued. "It is important to remember that CITES Appendix II is not a trade ban, but a management intervention that will help ensure legality, promote sustainability and enable more accurate monitoring of the agarwood trade."

Increasing scarcity of supply has driven agarwood prices progressively higher, to the extent that mid-level grades are sold for US$1 000/kg in markets like Bangkok and Singapore, and can fetch over US$10 000/kg in the end-consumer markets of the Middle East and East Asia. Although harvest and trade is controlled by permit systems in major exporters such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the monetary incentives to illegally extract agarwood from the lowland forests of Asia far outweigh compliance with the law. Organized groups of illegal harvesters have been documented encroaching national parks in countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

A single agarwood-producing species, Aquilaria malaccensis, has been listed on CITES Appendix II since 1995. But having only one species out of more than 20 listed on CITES has caused implementation and law enforcement difficulties * particularly as agarwood is traded in the form of wood, wood chips and oil, which makes it almost impossible to distinguish between species. The harmonizing of trade controls for all Aquilaria and Gyrinops species under CITES, therefore, should streamline management of the trade.

"Agarwood should be seen as a flagship for sustainable management of Asia's remaining lowland forests, and the connectivity between producer countries and end-use markets" Compton said. "It is a pertinent example of how political endorsements like the ASEAN Statement on CITES should be translated into work on the ground to manage the region's valuable resources and reduce illegal harvest and trade."

For further information please contact:

James Compton,
Regional Director, TRAFFIC
Southeast Asia
Tel: 60-12-316-6904

Camu camu (Myrciaria spp): a conservation and development issue in Peru

Source: Jim Penn, Rainforest Conservation Fund (via NTFP)

Camu camu is a small tree native to wetlands of the Amazon Basin. It is especially abundant in the Peruvian Amazonia. Though very high in vitamin C, until recently camu camu was used almost exclusively in Peru as fish bait and a convenient source of firewood when dead. The fruit is now popular in drinks, popsicles, candy and even cosmetics. Trees of this genus can also grow to be very large (e.g., the "shahuinto" variety). Camu camu fruit pulp is exported from Peru, with most of it going to Japan.

Since most M. dubia has at least 2 700mg of ascorbic acid per 100 grams of fruit, this small tree has been planted in experimental agroforestry systems since the 1960s. Some ribereñs were also planting it on their own because it soon had a demand in urban markets. Large-scale planting has now begun throughout the region due to the current export of the fruit. However, the results of recent planting programs have often been poor. Many NGO projects have been overly concerned about signing up large numbers of people and quickly planting fields in order to impress funding agencies and governments with the number of plants and participants. Meanwhile, poor execution of the projects and a lack of proper field maintenance have limited fruit production from projects with communities in the region of Loreto. At the same time, the harvesting of wild camu camu has increased in intensity.

There is concern over how much harvesting the wild stands can endure. Fish, such as the large Colossoma macropomum ("gamitana", "tambaqui") feed on the fruits, and they have disappeared from places where camu camu fruit is no longer available to them. Sustained and equitable programs are needed to assist the people with the cultivation and management of camu camu. Unfortunately, discrimination against rural people of the Amazon frequently ruins conservation and development plans.

For full article, please see:

Medicinal Plants: Research confirms medicinal promise of Kenyan plants

Source: SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 18 - 24 October 2004

Kenyan plants used in traditional herbal medicine are showing promising medicinal properties in scientific assessments of their ability to treat diseases such as herpes and malaria, according to presentations made at the 25th African Health Science Congress in Nairobi earlier this month (4-8 October).

Geoffrey Rukunga of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) said the Institute is assessing how two Kenyan medicinal plants work against the herpes simplex virus (HSV). When the researchers treated mice with extracts from the African Cherry (Prunus Africana) and the Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) trees, then infected them with HSV, both infection and disease progression were slower than in untreated mice. "There is a need to source new affordable therapeutic agents for management of HSV infections," said Rukunga, adding that further research on these plants is ongoing.

KEMRI scientists are also investigating the antimalarial effects of other Kenyan medicinal plants, either alone or in combination with chloroquine - the drug widely used to treat the disease in Africa. "Malaria chemotherapy research is targeting use of drug combinations as a way of delaying or overcoming development of drug resistance," KEMRI's Francis Muregi told SciDev.Net. "However, very little is known about effects of combining herbal preparations with synthetic drugs."

Muregi told the congress that researchers had screened 60 extracts of 11 plants, used for control of malaria by local communities in Kenya's Kisii district, for activity against the malaria parasite. Four plants - Ekebergia capensis, Stephania abyssinica, Ajuga remota and Clerodendrum myricoides - gave encouraging results against both chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of the parasite. In later studies, the researchers found that using extracts of E. capensis and C. myricoides in combination with chloroquine was more effective that using the drug on its own.

KEMRI'S Orwa Ja told SciDev.Net that the researchers are continuing to document medicinal plants used in areas of Kenya where malaria is endemic and will collect data "which we are convinced will be useful leads into further investigations". For full story, please see:

Namibia: Conservancies a major success

Source: New Era (Windhoek), 27 October 2004, (via NTFP)

"If we can export marula oil in the raw form to the United Kingdom or make tons and tons of shampoos and soaps from local resources, why can't we do the processing here ourselves? Surely this is not a fool's paradise?" With these inspiring words, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Dr Malan Lindique, opened the national Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) conference in Windhoek yesterday. CBNRM intends to conserve Namibia's wildlife, while at the same time empower rural communities to take control of their environment.

Community-based conservancies like those in Uukwaluudhi in Kaokoland, the Nyae-Nyae, Salambala, and Torabaai, are just a few which have successfully managed to create what Lindique termed, "community based-entrepreneurism". Re-looking at the latest achievements over the past decade, he indicated that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, together with other NGOs, and the private sector, have had substantial success in the 31 registered conservancies in the country. It is reported that close to 95 000 rural people have become active members in conserving their environment effectively.

Eighty percent of the income derived through wildlife tourism is ploughed back into the community. Sustainable development means development that meets current needs, without compromising the ability for the future generations to meet their own needs. In the light of this, conservancies having trophy hunting, community campsites and mid-market lodges have become a viable industry in the country.

The decade has been fruitful for community-based tourism ventures, where revenue of up to five million dollars was generated, employing close to 100,000 Namibians. Trophy hunting also generates an income of N$160 million dollars annually. Under the 2001 Forest Act, provision has also been made to proclaim the first 15 community forests before the end of this year.

Although there have been successes, there are some constraints experienced in conservation ventures. Director of Namibia's Community Based Tourism Association, Nacobta, Maxi Louis says, "There's still the lack of management skills on the grassroots level and not enough understanding about tourism development."

For full story, please see:

Samoa to profit from indigenous knowledge deal

Source: SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 4 to 10 October 2004

The Samoan government and the University of California, Berkeley, have signed an agreement to share equally the profits from a potential anti-HIV drug - prostratin - derived from the bark of Samoa's indigenous Mamala tree.

The drug, which stimulates expression of the HIV virus from reservoirs in the body so that anti-HIV drugs can clear it, is also being tested in clinical trials by the AIDS Research Alliance, who pledged in 2001 to give 20 percent of any profits back to the country.

Jay Keasling, a chemical engineering professor at Berkeley, and his team will first need to isolate the genes of the Mamala tree that produce prostratin. The gene will then be inserted into bacteria to create 'microbial factories' that can churn out much larger quantities of the drug than could be produced naturally.

The researchers are working in collaboration with ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox who first learned of prostatin's anti-viral properties from local healers. The agreement, which allocates a 50 percent share of commercial profits to the Samoan people, is novel, says Cox, in that "it may be the first time that indigenous people have extended their national sovereignty over a gene sequence".

Indigenous knowledge is increasingly being recognized as a valuable resource for commercial products such as pharmaceuticals. But the absence of a legally binding international treaty governing the intellectual property rights regarding such local knowledge means that it is open to exploitation.

Earlier this year, the discovery of naturally decaffeinated coffee plants originating in Ethiopia but grown in Brazil led to a fierce dispute over its genetic ownership (see Storm in a coffee cup). By contrast, the agreement signed in Samoa seems - on the surface at least - to be a win-win situation. Keasling believes the pact will "set a precedent for biodiversity conservation and genetic research" and for future commercial use of indigenous knowledge.

Not everyone is so positive, however. Rudolph Ryser, chair of the Centre for World Indigenous Studies, told SciDev.Net "the agreement is destined to falter". According to Ryser, such agreements cannot be fairly made until mutually agreed international protocols are put in place. He adds that rather than signing agreements to share profits with local people, drug developers should instead aim to provide drugs for free.

For full story, please see:

United States: U.S. Nontimber Forest Product Species Database updated

From: Eric T Jones [] via NTFP

With funding from the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry, 490 new entries have been added to the Institute for Culture and Ecology's free web database on nontimber forest product species. This brings the total number of entries to 1,343 commercially harvested species in the United States.

Land managers and other stakeholders can use the database to help identify NTFP species occurring in their region, their general use, and part of the plant used. The new entries included edible, medicinal, and decorative fungal species, lichens, additional vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, and ferns known to be currently or formerly commercially harvested in the United States.

Information to existing entries was added or altered where relevant new information emerged or where errors were discovered in the original data. As a result of the new work, the database is less geographically biased, and includes approximately 95% (to the level of genus) of the most important NTFP organisms in the mainland United States.

The updates were done by David Pilz. Pre-update entries were provided by James Weigand and funded by the USDA Forest Service Forest Sciences Lab in Portland, OR.

Biopiracy: Malaysian state acts to thwart biopirates

Source: Daily Express (Malaysia), 22 October 2004 (in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 18 - 24 October 2004)

The biodiversity-rich Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, is going to require NGOs to get approval from the state authorities before conducting any research there.

The move was agreed after a discussion held by officials from state ministries in August 2004. It is intended to stop biopiracy - the act of gaining benefit from a country's biological resources without fair compensation.

The decision means that all applications to do research in Sabah will first have to be approved by the State Economic Planning Unit. The Research and Internal Affairs Office of Sabah's chief minister's department will then assess applications for final approval.

CITES imposes trade controls on African diet plant and Asian yew trees

Source: Sustainable Africa Newsletter [], 9 October 2004

BANGKOK, Oct 8 (Reuters) - A United Nations conference approved on Friday a proposal by African countries to control trade in a rare plant sought by drug companies for its appetite-suppressing properties. The hoodia cactus in question has been used for thousands of years by southern Africa's San Bushmen to dampen their appetites during long treks through the harsh Kalahari desert and holds the key to potentially lucrative anti-obesity drugs.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed the hoodia plant in its Appendix II - which will regulate global trade in the species - at the behest of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

It also adopted a Chinese and United States proposal to put Asian yew trees, which provide the compound for one of the world's top-selling chemotherapy drugs, in the same appendix.

That will give added protection to plants which could save untold human lives while earning billions of dollars for big drug companies.

The proposals will be raised again during the plenary session next week, but are almost certain to pass because they have strong support.

South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has patented the chemical entity extracted from hoodia and licensed British drugs-from-plants firm Phytopharm Plc to develop the plant's commercial potential. Phytopharm said in July it welcomed moves to protect hoodia from illegal cultivation.

"We would like pharmaceutical companies to produce finished products in the three countries," said John Donaldson of the South African delegation, adding that there were structures in place to ensure that the San Bushmen derived benefits from the product.

Valuable but fragile yew: For years Chinese herbalists have used trees of the taxus species, also known as yew trees, to treat common ailments.

In the late 1960s, scientists in North Carolina found that extract of yew bark fought tumors. In the early 1990s, the U.S. government approved the use of paclitaxel, also known as taxol, by drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb for chemotherapy. Taxol, whose patent expired in the United States in 2001, is one of the best-selling drugs for treating a variety of cancers. In 2003, drug firms sold more than US$4 billion worth of products with taxol and other drugs derived from yew trees known as taxanes.

But conservationists say the various taxus species are under threat from illegal harvesting and habitat destruction in China. "This is a win for conservation as well as for trade," Craig Manson, the head of the U.S. delegation, told Reuters. "It ensures the products come from legal and sustainable resources. And it's important to preserve the species because it has a great impact on the lives of many people," he said.

More protected areas and planted forests in Latin America and the Caribbean

Source: FAO Newsroom (via NFTP)

20 October 2004, San José - Less natural forest cover, but more protected areas and forest plantations, and an increased share of international trade in forest products are expected by 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the conclusion of an outlook study to be published at the end of the year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The forecasts were presented for discussion to country representatives at the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission this week in San José, Costa Rica.

"The challenges and opportunities of the expected changes call for greater participation of communities and local government in forest management, better property rights regulations, improved intraregional trade and development of systems for a better flow of information," said Mr Merilio Morell, an FAO forestry expert, at the meeting.

Country representatives at the meeting recognized the need for coordinated follow up actions and programs in response to the outlook forecasts. "The future of forests in the region in the coming decades depends on how countries react to, and what kinds of actions they take in view of these expected changes," Morell said. Ongoing trends

Natural forest cover is expected to continue decreasing between now and 2020, according to the study. It is expected to shrink from 964 million hectares in 2002 to 887 million hectares in 2020 or 47 percent of the total land area of the region. Planted forests are forecast to increase from 12 million to over 16 million hectares. Protected areas are also likely to expand. Already between 1950 and 2003, protected areas increased from 17.5 to 397 million hectares, reaching 19 percent of the region's total area and 23 percent of the world's protected areas. Between now and 2020, new protected areas are expected to be created in the region, including mega parks and biological corridors.

Sustainable forest management

With appropriate means it is possible to reverse the trend of deforestation. "With proper mechanisms to finance sustainable forest management, it will be possible to reverse the deforestation trend and conserve forest ecosystems," Morell said. "Latin America and the Caribbean are at the forefront of implementing such innovative financial mechanisms."

Participating countries shared success stories on this topic at the meeting in San José. Costa Rica reported how forest cover in the country increased from less than 30 percent to 47 percent in a little more than a decade thanks to its National Fund for Forest Financing. The Fund spends a 3.5 percent in tax charged for the use of fossil fuels to support land owners and local communities to maintain protected areas, plant trees and manage their natural resources.

Uruguay and Cuba also described how their policies helped slow down and reverse the deforestation rate.

"To guarantee protection and sustainable use of forests the multiple benefits and services provided by forests have to be valuated in monetary terms by those who benefit," Mr Morell said. "Forests not only offer timber and non-wood forest products such as fruits and natural medicines, but also contribute to ecotourism, the conservation of watersheds and biodiversity, and to the mitigation of climate change. All this should be valuated to raise funds needed to pay for conservation of forests," he said.

For full story, please see:

Traditional medicines have 'real benefits'

Source: BBC Online (in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 27 September to 3 October 2004)

Scientists have shown that traditional medicines used in parts of Africa and Asia could help treat major diseases such as cancer and diabetes. They say their findings could lead to the identification of new compounds for use in drug manufacture.

The researchers from King's College London showed that extracts from India's curry leaf tree can regulate the release of glucose into the bloodstream, which could help diabetics who lack sufficient insulin to cope with excessive blood sugar. An extract of the climbing dayflower - used by traditional healers in Ghana - turned out be both antibacterial and antifungal. And an aquatic weed from Thailand along with Chinese star anise both inhibited the growth of cancer cells.

Any compounds identified from these plants will need to be investigated further with full clinical trials confirm these initial results, say complementary medicine experts.

For full story:

Ecotourism: Damming Belize

Source: Our Planet, E/The Environmental Magazine [] via NFTP

Belize's western mountains are an ecotourist's dream: a largely uninhabited region of dense tropical forests, wild rivers, cave complexes, Maya ruins and bountiful wildlife. While many of its Central American neighbours were clearing forests to make way for slash-and-burn agriculture, Belize has been making far more money keeping the trees in place. Today tourism-almost all of it nature-based-accounts for a fifth of the nation's economic activity and employs a quarter of its workforce. The mountainous Cayo region is one of the main draws.

But Belize's government is dead-set on building a dam on the upper Macal River, smack in the heart of Cayo. The $30 million Chalillo dam will flood 2,800 acres of tropical forest that is home to jaguars, ocelots, tapirs and the country's only known flock of the rare and colorful scarlet macaw. "This is the prettiest river in the country," says Mick Fleming, who owns the Chaa Creek Lodge, an ecotourism resort set in the jungle 20 miles downstream from the dam site. "We're going to lose something incredibly valuable in return for an extremely small amount of power." Plenty of people in Cayo agree with Fleming's assessment. The city council in the district capital, San Ignacio, opposes the dam.

Belize is extremely short on electricity, but it's unclear whether Chalillo is the best way to meet the shortfall. Fortis Inc., the big Canadian company that will build, own and operate the $30 million dam, says it will double generating capacity on the Macal River. "We believe hydroelectricity is the most environmentally friendly type of energy out there and the most cost-effective for Belize," says spokesperson Donna Hynes.

But while the dam will substantially boost domestic electricity production, most of the power will be generated at times of day when it is more expensive than importing it from Mexico. A 2000 study by the California-based Conservation Strategy Fund estimated the project would be a net drag on the Belizean economy. The dam is also being built near an active fault line, and Fortis admitted that it mischaracterized the geological properties of the site.

For full story, please see:

Medicinal plants: Treating malaria with herbal medicines

Source: British Medical Journal in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 8 - 14 November 2004

More than 1 200 plants are used to treat malaria and fevers, and the two main sources of anti-malarial drugs used today are derived from plants that have been used traditionally for hundreds or thousands of years.

In an article in the British Medical Journal, Merlin L Willcox and Gerard Bodeker provide an overview of research on herbal medicines used to treat malaria. Few trials of anti-malarial plants have been conducted, and studies often do not have enough detail on how medicines are prepared or sufficient data on the efficacy of such plants. Although most studies provide little information on side effects, some patients in one trial stopped the treatment because of minor side effects.

Prioritizing species for future research can be facilitated using the researchers' 'IVmal' index of how widely used different plants are. This allowed the identification of 11 species of plants used to treat malaria in all three tropical regions - Latin America, Africa and Asia. Although such plants may be the best targets for future research, the authors suggest that variations between formulations of individual remedies - rather than the species they are derived from - should also be considered. Link to full article in the British Medical Journal

Medicinal Plants: Cancer bush has medicinal properties

Source: Sapa, 15 November 2004

An indigenous plant used for centuries as a tonic and cancer treatment has been scientifically shown to have medicinal properties, researchers said on Monday. Two independent studies at South African universities have demonstrated the stress-relieving and anti-oxidant properties of Sutherlandia frutescens, otherwise known as Cancer Bush", said Phyto Nova, a company that produces medicines from the plant. It is known in Zulu and Xhosa as Unwele (hair) because it is believed to stop you "pulling out you hair" from distress. San cultures call it Insisa: "the one that dispels darkness".

"The plant is very variable. It grows wild all over the country," said botany professor and medicinal plant expert Ben-Erik van Wyk. He said the particular strain used in the research had been developed by his company from plants that had been cultivated for medicine for many generations. This strain (Sutherlandia SU1) is already available at pharmacies and health stores, costing about R35 to R50 for a month's treatment. It had been tested and shown to be safe by the Medical Research Council, Van Wyk said.

Medicines made from the small red-flowered legume are used by people from many different cultures, and there are several companies that produce, and even export Sutherlandia products.

However, until these two studies, and another study by Canadian researchers were accepted for publication earlier this year, there was no scientific evidence of the plant's curative effect.

Sandalwood: India bugs trees in high-tech crackdown on illegal logging

Source: The Independent (Delhi), 12 November 2004

The state of Kerala (India) is resorting to drastic measures to defend its dwindling forests of rare sandalwood trees from illegal logging. Its Forest Department is planning to use satellite tracking to protect the trees. Under the plan, microchips will be embedded inside the trees. Forestry officials will then be able to use a satellite to monitor the trees. Not only will any attempt to cut them down be detected - the Forest Department will be able to trace the movements of any smugglers who try to take timber out of the area.

The trade in contraband sandalwood is one of the most lucrative in India. Amid the money and greed, India's precious reserves are in increasing danger. Just three years ago, there were 62 000 sandalwood trees in Kerala's Marayur Forest. This year, there are 55 000. The last sizeable sandalwood forests in the world are in southern India, spread across Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Deforestation is a serious problem for India's people. The stripping away of the forests has contributed to several successive years of drought and farmers are known to have committed suicide due to ruined crops.

A properly managed and sustainable trade in sandalwood is vital to the region's economy. The sandalwood tree has been prized for its natural scent for centuries and its oil is used in the manufacture of perfumes all over the world. Sandalwood is also used in incense - an esoteric buy in the West, but a staple in much of Asia. And the soft, scented wood is prized for carving and it is used in some Indian medicines.

All this puts sandalwood in big demand - but there are relatively few sources. Sources elsewhere have been overexploited. In Australia, most of the little that is left is protected and Indonesia's stocks are almost exhausted.

With its huge reserves, India has done more than anywhere else to set up a sustainable trade in sandalwood, with strict laws on when trees can be felled and planting to replenish the forests. But the implementation of the laws is poor. Local politicians are often paid by smugglers and the huge forests are too big to patrol.

Satellite tracking will enable officials to monitor the forests and hopefully, with publicity, shame the politicians into action.

Ecotourism: Good forest management strategies vital

Source: The Times of Zambia (Ndola), 7 December 2004

Tourism Minister, Patrick Kalifungwa says there is need to put in place effective forest management strategies in order to promote the tourism sector. Mr Kalifungwa said this yesterday when he officiated at the second regional workshop for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) project for the support to forestry college curriculum revision in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.

He said the efforts by the regional organization to strengthen the forestry training institution's capacities were pleasing because it would result in efficient management of forests. He added that the three countries depended on tourism as one of their major sources of foreign exchange and there was need for them to look after forests which formed the base for the industry. "In all these three countries, tourism is mainly based on wildlife and natural resources sites, of which the forest is a major part," he said.

The Zambian Government on its part has prioritized the tourism environment and natural resources sector so that it can contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction. It recognizes that sustainable development could not be attained unless policies promoting the development of human resource capacity in forest management, entrepreneurship, and marketing were given prominence.

Speaking at the same function, Finnish chargé d'affairs Jorma Suvanto said his country's new development focus on Zambia and seven other countries was to offer assistance through activities that were meant to eradicate poverty. Mr Suvanto said protection of the environment was cardinal because it was synonymous to sustainable development and poverty reduction. "If the source of the Zambezi River is destroyed through deforestation, this can pose a threat to the livelihoods of the local population as well as down-stream inhabitants of Victoria Falls, the neighbouring countries and World heritage," he said.

He urged the three countries to incorporate HIV/AIDS strategies in the forest management policies, as they had done with gender in the Finnish supported project. For full story, please see:

Brazil Amazon deforestation jumps, data show

Source: Reuters, 1 December 2004 (in Amazon News, 2.12.04)

An area of the Amazon jungle larger than the US state of New Jersey has been destroyed this year and work on a new highway is mainly to blame, environmental group Friends of the Earth and the government said on Wednesday.

The preliminary figures are based on a satellite system which has been monitoring Amazon deforestation on a test basis. The government's yearly figures, released in March, are based on data from a different satellite system. The satellite images indicated that from 8 920 square miles to 9 420 square miles was cut down this year, said Joao Paulo Capobianco, the government's secretary of biodiversity and forests. "That number could be bigger or smaller, or the same, we will know in March," Capobianco told Reuters. But he said these figures and other indications made it clear there was no decline in deforestation this year.

If confirmed, the total figure for this year's deforestation will be above the 2002-2003 level of 9 170 square miles, said Roberto Smeraldi, head of Friends of the Earth in Brazil. The figure was especially worrying because it showed that for the first time in history Amazon deforestation rose despite a slowdown in agriculture during the year, he said. A record level was set in the mid-1990s in a year marked by an exceptional incidence of fires.

Small farmers have been major culprits in the trend as they hack away at Amazon jungle to expand their fields.

The data showed a big jump in deforestation along a road running through the heart of the Amazon that the government has said it wants to pave. In the region of the road, deforestation soared by more than five times, Smeraldi said. Settlers have moved in even before the government started paving it.

Environmentalists have warned that roads, dams and pipeline projects through the Amazon -- home to up to 30 percent of the planet's animal and plant species -- represent the biggest threat to the forest because they open up access to large-scale development and settlement.

Brazil: over 2 million hectares declared protected in Brazilian Amazon

Source: Linkages Update - 13 November 2004

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva created two new environmental reserves in the Amazon on 9 November 2004. The reserves are to be classified as "extractavist" reserves, meaning that the local population will be allowed to remain in the area to tap rubber, pick fruits and nuts and extract regenerating goods from the forest. The new reserves will protect over 2 million hectares in the Amazon state of Para.

Greenpeace's Amazon campaign coordinator Paulo Adario expressed pleasure with "the government's decision to honour its commitment to protect the planet's biggest tropical forest and the communities that live in them."

The announcement came on the heels of the release, at the October meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission, of FAO projections that the region will see less natural forest cover but more protected areas and forest plantations by 2020. For full article, please see:

China: Work begins on major collection of Chinese biodiversity

Source: SciDev.Net, 3 December 2004

China began building a repository to house samples of its biodiversity this week. It hopes that the centre will become one of the largest collections of its kind in Asia and a world-class research centre.

Based at the Kunming Institute of Botany in China's south-western Yunnan province, the collection will include samples of 19 000 species. Most of these will be collected from Yunnan province - which is home to more than half of China's biodiversity - and from the neighbouring Tibet Autonomous Region. It will eventually include nearly 200 000 samples in seed and DNA banks, a collection of living plants, and specimens of animals and micro-organisms. The building is due to be finished and equipped in 2006 but it is expected that it will take between ten and 15 years to collect all the specimens.

The project is being jointly developed and managed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Yunnan's provincial government at a cost of 148 million yuan (US$18 million).

At the project launch on 29 November, the vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chen Zhu, said scientists would use the collection for biotechnology research. It would also help protect biodiversity and popularize science, Chen added.

According to the academy's website, the repository will oversee foreign research on China's genetic resources. In recent years, Chinese media reports have repeatedly accused foreign researchers of 'biopiracy' - gaining benefit from a country's biological resources without fair compensation.

Also on 29 November, the Kunming Institute of Botany opened the International Centre for Mountain Ecosystem Studies in Kunming, a joint project between it and the World Agroforestry Centre (known as ICRAF) that will focus on studies of natural resources and the environment in the Tibetan Plateau, east Himalayas and Hengduan Mountains.

Volunteer opportunities - forest conservation projects

Source: H. Gyde Lund (], FIU 13 DEC 04

Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) believes that conservation should not cost the earth! Therefore, to mark the 20th anniversary since the inception of CCC, we are proud to be able to offer 30% off the costs of taking part on one of our tropical forest conservation projects. Placements must start before the end of May 2005. If you are a returning volunteer you'll get 50% off all expedition costs.

CCC is a not-for-profit, international community-based tropical forest and coral reef conservation group. We send teams of volunteers to survey some of the world's most endangered coral reefs and tropical forests. Our mission is to protect these crucial environments by working closely with the local communities who depend on them for food and livelihood.

CCC has a new and exciting tropical forest conservation project in Malaysia and an on going, award winning project in the Philippines which volunteers can take part on (see:

CCC also offers full fundraising support since many volunteers pay for their participation through sponsorship and grants rather than out of their own pocket (

To reserve your place on a CCC Expedition contact the Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator now on:

Google launches free search engine for academic texts Leading Internet search engine Google has launched a free service that will search only academic literature.

UN agencies urge fair sharing of indigenous knowledge

Guidelines for sharing benefits derived from indigenous knowledge have been outlined in a report by two United Nations

Making sense of patent rules for plant varieties

Bonwoo Koo and colleagues review intellectual property legislation on plants and their products. Science)

Worldwatch institute

In this month's cover story, "Tresspass: Genetic Engineering as the Final Conquest," author Claire Hope Cummings explores the significant threat that agricultural biotechnology poses to world food supplies. And in "A New Paradigm for Security," leading military expert Gregory D. Foster explains why it is time to radically rethink our priorities and strategies on security.

Also, the debate heats up following the World Watch November/December cover story, "A Challenge to Conservationists." Read responses from "the big three"-Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and The Nature Conservancy-as well as from many World Watch readers.

Download "Tresspass: Genetic Engineering as the Final Conquest" and readers responses to "A Challenge to Conservationists" for free from our website at

For background, download the November/December World Watch article "A Challenge to Conservationists" for free from our website at Free PDF Download-Vital Signs 2003

From devastating resource wars fueled by oil or diamonds to a surge in clean, cheap wind power, Vital Signs 2003 documents the trends that are shaping our future in concise analyses and clear tables and graphs.

Download the PDF versions of Vital Signs 2003 today at

Among the important trends highlighted in Vital Signs 2003:

  • Infectious diseases kill twice as many people worldwide as cancer each year.
  • Roughly one-quarter of the 50 recent wars and armed conflicts have involved a struggle for control of natural resources.
  • The most rapidly expanding energy source is wind power-with an annual average growth rate of 33 percent between 1998 and 2002.
  • With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States uses 26 percent of the oil, 25 percent of the coal, and 27 percent of the natural gas.
  • 82 percent of the world's smokers now live in developing countries.