Plant Knowledge Around The World

– [Man] Yes. – [Woman] A relative. – [Man] Yeah and that’s
an interesting point to me because I used to think
there was European medicine, which my grandfather
talked about a lot, which is very similar
to the east coast of the United States and even traditions, because European
people who came over and they started
seeing familiar plants that they’d seen in Europe. And Europe had a tremendous, a very old respected tradition of using medicinal plants, and it was still very
much the way you treated conditions, health conditions, illness, in the early settlement of
this continent by Europeans. But they also learned a
lot from the native people. Malaria was a huge problem
with the first settlers that came here. You don’t hear much about it. The Indians had a type of plant that they used for malaria so it wasn’t really a
big problem for them. And a lot of the
early settlers used what we call sagebrush, but, they had to trade for it. It didn’t grow in New England. (chuckles) So there was this trade system for things that didn’t
grow in your area that was very viable and the early settlers
used a lot of it, and it became common medicine for
American settlers, and they assumed that
they always knew it. But a lot of things we, for instance, there’s the current
drug for malaria, is artemisinin. If you go to Africa, you’d get artemisinin as your prevention. – [Woman] Hmm. – [Man] Well that was the active principle
in the sagebrush that the Indians used. We originally have learned
it from the Indians. What’s interesting about that is that pretty much all of
the Indians knew about it and used it to prevent the sickness
that we call malaria and other parasitic diseases. Very common usage, people took it all
the time, every year. They gather,
collect it, take it. They were doing the
same thing in China with a plant that
looks almost identical, it’s in the same
family, same genus, different species. Artemesia annua in China, and artemesia
frigida in Wyoming, but they look very similar. Both have the same
chemical in them. It’s a lactone glycoside
that kills parasites. They also grew it in
Louisiana and Mississippi and traded it with the
Indians in the northeast. Everybody had it
on this continent. They didn’t have
anything for smallpox, which was a surprise
to the Indians, and it decimated the population. But aside from these
introduced things, what’s interesting is, populations with old traditions
on every face of the planet, every part of the planet, were using similar plants
in the same plant families for the same
chemical components, they of course didn’t
use the chemical names, ’cause they didn’t
know chemistry, but they knew exactly
how these plants worked and they knew how
to prevent disease, if it was disease that
they were exposed to over a period of time. It was as technically
sophisticated, I think, as medicine
we have today. And then with the, the mass die offs that happened because of European diseases, it really fragmented
Indian cultures, so they lost touch
with a lot of that, and that started in the 1500s.

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