It was my first time exploring anywhere in South America as well as the biodiversity of jungle habitat, which I had a chance to meet for several months traveling in India, back in 2012. In Colombia I was very excited to meet new plant friends, and see the overlap of plant species, and plant families between what I had seen in India, as well as recognizing anything familiar back home.
This kind of journey is one that fills me with passion and excitement. To allow the plants to guide me to the people, and the people then guide me to plants. Here is a brief look at my experience in Colombia.
Prior to leaving, I did research and collected a plant list, in which Timothy Lane, of who I thank deeply for his botanical offering, his hours of doing the same thing I did enabled me to research potential species and families to look for.
The list combined consisted of potential edible wild plants I may find, as well as cultivated market fruit species, herbal medicines that I could both find on the ground, and in the markets, as well as famous ethnobotanical plants. The working list of species that I’ve compiled and expanded upon have become the field guide portion of this book. (see index 1) As I sought many forms of medicine in the jungle, market place, and shamanic medicine traditions, I photographed and documented what I had experienced.
Chapter 1: Herbal Preparations and Vaccination Awareness
Whenever traveling as an herbalist, especially one who would prefer to rely on the plants of the ground, it takes lots of study. Within that study is 3 main factors. 1. Mainly the ability to see potential and common threats in the particular area you are traveling in, 2. The ability to have an herbal kit that outlines treatment for those issues because one should never wait, and 3. Access to whatever level of “medicine” you may need, if the need arises. It is of my personal opinion that I should never deny more “corporate” treatments if my methods do not work. Yet, as a novice becomes expert, more can be handled.
Oh yea and 4, perhaps most important, the unexpected =)
In researching the first big scare of South America and the jungle in general, one must first learn what to do in case of malaria. Malaria which usually one treats by taking a preventative dose (which I hear makes people very sick) in fear of the potential of getting malaria. Luckily, it turned out for us that although there were cases of malaria in the areas we would travel to, it was not likely.
As I did my homework on the issue, it generally seemed from observing websites such as the CDC malaria map (http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/map/) that cases were low in Putumayo area, probably the most rampant area, and even lower in the other areas we would be traveling to. Heeding the official websites message to be careful I developed a tincture to take along for the journey. I knew that I would be able to tend to a strong case of malaria for 4-5 days on what I had brought and chose once again to pass on the damaging preventative medication.
For working with issues such as malaria, one should first know if the ailment is bacterial, viral, fungal, or otherwise in its nature. Treatment for each of these cases are different and require different functions from herbs, foods, and lifestyle changes.
The second most important thing in a case like this is prevention. Knowing habitat, location, having working bug spray – working, in this case, means a 4 oz bottle where I put a mix of essential oils, almost all of them will work, with 50% almond oil, shake that, and put in a spray bottle. When I apply that I apply it heavily and repeatedly. After 3-4 applications it works amazingly.
The third most important application is treatment during the earliest stages detectable. This means having subtle awareness of signs and symptoms. Beginning herbal treatment 3-4 days after the first earliest symptoms is “too late”, meaning that the first stage of treatment is to know the body.
Herbal Kit Breakdown:
As I was not sure how far I would be traveling into the jungle, In my herbal kit I brought 16 oz. of a malaria specific formula that I made. I knew it would be a potent general antiviral, and antibacterial, and therefore could be used in any cold or flu, stomach upset, infection, or fungus. However, these herbs are also are the more specific herbs toward malaria or yellow fever and used accordingly. It consisted of Sida acuta (turns out this is a roadside weed in Colombia), olive leaf, Artemesia annua, burdock root, and redroot. This gave a well rounded formula, with enough for 2 people to at least begin combatting any issue that would be encountered. Of course with herbalism and a “use-what-you-have” capacity, a plethora of others to add, includingany other antimicrobials.
A particular hero to mention could be boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) which having a long standing tradition of being helpful against flu and fever, has a wide ranging history of treating malaria. And, there have been studies and in vitro experiments with plant extracts which indicate possible anti-inflammatory effects and activity against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887411100729X).
When formulating, I try to consider half “target the microbe” and half “tonify the bodies functions” so in my case burdock for helping the liver and therefore blood, and redroot, which also has antiviral attributes, being predominantly for helping lymphatic opening. Of course activities like sweating, hiking, sweatlodge, and sauna are also helpful for the body adjusting to different microbial environmens in countries and we planned to do much of it.
Basically, when traveling to other countries, usual things to consider are air quality issues and therefore respiratory infections, water borne infections through contaminated water (in which can be filtered and not relied on plastic throw away bottles) and bacterial or viral infections, of which there are many. These issues are very common, and will likely be part of anyone’s travels outside of the country they were born in.
For basic physical trauma issues, I also brought a small medical kit containing some band-aids, gauze, cotton swabs, and 2 pairs of rubber gloves. Of course with first aid, training is primary. I have taken several herbal first aid courses and try best to understand my limits, not my capacities.
Other items included mixed herbal salve for helping skin stay moist, treating any allergic topical issues, and also helping keep infection out of any healing wounds. With a few essential oils which I see as a back-up (Not primary); oregano oil, lavender and peppermint, as well as the abovementioned home made bug spray.
With developing the art of foraging herbalism, “know-how” is an ever expanding thing.
The scenarios and plants, herbal kit will always change and adaptability is the greatest work. A few easy examples would be such as any evergreen sap for cuts or fungal infections, wild papaya leaves as a tea for intestinal issues (plus the seeds of the fruits),
And the most important reason for traveling and practicing herbalism, seeking teachers while at any location of medicine people, to directly broaden any level of foraging and herbalism applications of wild plants, as well as simultaneously preserve and pass on their knowledge traditions.
This writing is part of my “Seeking the Medicine” Herbal Series with lots more to come,
Heres a look of a video exploring the plants around Cali, Colombia, Off the side of the road I was discovering a Sida species.