If languages disappear, the natural medicines that have handed them down for centuries also die. It is a bitter observation expressed in recent days by a study published in the journal Pnas and resumed from Country. Between 73 and 91 percent of the culture on the therapeutic principles and pharmacological properties of medicinal plants present in North America, the Amazon and New Guinea is in danger of disappearing. There will no longer be anyone able to explain them and pass them on to the new generations. Because it is a knowledge acquired over time and handed down from father to son through ancient dialects and languages that are now in decline. They don’t talk to each other anymore or only rarely.
This is explained by two researchers from the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies of the University of Zurich, Rodrigo Cámara Leret and Jordi Bascompte. In the three regions they identified 12,495 treatments with natural plants of which 75 percent are known only through a language spoken by some indigenous tribes. According to UNESCO, 30 percent of the 7,400 known dialects in the world will no longer be used by the end of this century. A loss of great value. Not only from a cultural but an anthropological point of view.
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The different languages are the tool that passes on history, traditions, values. From mouth to mouth, from person to person. Many are exhausted in a natural way, they acquire new words, accents, even meanings. But the main ones – and they are many – continue to play a fundamental role in the medical and therapeutic fields. Nobody is able to distinguish the herbs, barks, roots, fruits that are used to cure certain diseases in a rainforest. They are properties that are learned year after year, living in close contact with those who have always used them. Because in turn he learned this art from those who had been there before, how the rules of life are transmitted.
Cámara Leret, explains The country, offers some examples of the pharmacological potential of plants known to the natives. The members of the Cubeo tribe, in the Amazon, use the root base of the Connarus ruber as bait for fishing. They are tubers that have metabolites that act on the gills and therefore on the respiration of the fish. The natives of the Rio Negro, Amazonian Brazil, dip their arrows into the bark of the Leptolobium soaring which has anesthetizing properties. The Siona, another tribe of the Rio Putumayo, between Colombia and Ecuador, use the latex of the Euphorbia hirta to cure foot fungus.
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The two investigators cataloged 3,597 species of medicinal plants and identified 12,495 types of therapies in which they are used. They are all associated with 236 indigenous languages. “But these are just the tip of the iceberg,” warns Cámara Leret. “Most of this medical culture is preserved in languages that are at risk of extinction.” The threat is twofold. On the one hand, the lack of use of indigenous dialects is closely linked to the growing ignorance of the medicinal plants of the members of the tribes themselves. On the other hand, global climate change limits the geographical extent of many plant species used by man.
The only way to safeguard this incredible medical and healing heritage is to spread it among various indigenous tribes. Broaden the spectrum of knowledge so that the language that survives this slow decline can remain as collective memory. But it is complicated. Each tribe speaks its own dialect. All that remains is to collect the compendium of natural medicine on computer data. Before it gets lost in languages destined to disappear.
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by Irma D’Aria