Tropical rainforests are a storehouse of medicinal plants. According to Diane Jukofsky in “Encyclopedia of Rainforests,” approximately 1/3 of the plants used in the research and development of pharmaceutical drugs are found in these forests. Life-saving cures are derived from such plants as Catharanthus roseus (for treating leukaemia) and cinchona (for treating malaria). Tropical rainforests are home to 70 per cent of the plants identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute for treating cancer (according to The Nature Conservancy). The medicinal values of numerous plant species of the tropical rainforests are yet unknown and their potential has to be analysed by scientists.
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The African cherry (Prunus africana) grows in forests in Africa from Cameroon east to Kenya and Madagascar and down south in South Africa. The extract from the bark of this plant is commonly used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, a swelling of the prostate gland. Cameroon has been the leading exporter of this bark to European countries. According to an article that appears on thefreelibrary.com, approximately 4,900 tons of bark from the trees is being exported to Europe for medicinal use. As a result, this tree is endangered in many countries.
Rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is a perennial herb that, while native to Madagascar, is found commonly in tropical rainforests in other countries. It has the capability to treat diverse elements such as eye inflammations, rheumatism and diabetes. The plant gained recognition because it contains two alkaloids (naturally occurring chemical compounds used pharmaceutical industry)–vincristine and vinblastine. Vincristine is used to treat childhood leukaemia while vinblastine is used as an effective treatment for Hodgkin’s disease and testicular cancer. Other alkaloids of this plant are used to treat breast cancer.
Calophyllum lanigerum is a tree native to Malaysia. A compound found in the leaves and twigs of this tree known as “calanolide A” can be effective in treating one strain of HIV, according to Diane Jukofsky in “Encyclopedia of Rainforests”.
Macela (Achyrocline satureioides) is a mid-sized herb found in Central and South America. According to Diane Jukofsky in “Encyclopedia of Rainforests,” the flowers and leaves are prepared in the form of tea to treat colic and gastric problems and epilepsy, and to help regulate menstrual periods. Macela extracts have been proven to be beneficial in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. They also contain antiviral properties against HIV-infected cells.
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