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© Kat Morgenstern
March 2005
Vol.IV Issue:1

This Issue:

Read more about Galapagos
More Trips to Galapagos - coming soon

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medicinewheel.jpg (5K)It would be preposterous to speak of 'Native American Medicine' as if there was a unified system that this term could be applied to across all Native tribes. Native American tribes vary hugely in their traditions, their medical practices and the herbs they use. Of course, much depends also on their native lands and the plants with which they share it. Thus, Woodland Indians native to the forested northeastern part of the US have an entirely different repertoire than Pueblo Indians of the Southwest.

It would be beyond the scope of this article or indeed this newsletter to try and differentiate the various belief-systems and practices except in general terms - so please excuse the superficial treatment I am forced to give it here.

Back in the early days the pioneers that came to settle in the Indian lands could be divided into two basic types - the ones who were prepared to learn and listen from the native people and those who did not. The latter, often members of the so called 'educated classes', were often possessed by such deeply ingrained ethnocentric arrogance that they could not and would not perceive any value in Native practices at all. Nevertheless, the Native people frequently took pity on them and saved their lives with their 'primitive remedies'.

As was common among many indigenous medical believes, Native Americans attributed various types of diseases to more or less three distinct types of causes: natural causes, evil sorcery, secret or unfulfilled desires and supernatural causes.

Natural causes were common illnesses, wounds or broken bones, which could be healed with herbal knowledge and skill.

Evil sorcery included things like spirit object intrusion, splints, hair, or stones that had magically entered a persons body and caused the disease, for which a shaman was required in order to remove such objects and neutralize their power. Supernatural causes included the consequences of taboo transgressions or the loss of soul due to sudden frights.

Native medicine has always excelled in the treatment of wounds and surgery, such as mending broken bones etc, a branch of medicine that during the pioneer era was a most barbaric torture in western medicine. Hygiene was poor and anaesthetics unknown. Barbers doubled up as surgeons. Even today Western medicine is indebted to indigenous medicine for the most commonly used anaesthetic derived from Coca - a plant that South American Indian doctors have used for this purpose since pre-Colombian times.

Indeed there are numerous plants of both south and North American Native origin that have enriched modern western herbalism and medicine. However, in Native traditions it's not just the plant that makes the medicine, but first and foremost the power of the spirit that governs the plant. A plant as such would be considered useless unless it were gathered and prepared with due respect, prayer and rituals with which the healer seeks the support of the plant spirit to help him affect a cure.

Healing rituals usually involve a process of physical and spiritual cleansing. The patient may have to fast for a period of time, or he may be given purgatives. Some tribes make extensive use of sweatlodges as a way of mental, spiritual and physical purification - both as a curative and a preventative measure.

The intense perspiration helps the body to eliminate toxins through the skin. Herbal teas support this process and the smoke released from smudging herbs cleanses the heart, mind and atmosphere and dispels the evil spirits of disease. Jumping into a cold river after the intense sweating also helps to stimulate the circulation and the immune system.

Native Americans placed a high value on personal hygiene and daily bathing, usually in the cold waters of a nearby river was a common daily routine for men, women and children. In times of sickness they would often seek out healing springs. Springs were considered sacred in many ancient traditions due to their purifying, life-giving and restorative powers. The healing waters were also used internally for therapeutic purposes.

Native people also had the good sense to isolate their sick - a practice that was virtually unheard of among whites. Sick people often had to stay in special huts or lodges where they were being cared for. Fumigation or smudging was a frequent practice. The sacred smoke of the holy sage and other special herbs not only served as a carrier of prayers and as food for the gods and spirits, but also helped to purify and disinfect the air.

In actual healing rituals the burning of tobacco - the holiest herb of all, played an important role. In this case though, the shaman or healer would smoke the tobacco, but rather than inhaling the smoke, would blow it at the patient in order to dispel evil spirits and cleanse his or her aura. Tobacco also played a hugely important role in the actual ritual of gathering medicinal herbs - it served as the mediator between the human and the spirit world. It was the gift offered to the spiritual beings when asking permission to pick herbs and seeking their blessing.

The ritual itself usually involved chanting and drumming. The task of the healer is to determine the cause of disease and help the spirit of the patient to realign himself with the greater order of the universe and his community. Only once this spiritual aspect of healing has been affected will the herbs be considered useful as a supportive measure to clear the body of the patient from the weakness and debris of the disease.

Many but not all tribes had special 'medicine societies' each of which was responsible for caring for a particular type of disease. In some cases the members were people who had suffered and recovered from the respective disease and individuals could not choose to join one group or another - the disease itself elected them. Elsewhere the traditions were passed down from uncle to nephew or aunt to niece.

Not only western herbalism, but also western medicine is indebted to Native American medicine for many remedies now commonly used. It is a pity though that not more of the philosophy and preventative approach also found its way into western medicine - much still remains to be learnt from these ancient wisdom ways. Sadly, with the advances of modern medicine and lifestyles much of this wisdom is now endangered. In many places the elders don't find enough young people interested in learning the old ways and keeping the traditions alive. At the same time money hungry impostors jump on the 'native American bandwagon' and promote their own brand of healing and spirituality as native wisdom, but which only increases the mistrust and protective secrecy with which the real knowledge is guarded. But what will happen when the last keeper dies? Who will carry on the flame? Who will protect the knowledge and who will protect the flames when there is no-one left to care?


Association of American Indian Physicians

Cross Cultural Medicine Workshop
April 28 - May 1, 2005
Hotel Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Native American Remedies - Cherokee Messenger

Traditional Herbal & Plant Knowledge

Smithonian Institute Bibliography

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Plant Profile: SUGAR MAPLE

(Acer saccharum)
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There are almost two hundred different Acer species worldwide and about one hundred distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, most of them indigenous to central and eastern Asia. Some are also indigenous to Europe and the Mediterranean. About 13 different species are indigenous to North America, including the Sugar Maple. Its distribution ranges from southern Canada down to Arkansas, Tennessee and the southern Appalachian Mountains. It is the dominant and most prominent tree of the eastern forests, most notable in the autumn when its leaves turn to brilliant red, orange and yellow. The striking coloration is due to the breakdown and dispersal of chlorophyll, which reveals other pigments such as carotenes, tannins and anthocyanins, which react differently depending on the pH level of the soil. Sugar Maple is a stately tree that can reach a height of up to 130 feet. It grows relatively slow though. A mature tree can reach an age of about 200 years. In the southern range of its distribution it associates with Oaks. In the northern and northeastern ranges it grows among birch and beech woods.


tapping.jpg (43K)The distinctive leaf has gained world fame as the national emblem of the Canadian flag and Maple has also been elected as the state tree of several US states. Sugar Maple is one of the most valuable hardwood trees of the northeastern forests of the US. Its wood has a fine grain and is lighter, yet stronger than that of White Oak, which makes it useful for the manufacture of many household implements such as rolling pins, cutting boards, ladles and spoons. Carpenters, wood turners and instrument makers especially value its beautiful close grain. As a durable hardwood, it also found uses as a building material for floorboards, skirting-boards etc. But Sugar Maples most important economic role is of course not the value of its timber but the yield of its sweet tasting sap, which rises abundantly in the early spring. Indians first taught the European settlers about this sap and the technique for tapping it as they had been using it as one of their most important food sources since time immemorial.

Maple sap contains about 3% of sugar (on average). To obtain a strong flavoured syrup takes around 30 -40 gallons of sap which is reduced to one gallon of maple syrup with an ideal density of 66. 5%. At higher concentrations the syrup is likely to crystallize, in lower concentrations it can go off. An average tree yields about 12 gallons of sap, which can be turned into 3 pounds of sugar per season. Large trees (at least 25 - 30 inches in diameter) can sustain 2 or 3 taps. Younger trees with a diameter of 10-12 inches (at about 65 years of age) only sustain one tap.

lodges.jpg (48K)The Indians had semi-permanent sugar camps set up in the forests, to which they traveled for the annual sugar making season (from about mid March to mid April). These usually consisted of two structures, one small birch bark covered lodge where utensils were stored, and the sugar making lodge, which also served as a temporary living space. The sugar-making lodge was freshly repaired and prepared each year. It usually had one or two platforms along the inside walls, while the middle was kept as the cooking space.

Each camp harvested between 900 - 1500 taps. Taps were made by making a diagonal 4" incision into the tree about 3 ft above the ground. Perpendicular to the cut the bark was removed for another 4" and a wooden spout, usually made from Slippery Elm about 6" long and 2" wide was inserted below. A container made from birch bark was placed underneath the spout. When full the contents were poured into a larger pot which was slowly heated at the edge of the fire. The process of heating was carried out with great care to avoid too much frothing and bubbling. The fire kept going all night and people took turns in watching over the process, cooling it and reheating the syrup and all the while stirring it with maple wood ladles. When it reached the right consistency it was strained through a basswood mat, or through a well-worn linen cloth. For the final sugaring off all the equipment was carefully cleaned and scoured. The syrup was again reheated and some bear fat or deer tallow was added to it to make the sugar softer and less brittle. As the mass was getting increasingly dense the process of stirring it with a maple wood paddle was getting harder. When it reached just the right consistency it was rapidly crushed with special ladles or by hand in order to pulverize the sugar before it cooled down too much and became too solid.

boiling.jpg (52K)Some of the thick syrup was also used to make special delicacies by pouring it into fancy shapes, which solidified as they cooled down. Another special treat was known as gum-sugar, which in modern language is also known as maple taffy. To make this sticky stuff the syrup was poured onto snow where it would harden and then be scooped into little packets of birch bark, or nowadays, poured onto vanilla ice cream, allowed to harden and picked up with a spoon or stick to be eaten like lollipops. The settlers added their own inventions to the inventory of Maple products. They made a thick spread, known as maple butter, maple vinegar (which by all accounts appears not to have been too tasty, but said to improve with addition of whiskey), maple beer and maple punch.

Before there were metal kettles, pots and pans the Indians used birch bark containers and vats made from moose skins. To heat the syrup they would place red hot stones into these containers with the syrup and then cool the liquid off in the snow, simply discarding the sheet of ice which would form on top.

The flavor and abundance of sap is very much dependent on environmental factors, such as weather conditions and pH level of the soil. Little snow and deep frost during the early part of winter, followed by heavy snow, was thought to produce the best harvest. Rain changes the flavor of the sugar and thunderstorms were thought to ruin it. The settlers soon learned and adopted the technique which essentially is still carried out in more or less the same manner, except for some small modifications which have somewhat simplified the process. For the Indians and some of the small family producers 'sugaring off' was not just the harvest of a commercial crop, but an integral and important part of the annual cycle, a joyous and festive event and herald of the impending spring.

Maple sugar is still thought to be a delicacy and enormous amounts of it are tapped for local as well as for international consumption. Vermont is the largest producer in the US today (500 000 gallons annually), followed by New York and Ohio. However, Canada is the largest producer worldwide, covering about 75% of the international demand. Other species of Maple also contain sweet sap and can be used for obtaining syrup, though Sugar Maple is by far the most prolific. In contrast to white sugar, maple syrup and maple sugar are highly nutritious.

Composition of Pure Maple Syrup:

Carbohydrates (%):
  • Sucrose 62.65
  • Hexose (glucose, fructose) 0.5 - 3
  • Other trace sugars
Minerals (PPM)
  • Potassium 1500-2200
  • Calcium 400-1000
  • Magnesium 100-300
  • Phosphorus 50-125
  • Manganese 5-80
  • Zinc 5-50
  • Sodium 1-25
  • Iron 1-15
  • Tin 0-25
  • Copper 0-2
Organic acids (%)
  • Malic 0.090
  • Citric 0.009
  • Succinic 0.007
  • Fumaric 0.004
Amino Acids (PPM)
  • Phenols 300-960
  • Amino nitrogens 30-190
Vitamins (micrograms/liter)
  • Niacin (PP) 276
  • Pantothenic Acid (B5) 600
  • Riboflavin (B2) 60
  • Folic Acid Traces
  • Pyridoxine Traces
  • Biotin Traces
  • Vitamin A Traces

Native Americans also used various parts of Sugar Maple for medicinal purposes, though these uses are no longer common. The Iroquois especially employed various parts medicinally as parts of compound medicines to purify the blood, or externally to treat sore eyes and blindness as well as for a skin condition referred to as "Italian itch." It was also used to treat shortness of breath and as a pulmonary and expectorant cough medicine. The dried and ground inner bark was sometimes used as flour and the rotten wood could be used to yield a purple dye. The latter was hard to come by though, as the wood is rather rot resistant.

The settlers on the other hand soon found it less work intensive and more profitable to turn their stands of Maple trees into ash by burning them to the ground in order to obtain economically valuable potash. Maple yields a relatively large amount of ash (4% compared to only 1% of Douglas Fir). The potash was a valued raw material destined for export to England were it was used extensively by the textile industry, as a raw material for the production of soap. It was also essential for making glass and gunpowder. In 1751, Britain even passed an act in Parliament 'for encouraging the making of Pott Ashes and Pearl Ashes in the British Plantations in America'. An acre of forest could be reduced to 2 tons of saleable potash - at a certain profit for the farmers, and sometimes their only significant source of income: in 1800 a ton of potash demanded a price of $200 - $300. Eventually Thomas Jefferson stopped all legal export of any goods including Potash as a reprisal against the search and seizure of American ships by France and Britain - however, illegal export (i.e. smuggling) became even more lucrative.

These days, environmental factors are the main threat to the Maple population. Growth of mature trees is decreasing and 'infant mortality' among saplings is increasing, apparently due to acid rain. Because of their extensive shallow root systems Maple trees are especially susceptible to surface soil pollution.

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Maple Gingerbread

Sift together flour, soda, ginger and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the egg vigorously, and then stir in maple syrup, sour cream and butter. Mix cream and butter. Mix in the flour combination and pour into a greased flat pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 or until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Maple frosting is a tasty option.

Elderflower Fritters with Maple Syrup

Stir milk and eggs into dry ingredients. Dip Elderflower heads into the batter and deep fry until crisp. Serve with maple syrup and lemon juice.

Maple Wine

From "Valuable Secrets", 1809
"Boil 4, 5, or 6 gallons of sap according to its strength into one and add yeast according to the quantity you make. After it is fermented, set it aside in a cool place well stopped. If kept for two years, it will become a pleasant and round wine."

Baked Ham from the Smokehouse

Take one smoked ham. Soak overnight in cold water. Wash and remove all mold. Place ham in a large container with lid and fill ¾ full with water. Boil hard for ½ hour, reduce heat and cook slowly 4-5 hours, turning every 2 hours. Remove the outer skin from ham, leaving layer of fat. Coat with mixture of Maple Syrup, cinnamon, sweet cider and cider vinegar. Sprinkle with fresh breadcrumbs. Score and dot with cloves. Brown in oven for 30 minutes.

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COFO: Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Mathai to address high-level FAO meetings on forests
Source: FAO Newsroom, 14 March 2005

President of the Republic of the Congo and the Prime Minister of Finland to address the opening sessions Wangari Mathai, who received the Nobel Peace prize last year for her dedication to the conservation of the environment by planting trees all over Africa, will address a high-level FAO meeting on forests tomorrow in Rome.

His Excellency Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo, will address the opening session today. He recently hosted a summit of heads of state for the conservation of the Congo Basin forests in central Africa and was instrumental in forging the first regional conservation treaty for the basin. At 241 million hectares, the basin is the world's second largest rainforest.

The Prime Minister of Finland, His Excellency Matti Vanhanen, will give a keynote speech tomorrow. As a country very active in international forestry and with one of the highest percentage of forest cover in the world, Finland has been a staunch supporter of FAO's work in forestry. The forestry sector contributes eight percent to its gross domestic product, second only to the electronics industry.

A native of Kenya, Wangari Mathai has worked for the past 30 years to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and other countries in Africa, in recognition of the contribution of the environment to peace and poverty eradication. Her Green Belt Movement, founded in 1977, has since catalyzed women all over Africa to plant trees.

Mathai is the first woman from Africa to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize and receive a Ph.D. and the first female professor in Kenya. She is currently the Deputy Minister of Environment of Kenya and an Ambassador at large for the Congo Basin forests.

"It is a great honour to have such prominent personalities here in Rome and we hope that they will continue to serve as examples of courage, dedication and vision for sustainable forest management," said Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department. It is also hoped that their presence would contribute to raising forestry to higher levels on the global political agenda.

Some 50 ministers and 400 representatives of national forestry agencies, international organizations and non-governmental organizations will discuss international cooperation on forest fires, deforestation, post-tsunami rehabilitation and the role of forests in achieving the Millennium Development Goals this week in Rome at the third Ministerial Meeting on Forests and the seventeenth session of the Committee on Forestry.

The committee is held every two years to discuss the most prominent global issues in forestry and the last ministerial meeting was held in 1999.

For full story, please see: fao

Biopiracy: EPO revokes neem patent rights
Source: The Financial Express, India, 10 March 2005

The European Patent Office (EPO) finally decided to revoke in entirety a patent right it had earlier granted on a fungicide derived from an Indian medicinal plant, neem. It said the patent application was an act of biopiracy.

EPO, in September 1994, had granted patent rights to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the multinational agribusiness corporation, WR Grace of New York, vide No 436257. USDA and WR Grace had applied for patent rights in December 12, 1990 on the basis of a US priority application of December 26, 1989 covering a method for controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil.

Subsequently with adequate evidences of traditional use of the fungicide, EPO revoked the patent in May 2000. But this victory was shortlived as the revocation was followed by an appeal. It was finally on the evening of March 8, 2005 EPO finally revoked the patent rights once and for all.

In June 1995, a legal opposition to the grant of this patent was filed jointly by Dr Vandana Shiva, director of Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), Ms Magda Aelvoet of the Green Group in European Parliament and Ms Linda Bullard of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). These three women were assisted by their attorney, Dr Fritz Dolder of the faculty of law in the University of Basel.

Speaking from Munich, Dr Vanadana Shiva said: "What a lovely celebration for the women of India. The EPO verdict upholds the value of traditional knowledge of millions of women not only in India, but throughout the South. "

The former president of the Green Group in the European Parliament and presently Belgian minister of state for health and environment, Ms Magda Aelvoet said: "This is the first time that a patent has been rejected on grounds of biopiracy." The former IFOAM president, Linda said: "We are able to establish that traditional knowledge can be used as a means for establishing prior art and thus destroy the false claims of novelty and inventiveness."

For full story, please see: financial express

Biopiracy: Biodiverse countries call for tighter patent rules
Source: SciDev.Net, 28 February 2005

Developing countries that are rich in biodiversity have called for tighter patent rules to prevent their biological resources being misappropriated and to ensure that benefits arising from their use are shared fairly.

The proposal was made at a meeting of the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held from 14-18 February in Bangkok, Thailand. Its proponents included the Like-Minded group of Mega-diverse Countries (LMMCs) - so called because they contain most of the world's biodiversity - and a negotiating group representing Africa.

They proposed a legally binding regime that would require users of biological resources to first seek informed consent of the country of origin, and to ensure that the origin of the resources were disclosed in patent applications. Developing countries said the regime should be broad enough to also cover products derived from patented resources.

However, developed countries at the meeting, including Australia, Canada, the European Union and Japan (the United States is not a signatory) maintained an 'open' position, suggesting that benefit sharing could be enforced through existing instruments. Among these are the Bonn Guidelines, drawn up in 2002 to help parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity implement fair access to genetic resources.

But many developing countries, including the LMMCs, stressed at the Bangkok meeting that these voluntary guidelines were not enough to prevent violations of national legislation or ensure compliance with benefit sharing.

Their chief concern is 'biopiracy', whereby biological resources could be appropriated by foreign researchers and used to develop new, patent-protected products, without benefits being returned to the country of origin.

The South African representative told delegates that some intellectual property instruments undermine rather than promote benefit sharing. Developing countries said that instead they sought an international regime that supports and complements - rather than overrides - national legislation.

Critics of the developing countries' proposal include Alan Oxley, based at the APEC Study Centre at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

In a report published to coincide with the Bangkok meeting, Oxley warned that going down a "litigious" path in which patents are tightly regulated "risks destroying benefits for everyone". He argues that a market-based approach, in which agreements between users and providers of genetic resources are designed on a case-by-case basis, represents the way forward.

However, an internationally flexible system that relies on such ad hoc agreements would mean that developing countries would be forced to police their own biodiversity - and not all countries have the resources to do this.

The LMMCs want the convention on biological diversity to ensure that countries can determine how products derived from their biological resources can be used.

Oxley maintains that the LMMC proposal would "block the development of biotechnology" and halt bioprospecting by deterring pharmaceutical companies from investing in research into drugs based on indigenous resources.

The LMMCs are Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Africa and Venezuela.

For full story, please see: scidev

Brazil: Forest has lost 14% of its original coverage
Source: O Estado de S.Paulo, 24 February 2005 (in Amazon News, 3.3.05)

During the last 30 years of exploitation, the Amazonian forest lost 14% of its original coverage or at least 700 000 km2. Originally the forest occupied 76% of the region - 3 800 000 km2. Today's forest area is only 62% - 3 100 000 km2, according to the Institute for Humans and the Environment of Amazonia (IMAZON).

It highlights that of the remaining 62%, not all is necessarily untouched: almost one half exists under some type of human pressure, including the sustainable use of the forest. For full story, please see:

Chile's flourishing market for indigenous medicine Source: Inter Press Service News Agency, 2 March 2005

The Mapuche people, Chile's largest indigenous group, are seeing a return to the use of their traditional medicines and food, creating businesses and jobs that could help them fight their way out of poverty.

In an initiative backed by the Chile's health ministry, Mapuche traditional medicine has spread throughout the country as a complement to Western medicine. The indigenous medicines, made from 47 native plants diluted in water and alcohol, are used in combination with modern medical practices to treat more than 50 diseases. The therapies are now sold in four pharmacies and one hospital, and their developers are seeking patents for the products.

The Mapuche represent 87 per cent of Chile's indigenous people, and four per cent of Chile's total population.

For full story, please see: Scidev

Malaysia: Use of Sarawak's biodiversity
Source: Borneo Bulletin, 9 March 2005

Sarawak's geographical setting is ideal for the development of biotechnology and providing opportunities to create biowealth. "Its natural geographical setting in Borneo Island has been identified as one of 12 mega biodiversity hotspots in the world, but must find its own niche to translate products useful to humanity," said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan.

He hoped research and development (R&D) of products or raw materials by local universities would ensure its economic relevance and create values or benchmark for competitiveness while looking for partnerships with the established entrepreneurs globally.

The rich resources of the forest and the surrounding seas, he said, offer excellent opportunities and challenges for biotechnological transformation of these natural resources into high value-added products for the herbal, chemical, food and agro-industries as well as the opportunity for the discovery of new natural products. In recognizing the economic potential of biotechnology, the federal government has invested more than RM12 billion to kick-start Malaysia's biotechnology facilities, particularly in the BioValley initiatives.

He said Sarawak has identified Kuching and Miri as two centres for the development of technology clusters and bio-initiatives. "Thus R&D in herbal biotechnology and herbal medicine is a potentially fruitful and productive research area for Sarawak. The research on Bintangor tree of Sarawak is one of the most expensive projects but we hope to use it in the near future." For full story, please see: brunei on-line

Ecotourism: Uttaranchal (India) tries to involve tribals in forest conservation
Source: New Kerala, 12 January 2005 (in Community Forestry E-News 2005.01)

Uttaranchal is trying to involve in thousands of tribals and villagers living in the state's forests to help woo ecotourists to its remote area. The government is attempting to provide livelihood strategies for the tribals by training them to conserve the forests and to practise sustainable community-based tourism. Revenues generated are to be distributed to the people who actually reside in those areas.

Encouraged by the response to similar packages in states like Sikkim and Assam, authorities are now trying to get locals to adopt their traditional lifestyles - a distinctly forest culture - to bring in the millions of foreigners fascinated by it to the region. The government has also set up a four billion rupees master plan to develop lesser-known hill stations and an institute of eco tourism would be set up to train villagers to boost community-based tourism.

For the full story, please see

Ginseng: Biologist says deer threaten ginseng
Source: Associated Press, 11 February 2005, in CFRC Weekly Summary 2/17/05

American ginseng, sister of the Asian wonder herb and a seasonal cash crop in Appalachia, West Virginia, has two obstacles to long-term survival in the United States: Man and deer. That's the conclusion of West Virginia University biologist James McGraw, who says that since humans aren't going anywhere, it's time to do something about the deer.

In Friday's edition of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, McGraw says natural, slow-growing ginseng could be extinct within 100 years if deer keep grazing at current rates. He contends there are two ways to ensure its survival: Reintroduce mountain lions, wolves or other natural predators to the Appalachians, or loosen hunting restrictions to reduce the deer herds.

Curtis Taylor, chief of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources' wildlife section, laughs at what he calls a "totally unrealistic" suggestion.

Buddy Davidson, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, says it's also unnecessary. "Don't worry about the ginseng," he says. "The coyotes will take care of the deer."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports an explosion in the number of coyotes, a non-native species that has migrated eastward, in West Virginia. The agency suspects there are 20,000 to 50,000 coyotes in the state.

Ginseng is a protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a global treaty to which the United States has agreed. The federal government must certify each year that harvesting the root will not threaten its existence.

"So if deer keep lowering the population sizes, eventually, it will definitely curtail any harvesting," argues McGraw. "In one sense, we have a legal mandate to protect this species. But more importantly, that wild harvest provides an important economic supplement to many people in rural Appalachia. It provides a cushion of sorts when times are rough."

Commercial demand is huge for ginseng, touted as a cure-all for everything from headaches and insomnia to sexual dysfunction. Even beer and soda makers are now adding it to their drinks.

The state Division of Forestry says some 10,000 West Virginians enter the woods each fall to dig them up. Last year, they collected more than 6,400 pounds worth more than $2 million. McGraw and research associate Mary Ann Furedi studied ginseng in seven locations from 2000 to 2004, examining 800 plants every three weeks. In some spots, deer grazed on as little as 11 percent of the plants. In others, they ate every one.

Though mathematical formulas suggest West Virginia has 95 million ginseng plants, McGraw says they're seldom found in large clumps. Ginseng takes 18 months to germinate, then eight to 15 years to mature.

Although McGraw and Furedi studied ginseng, they don't think deer are going out of their way to eat it. They believe the animals are destroying many understory plants, including oak saplings, wild orchids and trilliums, a perennial in the lily family.

Hunting may be the control method that makes sense to most people, and McGraw says states should work harder to educate hunters about the downside of a large deer herd.

But Taylor, at the DNR, says people still pose the greater threat. "Deer get blamed for everything," he says. "Deer and ginseng have coexisted in the Appalachian Mountains ever since there were Appalachian Mountains.

For full story, please see:

Medicinal Plants: Global trade in medicinal plants growing
Source: The Times of India, 14 February 2005

Despite its inherent strength in Ayurveda and other ethnic systems of medicine, India accounts for only a small portion of the world trade in medicinal and aromatic plants which is dominated by China.

While China held a handsome 40 percent share in the $60 billion world trade in medicinal plants, India accounted for just US$100 million, according to Kerala's annual Economic Review.

The global market for medicinal plants has been growing at a brisk pace of 7 percent annually, capitalizing on the growing awareness of herbal and aromatic plants worldwide. The United States accounted for nearly 50 percent of the export of Indian medicinal plants and products. India's share in US imports of pharmaceutical preparations had steadily been increasing since 1998.

The National Medicinal Plants Board had prioritized 32 plants for development, formulating schemes and guidelines for financial assistance applicable both for governmental and non-governmental agencies.

One of the problems faced by the sector is destructive harvesting and inefficient, imperfect and informal marketing by pharmaceutical firms, the review noted.

Out of the annual consumption of raw drugs, 50 percent are from roots, 15 percent fruits/seeds, 12 percent wood, 9 percent whole plants, 7 percent bark/stem, 4 percent leaves and 3 percent flowers.

For the full story please see timesofindia

China to boost research into traditional medicine
Source: China Daily, 4 February 2005 (in SciDev.Net Weekly Update: 31 January-6 February 2005)

The Chinese government plans to increase funding of research into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to improve the health of its rural population. (TCM uses Chinese yew trees to make an alcoholic drink used to prevent cancer) As part of this plan, the country will increase international cooperation in TCM research.

Fourteen billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) has so far been channelled into TCM's development in the past two years. Commission Deputy Director Qi Chengyuan, in charge of high-tech industry planning, said TCM was already a priority for development in the government's five-year plan for 2006 to 2010.

China's rural areas - with 70 per cent of the country's population - have access to just 20 per cent of its medical resources. Vice-minister of science and technology Li Xueyong said the low cost of TCM made it ideal for use in poor regions, and the Ministry of Health has encouraged the opening of private TCM hospitals in these areas.

Protection of the intellectual property rights relating to TCM is still a concern, however, and the government has been advised to find ways of addressing this before the production of TCM is scaled up.

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