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There's a pharmacy in the woods ... and in the rainforest.

To the Indians and early settlers, the woods were Nature's drugstore. Hardly a plant or tree grows that did not have some real or imaginary medical purpose.

Without access to apothecaries, these people had to go no further than the nearest pine or oak for the making of some home remedies. Longleaf and 1oblolly pines, for example, supplied turpentine oil for several kinds of internal disorders, to relieve toothache and even to eliminate tapeworms. Vapor from the tar was inhaled for pulmonary disorders, and gummy resin was an ointment for skin diseases.

Bark from the live oakland from white and black oaks, too--was used to make a tea for sore eyes, burns and internal ailments.

One tree was a virtual pharmacy in itself. It was the thorny prickly ash, also known as Hercules club, sting-a-tongue, toothache tree, wild orange, sea ash and some others. As the common names hint, a bit of the inner bark or a mature berry, placed on tongue or gum, does indeed sting, tingle and partially anesthetize. No doubt it often was the best treatment available to isolated frontiersmen suffering with toothache.

Bark, berries and wood of the prickly ash were used for many medical concoctions. They included poultices for open sores or aching muscles; spray for relief of chest and throat ailments; lotion for itches; and teas for tonics, stimulants and for the relief of various stomach disorders.

A tea from mulberries was used to treat fevers. Crushed leaves and buds of yellow poplar went into ointments for burns and sores.

The beautiful southern magnolia supplied ingredients for various teas and extracts for treatment of colds, gout and malaria.

A few other familiar trees which supplied home remedies were the beech, persimmon, fringe tree, ash tree, camphor tree, sea grape and wild cherry.

Possibly the most familiar product still brewed today is sassafras root tea. Once counted on to relieve bronchitis, kidney troubles, dysentery and respiratory ailments, the tea now is made simply for the novelty of its unique flavor.

Big insurance companies get the breaks

Insurance--or lack of it--has always been a hot topic among some COUNTRYSIDE correspondents. Now, C. Falater of Sanford, Florida, informs us that if you don't have insurance you might be charged more than insurance companies pay for the same services.

It happened to her. She was involved in an auto accident that required medical attention, and received a copy of the bill the hospital assumed would be paid by insurance. However, the coverage had run out and a new bill was sent to her, directly. With a 20% surcharge.

Asked why the additional charge had been added, she was told that insurance companies are given a discount because they have contracts with the medical treatment facilities.

She concludes: "So if you can't afford private medical insurance or don't have it through your employment, you are going to be penalized, The large companies are given the break in cost!"

The Establishment, which used to scoff at folk medicine, is taking a closer look. In fact, some pretty big names, with pretty big budgets, seem to be trying to rediscover fire by seeking cures from what they once considered witch doctors.

They call it bioprospecting. Several government agencies are spending $2.3 million to support the venture, but that pales in comparison to the deep-pocket pharmaceutical companies. Merck & Co., for example, spends more than $1 billion a year seeking out and testing plants with curative powers, mainly from rainforests.

"Bioprospecting was the primary way all drugs were discovered until the '50s or early '60s," according to Wait Reid, a bioprospecting specialist and president of the World Resources Institute in Washington. "Then synthetic chemistry came along and we moved away from natural resources. Now we're coming back"

One reason researchers are turning to nature again is that some synthetics are no longer effective. Strains of malaria, for example, now resist lab-made drugs in use since the 1950s, and new natural treatments are being sought to complement them.

A plant researcher in Brazil records folk cures that are in danger of being lost... and which might provide the next "wonder drug."

"Have we forgotten more than we know?" asks Maria Elisabeth Van Den Berg. "I'm sad so many good natural things have been lost."

There has also been a change in how scientists regard natural cures. In the past, they merely set out to find one key active ingredient they could replicate in the lab. In reality, bioprospectors now say, traditional cures using plants and animals are often quite complex. Sometimes several herbs are taken together to produce the desired effect, or a curative plant has negative side effects which can be blotted out by another plant to make the cure effective.

But bioprospectors are in a race against time. Rainforest destruction is eliminating many potentially useful plant species. And "modern" medicine has supplanted traditional healing in many places, meaning the old knowledge is disappearing.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:natural medicines; homesteaders & Health
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1996
Words:822
Previous Article:Eat your way to good health.
Next Article:... And then we die.
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