Indigenous People & Medication


Indigenous people live all over the world. They’re native or tribal people whose ancestors discovered the land. There are 370 million indigenous people all over the world. About 70% of them live in Asia, but many live in the Amazon rainforest. Tribal people have their own language, cultures, and traditions. Some Indigenous people are hunter gatherers who are constantly moving around, building homes, and leaving them just days later. Others are more settled and plant crops and hunt or fish for food.

These people still follow their unique cultural traditions today. One of those traditions is practicing medicine. Some say that this medicine is better than Western medication. Tribal people of the Amazon don’t use medications one can find at a pharmacy. The Amazon rainforest spans from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and more. Many of the plants and flowers that grow here can be used to  get rid of many diseases modern medicine can’t cure, like cancer.

Western medicine uses a small number of plants to heal the sick, but there are many plants that can be used to find cures. The Cocoa Tree is one of the most important plants in the rainforest. Cocoa produces more than 155 chemicals that can be gathered from its bark, fruits, seeds, and leaves. The juices of the plant are used to treat coughs, kidney stones, anxiety, fever, and external cuts, and bruises. Cocoa butter–made from the cocoa tree–is used in soaps and skin creams to reduce stretch marks, fight off free-radicals, and treat skin conditions such as acne.

Lapacho, another plant in the Amazon, has anti-cancer properties. 70% of plants that can be used to treat cancer are only found in the Amazon. Lapacho is used to get rid of the pain caused by infections. South American plant Curare treats fever and kidney stones. The rainforest has been called the ultimate chemical laboratory because of all the many combinations of natural cures. Over time, each plant has evolved through natural selection to ensure survival in the harsh world of the rainforest. The plants that survived are the ones that had a way of defending themselves against plants or animals that could be harmful. These same defense attributes make them powerful medicinal plants.

This knowledge about the healing powers of rainforest plants has been passed on as an ancient tradition carried on by shamans. Shamans are spiritual guides and healers who help lead sacrifices, communicate with spirits, and cure their people of various conditions with medicine from the Rainforest. It may be hard to believe that plants treat illness better than modern medicine, but these plants have changed plenty of lives. Mark Plotkin is a scientist who works in the rainforest and observes how people use plants. Seven years ago, he had a chance to experience treatment himself.  Plotkin hurt his foot in an accident and went to the doctor. She gave him all kinds of pills, but they didn’t work. A few months later, he was in the Amazon and he walked into a village. The shaman saw he was having trouble walking and told him to take off his shoes.

Then, the shaman walked over to a palm tree, cut away a leaf, threw it into the fire, and applied it to his foot. He then threw the leaf into a pot of water and had Plotkin drink the tea. “The pain disappeared for seven months. When it came back, I went to see the shaman again. He gave me the same treatment, and I’ve been cured for three years now,” he said.

Mark Pischea has a similar story. Pischea was a 42-year-old political consultant and father of five. Ten years ago, he was sent to the hospital with bad stomach pain. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which causes terrible pain, weight loss, tiredness, and fevers. Pischea was sick for ten years. After his fifth surgery, Pischea was told he wasn’t going to get better. His wife told him get out of bed, board a plane, and go to the healing center in the Peruvian Amazon.

For three weeks, Pischea ate rice, plantains (green bananas), and teas made from plants. He also met with a spiritual leader named Antonio. Antonio gave him local plants that cleansed his body and restarted his system. One of the cures Antonio reccomended was called kambo, the venom of a rainforest tree frog. Four months later, Pischea was healed. “For me, being symptom-free is nothing short of a miracle,” he told The Huffington Post. “I’m thankful for each day that I’m feeling well.”

Even though indigenous people keep to themselves, their homes are in danger of projects that create pollution and ruin their home. Those who live in the Amazon are in danger because they use the plants on their land to heal their people and cure certain diseases. When people come in and tear down the trees or drill for oil, it kills the wildlife there.

The treatments found in the Amazon aren’t popular in pharmacies, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t effective. Indigenous people and their medicines have been around for hundreds of years. Western medicine doesn’t use many of these plants and their cures, but who knows how many people we could cure if we did?


  1. Which kind of medication is better; Western or Indigenous meds?
  2. Should we be more interested in learning about how these people live and how they heal themselves?
  3. What does this say about how society has advanced? Should we go back to hunter/gathering lifestyles?