Why Rainforests Are An Essential Source Of New Medical Treatments

Rainforest plants make a significant contribution to the continuing health of the world’s population in both the developing- and developed nations. In fact, a proportion of the plant specimens originally used for traditional health and medicinal remedies are now harvested from rainforest locations across the planet for use in modern medicines.

The major role of the world’s tropical rainforests is to stabilize the global ecosystem, and thus maintain optimum conditions for sustaining all forms of life. Rich in bio-diversity, the rainforests influence our weather patterns and provide a lush habitat which supports almost 50 per cent of the world’s classified animal and plant species. And down the ages this abundant reservoir of medicinal plants has supplied the raw materials for a range of preparations essential to the health of human populations.

Rainforest plants for traditional healing

The use of rainforest plants for traditional medicine and healing has a long history. Both the Hindu healers of the Ayurvedic tradition, and also early Chinese physicians, employed a vast range of plant remedies to treat diseases and increase longevity. It is estimated that more than 7,000 modern medical compounds regularly recommended by medics worldwide are derived from rainforest flora. A selection from this extensive catalogue of herbal and plant resources is set out below.

Annatto Tree

Annatto oil repels insects, provides UV protection, and can relieve hypertension.

Cinchona Tree

A valuable source of quinine which is used to treat malaria, the cinchona tree is native to the forests of Africa and South America.


Employed to counter infections resulting from viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic sources, clavillia is rich in many essential healing chemical compounds.

Cocoa Tree

Used to remedy everything from fevers and anxiety attacks to everyday cuts and grazes, the cocoa tree is a vital rainforest resource containing in excess of 150 medicinal substances essential to human health.

Curare Lianas

Muscle-relaxing alkaloids extracted from this toxic vine are used as an anaesthetic, and can also be effective against fever, oedema and kidney stones.


A common component of cough and cold remedies, which combats bacterial and fungal infection, lemongrass is also used to treat fever.


Used to fight skin cancer, mammosa is also prescribed for sinusitis.

Pacific Bleeding Heart

The whole plant is used in a poultice as an analgesic, and has a calming effect when used internally.


Has been successfully prescribed in many countries as a treatment for leukaemia and Hodgkin’s Disease because it contains two compounds which inhibit the growth of tumors.

Saw Palmetto

First discovered in Florida, a substance extracted from this plant’s berries – 5-alpha reductase – is used to ease specific urinary complaints.


When used internally, extract from the vine plant sorosi eases dysentery and menstrual problems; when applied externally, sorosi acts as an agent for treating lice and ticks.

Trumpet Tree

In common use for medicinal purposes across Latin America, every trumpet-tree component – including the roots – can be employed in the treatment of both rheumatic conditions and respiratory complaints.

Wild Yams

Diosgenin is a chemical used in contraceptive pills which is extracted from wild yam tubers. In addition, diosgenin is also present in many prescription steroids.

Even though the healing qualities of rainforest resources are acknowledged and well-documented, mankind shows little sign of acting collaboratively to preserve this unique asset. Rainforest tracts have been allowed to dwindle to an area covering less than 5 per cent of our planet, while disease and infections continue to emerge and multiply. We are probably one of the last generations able to take action to preserve this precious inheritance.

About the Author: This article was written by Nick Davison for Covance, a global leader in clinical research and medical trials.