visit our sister site:
banner (17K)


© Kat Morgenstern
July 2005
Vol.IV Issue:2

This Issue:

bug (48K)greetings.GIF (1K)

Summer is finally here - but this year it seems to be passing me by. With my mind and hands pre-occupied with family matters there hardly ever seems to be a spare moment to sniff the flowers along the way. This is not how I usually live my life, but believe me, I am developing great empathy for those who are stuck in a 9-5 rut, with lives too busy to take a break.

But it is also reminding me how important it is, especially at times such as these, when the minutes and hours are running away, dissolving like quicksand before our eyes, and days are filled with worry and tedium, to remember to take a break - a few moments out of our busy lives to recharge our batteries and connect with the things that nourish our spirit and soul.
And so I did - which is why this newsletter never went out when it was supposed to, at the summer solstice... Forgive me, but I just HAD to sneak away and dance with the fairies for a few days to recover, recharge, rejoice and remember some of the wonderful things about life...

Well, here is to sniffing the flowers and enjoying the rest of the summer for all it has got in store.

Peace, happiness and delightfully scented trails


Please send your feedback to:

line.gif (2K)
foraging (1K)

Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Chenopodium-album400px (94K)In most temperate climes the beginning of summer is an odd time for foragers, at least for those who forage for food rather than medicine. The bounty of the early spring herb harvest is over, the dandelions, nettles and mustard garlics have grown too big and old, too tough and stringy or have otherwise become unpalatable. There are some edible herbs that will last into the summer, but very few that will actually reach their prime at that time. Lambs Quarters is one of those exceptions. When nettles are beginning to set seed, Lambs Quarter and its close relative, Good King Henry take over as the wild spinach herb par excellence.

Lambs Quarters belong to the family of Chenopodiums, which translates as 'Goosefoot' in allusion to the shape of the leaves, which some botanist has fancied to resemble the webbed feet of geese. This family of plants, though humble in appearance, includes such luminaries as Quinoa, the fabled grain of the Incas, Epazote, the Mexican bean spice and 'Good King Henry', a well-known potherb of the Old World. Lambs Quarters is the most common member of this inconspicuous family, a humble herb that favours waste grounds and other grimy places. It is now considered an invasive weed in many parts of the US. How low it has fallen from its once honoured position as a cultivar of the Old World, where it enjoyed some considerable esteem for its nutritional properties and mild flavour.

From a distance Lambs Quarters always looks dusty, a deceptive trick due to a white powdery coating on the leaves. On closer inspection this powdery stuff proves to be quite a remarkable repellent: try washing the herb and you will notice that water simply beads and runs off. Thus rinsing it under running water can be a bit of a futile exercise, you have to actually submerge the entire herb and swish it around in order to wash it thoroughly. Luckily it is not the kind of herb you will often find encrusted with dirt - dirt seems to be removed from the plant's surface in much the same way as the water. However, insidious dirt, such as soil pollutants and artificial fertilizers pose a far greater threat. Lambs Quarters is a 'purifier herb' and in its effort to cleanse the soil, it absorbs these pollutants and concentrates them in its leaves. Thus foragers should be weary of patches where this plant grows in abundance - it could be an indication of soil pollution. At the very least you should investigate what gets dumped in nearby fields or streams. Another abnormality to watch for is a reddish hue on the leaves, which indicates that spinach leaf miner larvae are squatting in the foliage.

Lambs Quarters can be collected throughout the summer. The plants come up in late spring and while tender can be collected whole. As they get older, taller and tougher, restrict your harvest to the tender tops. Flowers and seeds are edible as well, so you can continue the harvest throughout the summer. The herb is best used as a spinach type vegetable in broth or as a green vegetable. Collect plenty if you want to make a meal of it as it reduces tremendously when boiled or steamed.

It can also be used raw in salads, alone or with other greens. It does contain oxalic acid and for this reason it is best not to overdo it, especially when eating the raw herb. People with kidney problems should avoid this herb since the crystals can irritate the kidneys.

Native Americans used to gather the flowers to dry and grind them into a flour, which can be used as an admixture to other flours. It vaguely resembles buckwheat.

In some countries (e.g. Canada, U.S.) this herb is known as 'pigweed' as once upon a time it used to be grown as pig feed. In Europe both Chenopodium album and its close relative 'Good King Henry' used to be cultivated as potherbs.

recipes.GIF (1K)

Lambs Quarters can be used as a spinach substitute either by itself or mixed with other greens. Try it as a filling for cannelloni or lasagne or ravioli, if you are a nifty pasta maker. It is also excellent as a filling for pastries, e.g. puff pastry filled with lambs quarters, cottage cheese, mushrooms and garlic, or add it to pies, crusts, omelettes or savory pancakes

line.gif (2K)
line.gif (2K)


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 deceiving 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 subject 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.

gardener.gif (1K)
line.gif (2K)
In Association with
line.gif (2K)
rainforest (15K)

RioNanayA (15K)The Amazon - the very name conjures up visions of vast oceanic verdure, an exuberant abundance, of lush, raw life energy pulsating in the rapid cycles of genesis and decay, a mythic realm on the edge of darkness, where primitive forces unknown to civilization have the upper hand - or so the popular imagination would have us believe.

logging1 (47K)
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.

Despite the unfathomable vastness of this forest, it is in fact a very fragile ecosystem that faces severe threats from encroaching development, climate change and pollution. The powers of progress only perceive the forest and its inhabitants as a hindrance, something that lies between them and their profits: there are the farmers, who want to clear the forest in order to grow soy beans to feed the cattle that ends up as burgers at your local fast food joint, or oil companies who have no qualms about killing or displacing whole tribes of people from their native lands, nor feel responsible for clearing up the mess they leave behind - the oil spills resulting from leaky pipes that run through the forest for hundreds of miles. Then there are the loggers who indiscriminately and often illegally clear vast areas of land (often tribal lands) to supply a market far away, with tropical hardwoods. Or the gold miners, who in an effort to extract some small amount of this precious metal, poison rivers and soil for miles around with the chemicals used in the extraction process, killing scores of species in the process. Thus, despite the apparent abundance it is not easy for this precious ecosystem that is home to so many forms of life to survive.

The Amazon rainforest is not the only rainforest under threat. Africa's, Australia's and Southeast Asia's rainforests are facing the same demise as nature is pitched against the forces of 'progress' (read: commercial interests). But 'civilization' comes at a price. Despite grand words at international big wig meetings, in the real world sustainability is all too easily sacrificed for a quick buck.

Yet, the richest treasure of the rainforest and perhaps the only resource that could ensure its survival has hardly been tapped. In fact, it is being destroyed before it has even been chartered. The richest resources of the Amazon of course, are the plants themselves as well as the people who live with them and know their special virtues. Nobody knows exactly how many species of plants, ferns, mosses and fungi there are in any given piece of rainforest, nor indeed on the planet. They have not yet been catalogued, let alone studied by science. Yet, we are senselessly destroying approximately 2.7 MILLION ACRES OF RAINFOREST PER YEAR. We will never know what we have already lost and are continuing to lose at a rate of 137 species of plants, insects and animals PER DAY . But, deep in the jungle there are people who are very familiar with these plants, who know their virtues and their poisons and whose lives depend on the integrity of the forest, which is their home. Their homeland is disappearing as the forest around them is slain for meagre profits, and their knowledge lost before it has ever been 'discovered' or recorded. (44K)
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.

A quarter of all western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, yet less than 1% of tropical trees and plants have been tested and researched scientifically. Some of the most valuable pharmaceutical drugs are derived from rainforest plants, and still we allow the destruction to continue, carelessly eradicating nature's own laboratory and wasting our best chance to discover the drugs that might help us combat many of our most deadly diseases.

In rainforest ecology there are in fact many micro-systems of co-evolutionary symbiotic interrelationships between plants, insects, birds and other animals, and like a giant jigsaw puzzle, each tribe, and particularly their shamans and healers hold the keys to their particular piece of the forest. Yet, each time an old shaman dies without passing his knowledge on, the accumulation of knowledge gathered over many generations is simply lost.

We can ill afford such a loss of biodiversity and knowledge, let alone calculate its impact on global climate, which in turn will affect the survival of species in other parts of the world. The continued destruction of rainforest habitats amounts to mass species extinction and genocide, as the subsistence base of rainforest people is being undermined, polluted and destroyed. For the moment the effects are most acutely felt by those who live in these forests, but in the long run it will threaten the integrity of life as we know it throughout the world.

Those of us who live a comfortable life don't want to hear such doom and gloom. What can we do about it anyway? The rainforest is far away. Its problems are of a magnitude that feels overwhelming, yet it is practically imperceptible in countries far away. But its problems do concern us. There is no simple strategy to halt the destruction. The problems are complex and each area needs individualized solutions. But each solution starts with the resolve of individuals like you and me to get involved and become a part of the solution rather than the problem. Although it might feel as if an individual can achieve little, together we CAN make a difference. As citizens we have a right to voice our opinions and let politicians and industrialists know that we care about our planet and as consumers we have the freedom to choose companies that take environmental concerns into consideration, for unless we make our voices heard and make responsible consumer choices we become the inadvertent supporters of rainforest destruction.

What you can do:

Reduce paper consumption. Paper seems such an everyday commodity that nobody much cares about preserving it. Yet much of the rainforest that is cleared ends up as plywood and paper pulp, and most paper ends up in the bin…we are literally throwing away the trees. Campaign for sustainable paper pulp sources such as hemp or keenaf and support recycled paper.

fsc (3K)Avoid tropical hardwood products. Ask your wood supplier for sustainability certificates, but beware, some of the certification can be misleading. In an effort to appear green some companies have created their own certificates and claim to be green when really they are not. The best highest standards are certified with FSC certificate. (For more information: Don't buy the SFI campaign)

Support non-timber forest products. There are numerous small enterprises that aim to create a living from harvesting forest products in a sustainable, rather than destructive manner. Brazil nuts, coffee and chocolate are just some of the products promoted as agroforestry crops that can help to create sustainable incomes for rainforest people.

Embark on an eco-travel adventure and see the rainforest for yourself: experience its lush natural bounty, meet the people who have lived in and with this forest for thousands of years, and learn about the plants and animals on which they rely. Although eco-tourism IS development, it is based on the principles of low impact- incorporating traditional building methods, using solar energy supplies etc., and the monies raised go directly towards supporting local communities and local conservation efforts. Many projects have been created as collaborative ventures between tour operators and tribal people with the intention of building a sustainable income base while protecting their homelands.

Tourism is a very important economic factor, especially for developing countries. The presence of foreigners who care and who have eyes to see and mouths to report is a great incentive to protect nature reserves and national parks, and to curb the worst violations against indigenous groups and environmental activists. Eco-travel has become a force to be reckoned with. Furthermore, a direct experience of the rainforest, its people and the perils they face will help you understand the intricate ways in which our fates are linked with theirs.

Get involved - Take environmental problems personally. After all it is also YOUR planet and its stewardship is in your hands as much as anybody's. There are many groups that tirelessly work to protect the rainforest and its people. You can support their good work by becoming a member or by adding your voice to their numerous action alerts and letter writing campaigns. Let your voice be heard loud and clear - for the earth!

line.gif (2K)
travel (3K)

lodges (14K)

We have added lots of new destinations and travel adventures to our offerings in recent weeks and the range is still growing as the site expands. (Check out our newly added to tours to Costa Rica and Belize) All the trips below feature lodges that are wholly or jointly owned with local Indigenous tribes and provides them with a sustainable, independent source of income while protecting their forests against exploitation and destruction.

Heath River Wildlife Center


Only four hours by river from Puerto Maldonado airport, Heath River Wildlife Center is the gateway to the largest uninhabited and un-hunted rainforest in the Amazon. An immensely photogenic macaw clay lick, capybaras, oxbow lakes with Giant Otters, hundreds of birds and mammal species and a lodge 100%-owned by the Ese'eja Indians of Sonene make the Heath the best combination of nature and culture in the entire Amazon. No other lodge in Tambopata is 100% owned and operated by a community of lowland Indians.

Though very traditional, the lodge in Sonene does not sacrifice comfort in the least. Guests enjoy roomy, private, double-occupancy bungalows with electric fans and en-suite facilities with hot showers. The combination of the most accessible and most photogenic large macaw lick and the warmth and uniquely traditional hospitality of our Indian hosts make Heath River Wildlife Center and Sandoval Lake Lodge the Amazon's best value in wildlife and authentic rainforest adventure.(more...)

Harpys Eagles, TRC, Tambopata


The Peruvian Eco-travel company that runs the TRC and the Posada Amazonas was founded in 1992. Their philosophy is to integrate carefully planned and executed ecotourism as an effective tool for conservation. Visitors to the Tambopata Research Center (TRC), located in southeastern Amazonian Peru, come into direct contact with their ongoing research projects. Peruvian students and local rainforest residents are involved in basic and applied research projects related to conservation work. Researchers help instruct visitors in rainforest ecology and the challenge of conservation. A portion of each visitor's fee contributes to ongoing research programs.

Posada Amazonas is located on the Ese'eje Native Community's territory and is directly adjacent to the 1.5 million hectare Tambopata Candamo Reserved Zone in southeastern Amazonian Peru. Access is simple: fly from Lima or Cuzco on a daily scheduled commercial flight to the city of Puerto Maldonado and travel by boat two hours up the Tambopata River to Posada Amazonas. The lodge is located less than 10 minutes walking from the river. (more...)

Tambopata Research Center, Peru


The forest surrounding the Tambopata Research Center is unique in that it presents a tapestry of seven distinct rain forest habitats and their respective transitions, all within an area of approximately 5 square kilometers. Within a half an hour's easy walk from the Lodge there are well-studied areas of 3 types of terraced floodplain forest, terra firma forest, bamboo forest, palm swamps, as well as the TRC clearing. Additionally, a short boat drive away are trails around both, a thriving and a drying oxbow lake and a 5 km trail leading into the foothills of the Andes, where a mere 500 meter increase in elevation reveals an entirely different forest ecosystem. (more...)

Accommodation at Tambopata Research Center (TRC), Peru


The Posada Amazonas is a luxurious, yet unobtrusive lodge jointly owned by Rainforest Expeditions and the Ese'eja Native Community of Tambopata. Thanks to accessibility, excellent wildlife observation opportunities and first class accomodations, Posada Amazonas is the ideal short, economic introductory nature tour to Amazonia's richest rian forests.

Posada Amazonas is built using a combination of traditional native materials (wood, palm fronds, wild cane and clay) and architecture and modern day eco-lodge technology. The lodge itself consists of a complex of four sections: rooms, dining area and kitchen, relaxation area and internal support facilities.(more...)

Learn more about Peru - check out the Peru destination pages.
Browse more Peruvian travel adventures.

line.gif (2K)
line.gif (2K)
Ayahuasceros (22K)

2 men with aya pot (29K)As in Central America, in the Amazon too there are different types of healers who deal with different types of medical conditions. Most people know something about plants, though the task of healing is the work of curanderos, while yerboristas share a certain affinity with apothecaries, and then there are shamans and brujos. Sometimes the distinction between the latter two is not all that clear. The general consensus is that brujos practice evil magic, while shamans are the spiritual emissaries of a tribe. While yerboristas and curanderos tend to work on the more physical levels of disease, shamans are the specialists of the supernatural world. Their task is to maintain the spiritual equilibrium of the tribe and its individual members, ward off evil spells and curses, and if necessary, take revenge, commune with the spirits of the forest and the animals and make deals with the gods to ensure a successful hunt or beneficial weather conditions. They are often feared, for they know the powers of the netherworld, they have powerful allies and familiars and they know the magic spells that can either harm or heal.

A somewhat unique and separate role is that of the Ayahuasceros. Although in tribal contexts only shamans and healers preside over the sacred ritual of Ayahuasca preparation and the ceremonies surrounding it, the use of Ayahuasca has spread far beyond the domain of shamans. Over the years it has become widespread throughout the Amazon and has found its way into the magical practices of suburban mestizo. Here, the Ayahuasceros, who are neither shamans nor herbalists, preside over the ritual. They often know nothing or very little about any plants other than Ayahuasca - Banisteriopsis caapi, the sacred vine of the souls. Those who partake of it can enter the world of the spirits by climbing down the stem of this liana to the underworld.

In Brazil a the urban use of Ayahuasca has given rise to a whole new religious movement, known as the Daime Church, which is a strange amalgamation of Christianity, afro-brazilian folk-beliefs and traditional Indian practices, that uses Ayahuasca as a sacrament.

banisteriopsis_caapi2 (53K)In western society Ayahuasca is often mistakenly thought of as a drug, since it causes what might be termed 'hallucinations'. But this is really a misunderstanding. Ayahuasca is a medicine, a spiritual medicine that cleanses the soul and the doors of perception. It should not be classed as a 'leisure drug' for would be psychonauts looking for a psychedelic adventure. Ayahuasca is not fun. It is a gateway key to an awesome and powerful spiritual world. It requires the patient to adhere to some strict rules: to abstain from certain foods as well as sexual activity prior to taking part in the ritual.

The concoction itself tastes like gall juice and its effects are by no means a fun ride. The action of this medicine can best be described as a spiritual purgative, although it affects the physical body as well. According to shamanic healing philosophy, the root cause of sickness has to be identified before any real healing can take place. This often means facing deeply buried fears or other negative emotions that are lurking in the vaults of the unconscious. In order to heal, it is necessary to deal with these inner demons. Ayahuasca opens the door.

It takes many hours of alchemical work to prepare a potent Ayahuasca brew. The Ayahuascero mixes the Banisteriopsis with Psychotria viridis, and frequently other plants as well, which will modify the end result. These additional plants are the so called 'master plants', the teachers of the specific concoction. Each ayahuascero has their own favourites with whom he likes to work, though specific conditions may also call upon a specific master.

The ceremonies are always held at night, after sunset. The Ayahuascero sits in the circle of attendants and invokes the plant spirits by singing their icaros, their magical songs. He asks them to lend their power to his brew and to guide the visions of the attendants. The attendants have all fasted during the day, or at the very least abstained from certain foods, and prepared themselves psychologically for the ceremony. The air is laden with anticipation and anguish. Will the plant spirits be gentle?

The Ayahuascero purifies the space and casts blessings and spells of protection. He blows tobacco smoke and sprinkles fragrant flower waters as he chants his invocations. One by one he turns to the attendants, cleanses each person's aura with the sacred tobacco smoke, presses certain points on the head and arms and body chakras as he blows the smoke and sprinkles the flower waters. Finally he pours a shot glass full of the sacred brew and passes it to the patient who drains it in one gulp and instantly begins to gag and splutter. The acrid taste lingers on the tongue and is almost impossible to get rid of.

The patient sinks back to his seat and meditates as he waits for the plantspirit to take him on the journey to the vaults of his soul. Sometimes nothing happens. The patient might not be ready. Or, the ayahuascero was not right for him. Each journey is different of course, depending on what demons are lurking in one's personal underworld, but when the plant spirit comes an inescapable sense of dizziness and nausea set in. To the ayahuascero the vomiting is an essential part of the cleansing process. Some attendants just vomit and vomit and not much else happens, not for the first few times. In such cases, according to ayahuascero philosophy, a lot of emotional 'junk' has to be cleared out of the way before the plant spirit can get to the gateway of the soul.

The visions that follow are highly individual, like fleeting dreams interspersed with moments of intense clarity. Emotion pours out liberally and uncontrollably, tears, laughter, fear, whatever it is, it has to come out and it does. The visions are sometimes murky, sometimes luminous, frightening or funny, but they always 'rattle the cage' and there is no way to resist the primordial force.

The next day there is no hangover, no headache no sense of sickness, but rather, a sense of calm. Further meditation and talks with the shaman help the patient to understand the message of the visions and what path of action should be taken. Healing is an active process that requires actual involvement, an action on the part of the patient. It is not something that is done by somebody else (the healer) and simply received as a grace by the patient. Seeking out the causes of disease is the beginning, but in itself does not constitute healing. The path of healing follows the call for action, which implies change.

This is the fundamental difference between shamanic concepts of healing and traditional western medical philosophy, which assumes that the doctor is responsible for restoring health, regardless of the psychological root causes of disease and the soul processes required to transforming them. In the shamanic sense disease presents an opportunity for growth and true healing is transformation.

Ayahuasca Creation Myth (according to Schultes and Hofmann)

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago there lived among the Tukanoans a woman, the first woman of 'creation' who drowned men in visions. To the Tukanoans intercourse is a visionary experience in which men are 'drowned in visions'.

The first woman became pregnant by the sun-god who had impregnated her through the eye. The child was born in a flash of light. The woman, whose name was Yaye, cut the umbilical cord and rubbed its body with magical herbs thus shaping its body. The child became known as Caapi, a narcotic plant, who lived to become an old man. He jealously guards his hallucinatory powers, his Caapi, which is the source from which the Tukanoan men received their semen.

The myth essentially tells the story of the alchymical marriage, in which wo/man seeks union with the god-source, divine power of creation. Thus the religious experience is also always a sexual one. To quote Schultes and Hoffmann: For the Indian, "the hallucinatory experience is essentially a sexual one... to make it sublime, to pass from the erotic, the sensual, to a mystical union with the mythic era, the intrauterine stage, is the ultimate goal, attained by a mere handful but coveted by all."

line.gif (2K)
plantprofile (7K)

Uña de Gato
Cat's Claw

Uncaria_tomentosa1 (57K)
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.
(Uncaria Tomentosa)


A member of the Rubiaceae family this climbing liana takes many shapes in the course of its growth, from shrub to unruly bush-like entanglement and finally to a climbing liana that can climb more than 30m up into the canopy. Its ovate pointed leaves with uneven margins stand opposite along the climbing branches. From each leave axle emerges a sharp and strongly curved thorn, which resembles the cat's claw that gave this plant its name. All along the woody parts of the liana where the leaves no longer grow the claws remain.


The montane rainforest of Peru.

Chemical constituents:

Oxindole alkaloids including isopteropodine, pteropodine, isomitraphylline, isorynchophylline, rynchophylline; as well as proanthocyanidins, polyphenols, triterpines, and the plant sterols beta- sitasterol, stigmasteral and carnpesterol.

History and Uses

Uncaria_tomentosa8 (48K)
Photo: Courtesy of Raintree Nutrition Inc.

Uña de Gato has long been used as a traditional medicine of the Ashaninka Indians and other tribes of Peru who have employed it for a wide range of conditions from stomach problems to arthritis, asthma, diabetes and tumors. In the late 80s an Austrian physician became aware of this plant and started his own research into its healing properties. His findings were most interesting and suggested that Uña de Gato could be usefully employed to treat many degenerative conditions that plague modern life, including stomach ulcers, Crohn's disease and other intestinal and bowel disorders, genital herpes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer and HIV. He found 4 oxindole alkaloids that Uña de Gato enhanced the immune system by extending the half-life of the lymphocytes, the white blood cells responsible for fighting infection, rather than having a direct effect on their proliferation. They also seemed to enhance their actual ability to fight disease causing organisms.

The plant seems particularly useful in the treatment of chronic problems of the digestive system and has helped where other herbs have failed to break patterns of digestive disorders, especially where these involve cramps and convulsions as the plant has a relaxant effect on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract.

It also proved useful as an antioxidant, thus preventing cell damage from scavenging free radicals and showed antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. While it does not appear to reduce the swelling of arthritic joints, it does reduce their painfulness.

Another alkaloid found in the plant showed interesting and helpful properties with respect to the cardio-vascular system. It decreases platelet aggregation, which inhibits the formation of plaque in the arterial walls, thus reducing the risk of blood clots, thrombosis and strokes (though care should be taken when other blood thinning medications are also used) and also helps to lower the blood pressure, which improves the circulation and reduces the risk of heart attack.

Uña de Gato can be described as an alterative, a remedy that helps the body to regulate its functions and restoring proper balance rather than affecting bodily systems with some kind of shock effect. Native people describe it as a gate opener, referring to its properties of clearing obstructions of the gasto-intestinal system. It can therefore be used as a supportive medicine in many chronic conditions, as well as a supportive cancer remedy that helps to alleviate negative side-effects of chemotherapy while supporting the healing process with its own anti-tumor and immune system enhancing properties.

Traditionally the decoction of the inner bark is used in therapeutic preparations. The recent interest in this new wonder drug of course has also quickly become a threat to its survival, as mostly western companies are trying to cash in on the trend. Improper collection and storage by untrained laborers rather than herbalists causes many tons of plant material, including U˜a de Gato to simply rot in warehouses. Furthermore, instead of collecting only the inner bark of the liana, often the whole root is dug, thus destroying the plant's chances of survival.

Valuable plant medicines are a gift to humanity, whether they are common or exotic, but their uncurbed exploitation for quick profit is their demise. Unless we treasure such resources for what they are really worth - our health - unbridled consumer enthusiasm will eventually kill these most precious plants and cause their extinction. Nobody benefits from such exploitation. If you use herbal medicines, especially those derived from roots and barks, ask your supplier or manufacturer about the sustainability of their sources. Some companies collect their plant materials only from their own botanical reserves and pay very close attention to ethical harvest practices. What benefits mother earth also benefits us.

line.gif (2K)
orgprofile (11K)

Ecological Internet

There are many great organizations dedicated to preserve our common heritage and to safeguard the well being of mother earth. Often they were started by the deep concern and serious resolve to make a difference of just one person. That is all it takes. You. Me. Any one of us has the power to make their voice heard.

One of the best examples of such dedication and tireless activism I know of is the work done by Dr. Glen Barry, who has been working diligently to raise awareness about environmental destruction, and particularly the plights of the forests around the world.

Over the years, for as long as I have been a member of this cyberworld, I have been following developments at his site, which has grown from a fierce forest advocacy site to one of the best environmental portals on the web. Today it is not just cram-packed with information and resources about forests and trees, but has expanded to include many other connected environmental issues, such as climate change and water conservation. What I especially like about this site is the way it draws you in, inspires you to become active, and to show your concern.

Here you can find current action alerts that explain the issues at stake, research their background and find the addresses of the villains in charge, as well as sample letters (if you don't have much time or can't find the right words) to whom you can express you dismay, or links where you can just add your name to current petitions. The most rewarding thing is that every now and again you will hear about the victories that have been achieved as a result of the action campaigns launched here. The message of this site is: We, the citizens of the world are watching and we will NOT watch in silence as power and profit hungry moguls are destroying our common heritage...


and make a difference!

line.gif (2K)
notes (1K)

June 29, 2005
A recent victory of tireless campaigners like forest org:


The Japanese company Mitsubishi Paper Mills has announced it will stop using woodchips from old-growth forests. Their new policy is to buy only woodchips "sourced from plantations or second growth forests of environmentally benign, and reclaimed wood." Mitsubishi is a major customer of Tasmanian woodchip exporter Gunns - and the new wood-chip buying policy would rule out sourcing woodchips from old growth Tasmanian forests. Shockingly, until now most old growth timber from large-scale clearfelling in Tasmania has been converted to woodchips, largely for export to Japan.

The word is out - chopping up old growth forests to make throw away consumer products is barbaric, inhumane and ecocidal. The Tasmanian timber industry is worried - and they should be. There is nothing the timber barons in Tasmania and elsewhere can do regarding the emerging global sensibility that old-growth forests should not be chopped up to make paper. I expect that market pressures will lead other Japanese timber mills, including Oji and Nippon, to follow suit shortly. This is a clear signal to Gunns to shift to more sustainable forest practices in secondary and mixed plantation forests as the way of the future. It also sends an unmistakable message that World Heritage-class Tasmanian forests should not be fodder for woodchips.'s network has been active in this struggle for over a decade and contributed significantly to this victory. Recently we had followed Greenpeace's lead in targeting Mitsubishi with protest emails. And our recent alert notifying Australia's Prime Minister Howard that his half-hearted protection of some Tasmanian forests would not quell the movement to stop old-growth logging now seems down right prescient.

The gauntlet has been thrown down, somewhat surprisingly by Mitsubishi of Japan's example: all international companies that consume forest products must adopt a no old-growth forests use policy. Society and the market no longer find old-growth forest products to be acceptable - their continued use is antiquated. Those that continue to do so will feel the pain of market rejection. g.b.

Please Help Protect Peru's Isolated Indigenous Peoples and Their Habitats

By, a project of Ecological Internet, Inc.
and the Rainforest Foundation -- Norway

June 17, 2005

Isolated and vulnerable indigenous peoples in Peru are facing a number of serious threats to their lives, ancestral territories and ancient rainforest homes. Recently two Peruvian citizens who were illegally logging inside the Alto Purus National Park, near the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve for isolated indigenous peoples, were killed in presumed conflicts with local indigenous peoples. Illegal logging in the Rio de las Piedras river basin, including inside protected areas, appears to be supported by a chain of corrupted officials and unscrupulous business enterprises. These activities are leading to conflict and unknown amounts of indigenous death, and are setting the stage for a wider invasion and likely genocide. The invasion of the ancestral territories of these isolated indigenous peoples is a violation of their basic human rights. These peoples have chosen to live their traditional lives in isolation, and they have the right to do so -- including defending their ancestral territories from violent invasions. These and other tragic occurrences in Peru's Rio de las Piedras region are a clear indication that the Peruvian state and authorities are failing to adequately protect both the territories of isolated indigenous peoples, and rainforest rich National Parks known to be their home. Please ask that the Peruvian authorities ensure that the rights of these peoples are respected and their traditional habitats protected at

Brazil gets tough on 'biopirates'

22 June 2005
Biopiracy: Brazil launches popular campaign against biopiracy
Source: Brazzil Magazine, 9 June 2005

The development of integrated policies and activities to combat biopiracy is the purpose of a technical cooperation agreement signed yesterday in the Ministry of Environment by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the Federal Police Department, and the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin).

IBAMA will launch a consciousness-raising campaign on the harmful consequences of biopiracy, which will include the distribution of printed materials in universities, schools, and airports. The symbol of the campaign is the Phyllomedusa oreades frog, which is mainly green in colour, is only encountered in the Central Highlands, and whose skin contains an active ingredient with the potential to fight the Trypanossoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas' disease. It was chosen as a form of symbolic denouncement, since the ingredient has been patented abroad.

The ceremony also included the publication of a decree regulating the penalties for illicit activities committed against the genetic patrimony and associated traditional knowledge.

According to the Biological Diversity Convention, the use of genetic resources presupposes substantiated prior consent and the division of benefits. However, although it has been in force for ten years, countries with great biodiversity, such as Brazil, continue to be victims of non-authorized use of their genetic patrimony.

For full story, please see:

Drinking black tea 'reduces risk of mouth cancer'

Source: Sci-Dev 12/06/05

Indian researchers say drinking black tea could halt abnormal changes in cells inside the mouth that lead to oral cancer.

Read the whole story

Girijan Cooperative Corporation Limited (GCC) recently received permission from the state government to procure 34 varieties of medicinal herbs from the forests.

GCC expects the marketing of medicinal herbs to be a new revenue stream to the corporation. According to PDV Prasad, general manager of GCC, the turnover is expected to touch Rs 5 crore this fiscal.

As per government orders, GCC can now procure 34 varieties of medicinal herbs, including Abrus precatorius seeds, Achyranthues aspera plant, Aegle marmolos fruit and root, Aloe indica plant (Kalabanda), Argyeia speciosa fruits and flowers, Bombax melabarcium gum, Caosalpinia bonduc nut, Centella asiatica plant, Gymnema sylvestre leaves, Mollotos ohillippensis leaf, Syzyaium cumine seed and bark, Tinospora cordifolia stem bark and Woodfordia fruiticosa flower.

"The tribals have been illegally collecting herbal plants from the forests and selling the produce to local traders at throwaway prices. GCC, however, had no rights to procure the herbal produce from the tribals. Keeping this in mind, we approached the state government for permission, and the government responded positively," Prasad said.

He said that the corporation is planning to train the tribals on how to collect the herbs while maintaining its medicinal qualities. "We have a ready market to sell these herbal plants. So, to collect more herbs from the forests and to avoid the intervention of private merchants, we are encouraging the tribals by way of announcing attractive prices for herbal plants," he said.

If you can't beat it - eat it...

Mexico: Creature-eating source of income and nutritious food

Source: EITB - Euskadi, Spain, 14 June 2005

As Mexico's centuries-old tradition of eating insects becomes more lucrative, researchers are trying to convince poor communities to cash in on eating the creatures as a source of income and nutritious food. With a protein content almost twice that of beef, some insects could become a welcome diet supplement among the estimated 20 million Mexicans who live in extreme poverty on incomes of US$1/day or less.

In many towns, especially in southern Mexico, insects are a regular part of the diet. But many Mexicans are still repulsed by the thought. While the spicy, leggy bodies of locusts; the crusty, French fry-like fried caterpillars; or bursting, buttery ant eggs may be an acquired taste; the movement is winning converts in a variety of ways.

Consider the chocolate-covered locusts, locusts in sweet sauce, worm Jell-O and worms covered in clear, hard candy invented by biologist Juan Garcia Oviedo of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico. They have been a big hit in test groups he has held over the last decade. "The children love them. They tend to eat the candy to get at the insect to see if it's real," Garcia Oviedo said. "Once they find out it's real, they keep on eating anyway."

Farmers on the outskirts of Mexico City were spending large amounts of money on pesticides to kill grasshoppers, Garcia Oviedo said, until they found they could get more money for the edible bugs at local markets than for their crops. It's also more environmentally sound, researchers say, noting that in Aztec times, pest control was accomplished largely by eating rather than spraying.

In Tlaxcala State, just east of Mexico City, maguey worms are raised year-round. Currently available only in certain seasons, farmers can now produce the worms year-round by using cut maguey leaves and in-vitro production of larvae. Increased availability would improve the market for the sought-after white and red wrinkly worms -actually caterpillars- which are fried and sold with butter and garlic for as much as US$40 per 12 at some upscale Mexican restaurants, about 15 times the price paid to those who gather them.

The insect renaissance also seeks to revive ancient practices in Mexico, like "hidden" insect ingredients, for those too squeamish to swallow a locust whole. In some villages in southern Mexico, insect "contamination" is hardly accidental. A few ground-up insects are added to hot chilli salsa in villages as a nutritional boost.

Garcia Oviedo applies that same principle to modern products, like grinding up grasshoppers into hotdogs and enriching tortillas by adding a high-protein powder made from milling less commercially valuable larvae.

While the ideas have reached the stage of test groups and marketing studies, they all still require money. Garcia has received interest from foreign investors, but has been hamstrung by Mexican food-safety standards that treat insect content as contamination -rather than a potential main ingredient.

But the biggest challenge is reviving an appetite for some of the estimated 360 insect species that Mexicans' ancestors used to eat, like the stink bug, honey ants, beetle grubs, water beetles larvae, bees and fly eggs.

So far, Garcia's test groups have been successful. Apart from some black specks, no one could tell the difference between his "enriched" tortillas and the regular kind.

For full story, please see:

Angolan refugees help to rehabilitate Congolese camps

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 3 June 2005, in Reuters AlertNet

It's common courtesy to clean up after yourself, but some refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have gone one step further by greening their camps before repatriation.

More than 17,000 out of a planned 60,000 seedlings have so far been planted in the villages of Nkondo and Kilueka in the Bas Congo province of south-western DRC. The area hosted more than 23,000 Angolan refugees for six years, but fewer than 3,000 of them are left now after the majority headed home to Angola.

These days, the two villages are almost empty in the morning, as their inhabitants, equipped with shovels and hoes, work in the bush land where the young seedlings are planted. "Wild weeds are suffocating the young trees," said Jean Diakese of Nkondo village while rooting out weeds sprouting around the seedlings.

To lessen the refugees' impact on their environment, UNHCR had set up two tree nurseries at the Nkondo and Kilueka refugee sites. The target is to grow 30,000 in each village area, or one tree for each house. The refugee agency distributes the seedlings free of charge to the local population. An environmental protection committee comprising Congolese villagers and Angolan refugees has been established to safeguard the nurseries and to sensitise the population. Only their participation will guarantee the project's success.

The project's beneficiaries have chosen the tree species themselves. They asked for fruit trees. "These plants mean wealth to us," explained Joseph Kinzunga, the chief of Ndembo village in the Kilueka area. "Apart from selling and eating the fruits, we also thought of making fruit juices."

As a result, the nurseries are populated by different varieties of fruit trees, including citrus fruit trees – mainly orange and mandarin – as well as avocado trees and Safutiers, whose grilled fruits make a good side dish to meat. Acacia is another species used in the reforestation programme, as specialists say that the tree can adapt to all soils and is not very demanding.

More experimental species are also cultivated for their different virtues: The leaves of the Kikalasa are edible, while the plant itself contributes to the enrichment and fertilisation of the soil.

The Moringa tree also has multiple uses. "Every part of this plant is important," stressed Charles Muanda, an agronomist working with UNHCR's implementing partner, OXFAM. "The leaves can be eaten and are used for the treatment of certain diseases. The bark and the roots can be used to produce medicines against diarrhoea, high blood pressure, hepatitis and other illnesses. The fruits are also important, as one can use the oil extracted from them. Finally, the oilcake is used to purify water."

Both the refugees and their hosts know that the trees will only bear fruits after at least three or five years of hard work and patience. These fruits are destined for consumption, but also as cash crops on the market.

In addition, the trees are important for the environment and for human life, filtering and refreshing the air. As a result of this reforestation programme, it will be easier to fight soil erosion, which is already visible around Nkondo.

"After our repatriation, the Congolese population will remember us for the trees we plant today," said Edouardo Matota, the president of Angolan refugee community in Kilueka.

For full story, please see:

Desertification 'a threat to two billion people'

Source: Sci-Dev

A major international study reports that the health and livelihoods of billions are at risk from spreading degradation in the world's drylands.

Read the whole story


International Conference around Amazonian Shamanism,

Meeting in Iquitos, Peru, from 16th to 22nd July 2005

The Church, "Soga del Alma" - "Vine of the Soul" - organizes a Conference for those interested in Amazonian shamanism and ceremonies managed by authentic Amazonian curandero(a)s will also be made available. People all over the world, who are interested in traditional healing practices are often isolated and have no means to reach traditional healers. Their main way of relating to other people interested in the same subjec is the Internet. They often dream of going down to South-America, without having an occasion or enough knowledge to reach authentic curanderos. Today, their dream has come true; our conference invites all people interested in South-American healing practices, from the novice to the intellectual educated in those matters. There will be both curanderos and special guests from all over the world, most of which are reknown in the domain of shamanic healing. Although there will be Ayahuasca ceremonies for those interested, as one of the healing ways in the Amazon, it will not be the main focus of the Conference: Shamanism in general will.

International Seminar on Sarawak Herbal Medicine and Spices.

17 July 2005
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

For more information, please contact:

Sally Sheriza
Ahmad, Sarawak Forestry
Corporate Office, Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia
E-mail: sally at sarwak

National Workshop on "Sustainable NTFP marketing in Vietnam: Economic, Social and Ecological Opportunities and Risks"

28 and 29 June 2005
Hanoi, Vietnam

The workshop will explore the opportunities and risks of a growing NTFP market. The workshop is organized around four different topics:

For more information, please contact:

Mr Maurits Servaas
NTFP project Training Advisor
8 Chuong Duong Do
Ha Noi, Vietnam
Fax: 84 4 9 320 996

The 2005 ProForest forest and certification summer training programme

11-15 July 2005
Oxford, UK

This program provides a range of courses for those involved in forest management, forest certification and sustainable natural resource management. The courses are based on up-to-date practical experience and are designed to bring together key players in a range of fields to provide a unique training opportunity.

Training courses will be available in the following subject areas:

Delegates can select the combination of courses that suits their needs and attend them in one integrated event. The courses range from one-day introductions to five-day intensive courses, and fees range from £200 for one day to £850 for four or five days. Fees include coffee, lunch and training materials.

For more information, please contact:

Andry Rakotovololona,
ProForest Ltd
South Suite
Frewin Chambers
Frewin Court
Oxford OX1 3HZ
United Kingdom


Herbalists Without Borders will be hosting our first conference June 16-18, 2006, at the Penn State Conference Center at University Park in Central Pennsylvania. The conference, titled "Spirit of Healing: Traditional Medicine, Fair Trade, and Health For All," co-sponsored by Penn State's _Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge,_ ( will explore the role of herbal medicine in primary health care and poverty alleviation. How can traditional medicine serve the primary health care needs of the majority of people who have little or no access to conventional medicine? How can medicinal plants bring in more income for poor communities? What type of regulatory and policy approaches help or hinder the provision of health care and a higher standard of living for the poor?

Conference tracks include:

We are accepting proposals for presentations through December 15, 2005. Proposals which include traditional people as presenters and health care providers working on the ground in clinical and agricultural extension environments will be given preference. We encourage presenters from countries outside the US to submit their proposals as early as possible, as the process for acquiring visas can be long and challenging for some travellers. Proposals should include a description of the presenter(s) and his or her qualifications in 300 words or less. Please also include name, title, address and phone number, plus email and fax number if applicable. An abstract of the presentation in 300 words or less should include comment about which track or tracks the presentation addresses. Workshop sessions are 1 hour 20 minutes, we advise allowing time for Q & A. For more details or to ask any questions you may have, please contact Jennifer, jc at

New Living in the Wilderness Program with college credits

For students who are tired of being in the classroom, a semester living in the wilderness of northern Arizona with Ancient Pathways may be just the answer.

Ancient Pathways, LLC, a Flagstaff-based wilderness company, puts a new twist on academic studies by offering the opportunity for students to learn traditional outdoor skills, immerse themselves in native American culture, and gain experience in a diversity of Southwestern habitats while obtaining college credit through Northern Arizona University.

Students are mentored in how to live closely with the land by practicing skills such as making fire without matches, collecting wild foods and medicinal plants, shelter construction, and by applying their skills on a daily basis and on walkabouts that traverse the mesas and canyonlands throughout northern Arizona. Numerous expeditions throughout the 12-week program include an ultralight trek in the Grand Canyon and visits with native guides on the Hopi tribal lands.

"This is such a unique program since it is held in a region where three different natural settings converge- the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, and San Francisco Mountains," said Tony Nester, the founder of the program. "Plus the close proximity to native American tribal lands and numerous archeological sites, make this an incredible learning environment. We also have a world-renowned group of lecturers and field researchers from the Southwest who join us throughout the semester to share their expertise and knowledge," said Nester.

Ancient Pathways offers a wide array of courses ranging from 7 to 90 days in length and involving activities such as desert survival and ecology, bushcraft, traditional native crafts like pottery and basketry, flintknapping arrowheads, mountain lion tracking and biology, and edible plant uses. Students can receive college credit in subjects such as anthropology, botany, archeology, outdoor recreation, and environmental studies.

Ancient Pathways courses take place all year and cost anywhere from $695 for week long treks to $7100 for the semester program which includes meals, lodging, instruction, and more. Scholarships are available. For additional information, contact Tony Nester at 928-774-7522, email anester at, or visit for a complete description.

line.gif (2K)