Sarayaku

by Zoë Tryon

In July 2011, I accompanied the extremely courageous people of the Kichua village of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. It was the end of a nine year quest for justice after CGC, an Argentinian oil company entered their ancestral territory uninvited. The company planted both superficially and subterraneanally, more than 1400 kg of pentolite explosives for seismic testing throughout about 65% Sarayaku traditional territory, they also cut down ‘lispungo’ a sacred tree, destroyed caves, waterfalls, and underground rivers used as drinking water sources for the Sarayaku People,  –  all in the quest for oil.

It was here in a seemingly soulless barren court room that I listened to testimony from Sabino Gualinga an elder of Sarakyu nearing his 90th birthday and learned how oil, spirits, land, people all affect and are affected by each other.  Sabino had travelled all the way from the Amazon Rainforest to explain to the six judges, why oil development must not be allowed on his ancestral land. Sabino is a ‘Yachak’ in the Kichua language often translated as ‘Shaman,’ but really means, ‘one who knows’ – the nucleus of the tribe.

When we were wandering around a Costa Rican supermarket I asked Sabino what he ‘knows’, he paused by rows and rows of canned food.

‘I know the forest, I know how to listen to her and how to learn from her’

The yachak is the link between the people and the spiritual world of the forest, Sabino knows not only this world but the worlds of the spirit beings and sacred places, and more than just a translator of them, he is truly at one with them. Sabino and all the people of Sarayaku referred to the forest as a sentient being –  the “living jungle” (Kawsak Sacha)

The Yachak is also a healer, his power comes from the spirits, plants, trees who teach him. But the earth must be thriving for the yachak to draw wisdom and energy to heal.

When one of the judges asked ‘what makes the land sacred?’

Sabino replied ‘I am referring to a jungle that is alive, beings that are like us, spirit people of the jungle, water and mountains they are masters of these ecosystems if they leave I don’t know how we will survive, all calamities will happen, earthquakes will come, and diseases will come, and that can’t happen.”

Spirits are the ‘owners’ of the forest, the trees, the medicinal plants, and the animals. When the earth is disturbed the unseen spirits are affected and they in turn affect the physical world. Sabino explained that when the pentonite bombs for seismic testing exploded, some of the spirits in the earth died and others fled, leaving a lifeless, sterile forest, devoid of animals. Sabino spoke of a fellow Yachak, Cesar Vargas who was deeply connected by ‘threads of energy’ to a sacred tree, his tree of power named ‘Lispungo’, which was felled by oil workers. Sabino told the court that Cesar “became very sad, and his wife died, then he died and a son died and after that another son died, and now only two daughters are left”.

I was horrified and heartbroken to hear of the loss of life, and it was then that I began to really understand how profoundly intertwined the web of life is in the kichua worldview and belief system. It is not just some theory, it is devastatingly real. In the understanding of the indigenous people and the idea of ‘the living forest’ or Kawsak Sacha, the forest and the people are one. The spirits or selves from the tiniest plants to the supreme being that makes up the whole forest all give the people wisdom, medicine, sustenance and shelter, and the people of Sarayaku stand and face all odds to protect their forest home.

I don’t come from a culture where this idea of kawsak sacha is taught from childhood, but I want an experience of it. So each day I choose to spend as many moments as I can in nature, watching, listening, building my relationship  with the natural world. So I invite you to do the same today, in a park, in the mountains, the ocean or any living tree or plant if you live in the city. Build a relationship with nature, hang out with a tree on your way to work. Stop at the florist and nuzzle a flower.

I can’t yet hear the spirits of the plants, but I will keep listening and hoping that one day I shall.

And what happened in the court….

“Everyone in the court was profoundly moved by the testimony of all the representatives of Sarayaku, and the judges ruled in favour of the people and ordered the removal of the subsurface explosives so that the ‘spirituality of the place could be restored’, so that the spirits could return and once more the land and the people could thrive”

Quotes taken at the Inter American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Indigenous Kichwa de Sarayaku v. Ecuador, 2012

Earth Medicine: Guyausa

“Zoë, Zoë, Guayusa!” The call penetrates my sleep fogged brain, it is time for the tea ceremony observed daily by all Achuar people, indigenous to the Ecuadorian Amazon. It is 4.00 a.m. and the chickens are not even up. But as I pull the earplugs from my ears, and the eye mask from my eyes, the sounds of the forest at night amplify. I lie there for a moment, taking in the gentle hum of a million lethargic insects, the spectacle owls offering final hoots, and the night monkeys chattering softly as all of the nocturnal creatures make their way home, crawling into dens, tree holes and mounds thick foliage.

4am. Its not just the indigenous people of the Amazon who rise at this hour; it is known as Amrit Vela or ‘moment of nectar’ – the time when if one sits in contemplation of the divine or in meditation you are able to taste the sweet nectar of celestial connection. Hindu’s refer to this time as ‘Brahma Muhurta’, time of God – the first 48 minutes, of the one hour and thirty-six minutes before sunrise. Sikhs divide each day in to eight parts or ‘pehrs’ of three hours each and the time between 3am and 6am is the highest energy. Buddhists often have an early morning meditation and in Islam the first prayer of the day is also before sunrise. Others say that it is the time when angels circle the earth.

The fire glows in the hearth. I can see the shadowy form of the lady of the house, Yatris sitting on a log by the fire stirring a pot, steam rising into the night air. Tii, her husband sits upon his chimpui, a stool fashioned in the shape of a turtle, representing the preferred seating choice of the Tsunki, the water spirits who seat themselves on the back of live anacondas, caimans and turtles beneath the rivers, their world mirroring the world of the humans above. I whisper a ‘good morning’ and sit down upon one of the three logs whose meeting points make up the fire. Yatris passes me a gourd and Tii motions to the pot sitting in front of him.

Tii sits leaning forward on his knees, his eyes softly focusing within. He lifts his bowl to his lips and begins to blow a whispered song into it; the red-orange glow of the fire is reflected in the tiny waves made by his breath across the surface of the tea. For a while we sit in stillness listening to Tii’s song, the muted forest sounds, and the occasional crackle and hiss of the fire as Yatris spits out a piece of leaf that has made its way into her bowl. We hear the melancholy notes of our neighbor Tukupi’s flute drifting through the night as we begin sharing our dreams. Tii and Yatris as elders of the house analyze each dream and we make adjustments to our plans guided by them, each of us intimately knowing the paths we will take through the forest that day. Yatris and I are going to gather fruits in the far gardens, Tii is going out to hunt off the trail near the caiman lake. Throughout the day we are separated physically but connected by invisible threads of knowing where the others are.

When I first drank guayusa in the village of Sharmentsa, before having mastered the gourd-perfectly-balanced-in-the-palm trick, I indelicately over-tipped my bowl, pouring boiling tea down one of my legs. Stifling a yelp and trying to maintain the appearance of calm serenity, an elder leaned forward in the darkness. Though I feared he would scold me for my ineptitude, he instead whispered to me that once you drink the guayusa she becomes a part of you, and you will always return to the forest. And I have.

Guayusa, a relative of the Holly plant, native to the Ecuadorian Amazon is high in caffeine but also calming and focusing; it produces lucid dreaming if you drink it daily, which many indigenous groups in the Amazon do. But it is also a time, and an experience. It is when the household gets together to discuss their dreams and plan for the day. When there are issues in the community people will pause, and ‘dream’ on the problem then meet at someone’s house at 4am to discuss their dreams, the eldest person present analyzing the meanings to decipher the best course of action.

Before I leave the forest, Yatris gathers huge amounts of the fresh guayusa tea leaves and places them out in the sun to dry, handing me a gourd engraved with ‘Zoe y Yatris’, and the dry leaves to take home with me to my country so that my family and I may drink guayusa together.

Months later I am sitting by the fire in the pre dawn darkness in my father’s drawing room, in his Scottish highland estate, amused by the thought of rousing my father from his slumber, to come and join me in speaking of our dreams. But as I sit there alone I miss beginning my day surrounded by my Achuar family, the village, the connection and security of being part of a tribe, each member being heard by the fireside, of solutions formed together, plans known by all before we each scattered out into the world of our respective days. How many of us leap from our beds, throw down a coffee and run out the door without barely an acknowledgment of the others in our homes?

Perhaps, just as the varying degree of love, care and attention a child receives in her first few months of existence can provide a blueprint for her life; shaping her self esteem, her reaction to, and indeed some say potential for success; so too can the first few hours or even minutes after waking set the tone for our day, informing our ability to react to life successfully. Perhaps the time together in the hours of guayusa each morning reinforce the security, love and connectedness from which each individual can go out and face the dangers and opportunities of life as each day unfolds.

So perhaps this month, if you are inspired (and you don’t already have an early morning practice, or if like me, your practice has fallen by the wayside the last few months!) I invite you to make a commitment to get up just a touch earlier, spend some time in silence, in reflection. Or tell your children stories in the morning rather than just before bed, sit with your family or your housemates and discuss the day ahead, find who needs support, who has an exam, an important meeting, a challenging conversation to have, then as you go about your day pause and connect with whatever you connected with in the early morning: yourself, the divine, your beloved, your children, your friends, your pooch, and see the threads of energy and love intertwining you all as you go about your days.

New Study: Ashwagandha helps bring your thyroid back into balance*

Your thyroid is only two inches long, but it plays a big role in how you feel. This gland secretes thyroid hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which control your body’s production of energy, help regulate your metabolism, and determine how your body responds to other hormones.

Sometimes, the thyroid gland gets off kilter, and things go metabolically haywire. Luckily, there’s an herb that can help regulate the regulator gland. A new study published on ashwagandha found regular use of this ancient herb can help normalize thyroid hormone production.*

Is your thyroid out of balance?

Your thyroid takes its cues from thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is secreted by the pituitary gland. When your T3 and T4 levels are high enough, the pituitary gland takes notice and secretes less THS. When T3 and T4 levels are low, it releases more.

Usually, the pituitary gland keeps your thyroid hormones in balance, but sometimes the system misfires. If your thyroid is overactive, you may suffer from loose stool, experience unintended weight loss, and feel overheated.

The more common problem, though, is an underactive thyroid, which can lead to occasional constipation, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, and cold hands and feet. If your thyroid is sluggish, you may find yourself being forgetful and feeling like you’re not running at full speed — physically or mentally. Getting your thyroid back in balance can help you feel like yourself again. That’s where ashwagandha comes in. 

Ashwagandha and your thyroid: study details

Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, for almost 4,000 years. It uses span everything from enhancing cognitive function, to aiding sleep, to supporting metabolism, to benefitting athletic performance.* But one of its most common uses is to restore strength and vigor during periods of stress.* Turns out, that may be because of its effect on the thyroid.

A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effect of ashwagandha on 50 people with elevated TSH levels. (Elevated TSH is an indication that the thyroid is working harder than it should to keep nearly depleted T3 and T4 levels up. Because of this, THS levels may be a better indicator of an underperforming thyroid than T3 and T4 levels.)

The volunteers took either 600 mg of ashwagandha a day or a placebo. After 8 weeks, ashwagandha improved TSH, T4 and T3 levels by 19 percent, 45 percent, and 21 percent respectively.*[1],[2] According to the researchers, ashwagandha “effectively normalized” thyroid hormones.*

How does ashwagandha work?

More research is needed to discover the exact mechanism by which ashwagandha modulates the thyroid, but it may have something to do with the herb’s status as an adaptogen.*An adaptogen is an herb that helps your body stay in balance, even under stress.* Unlike other herbs, which typically only work in one direction, adaptogens work in all directions. This means that whether hormone levels are a bit low or a bit high, ashwagandha can help bring them back to ideal levels.*

How should you take ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha root extract is available in capsules, tablets, powders, and tinctures. Because ashwagandha’s active constituents are called withanolides, it’s important to look for a formula standardized for withanolide content.

* FDA disclaimer

References

[1] https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2017/10/25/Ashwagandha-root-extract-may-support-thyroid-hormone-levels

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28829155

 

Zoë Tryon: Earth Medicine

I had just returned home from a trip to Ecuador. I stood pilling muddy clothes into the washing machine almost reticent to wash off the Amazonian earth, day-dreaming about hiking through the forest with indigenous friends to the biggest tree I’d ever seen, when the telephone rang. It was Kamal El-Wattar, a dear friend, who had joined one of the annual trips I lead to visit, and stay with different indigenous tribes in the Amazon and Andes of Ecuador. We’d had an incredible adventure, our group becoming our own tribe in the process, so I was thrilled to catch up with him. He told me that he was creating a vitamin company called Vitanova using ethically sourced botanicals, with every step of the process dedicated to showing respect for planet and people and that 10% of profits would go to indigenous cultures to preserve botanical knowledge for future generations. I was so excited, as Victor Hugo said, ‘nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come’ and here was a company that was going to support people in being their best vital selves through the vitamins, whilst supporting the natural world and those who protect and store her wisdom. So when he asked me to become a Vitanova Valiant I was deeply touched and honored to accept.

I look forward to sharing with you a few stories each month from my times spent learning from the unsung heroes and heroines and custodians of the earth.

Over the last ten years I have been privileged enough to spend time living with, and learning from many different indigenous cultures; those who live as their ancestors have done for time immemorial, speaking their own languages, hunting and gathering everything they need from the surrounding forest, food, medicine, building materials.

I have also spent time with those who have lost their ancestral lands, sacred and medicinal plants through contamination by oil companies, those whose languages are dying out, those whose young are leaving to the frontier jungle towns. Most of whom are fighting hard to preserve their culture, their land, their way of life, wisdom of the elders, the respect for the earth, botanical medicines and the spirituality of their people. They are fighting for their children and grandchildren, but as an Achuar elder told me, they are ‘protecting the forest even for the children and grandchildren of people who are threatening our land for they too need clean air to breathe and our forest is the lungs of the earth,’ Mario Wisum.

I am really excited to be partnering with Vitanova as they support these incredible human beings preserving language, culture, and botanical knowledge, so that together we may all thrive.

Next time I look forward to sharing the Kichua of Sarayaku’s view of Kawsak Sacha or “living jungle.”

GABA: The secret to relaxation and sleep

Quick: What do valerian, passionflower, lavender, magnesium, and L-theanine have in common? If you said they’re natural ingredients people use to relax and get to sleep, you’re right. But another thing they have in common is GABA (short for gamma aminobutyric acid). All of these sleep-promoting substances either increase the body’s production of GABA, make it more active in the body, or mimic its actions.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv]

A calming brain chemical

GABA is the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter (or brain chemical).* In other words, it’s a natural relaxant, putting the brakes on the neurotransmitters that amp you up.* GABA can be found in some fermented foods, but your brain also manufactures it.

How does GABA work? Brain scan studies show it helps the brain manufacture alpha brain waves, indicative of a state of relaxation.* That’s important, because if you can’t stop the gears in your mind from turning when you turn in, you won’t be sleeping any time soon.

Brain wave Cycles Brain State
Beta 15 to 40 per second Alert, attentive, focused
Alpha 9 to 14 per second Relaxed, reflective, meditative
Theta 5 to 8 per second Daydreaming
Delta 1.5 to 4 per second Asleep

Researched benefits of GABA

In 2006, Japanese researchers tested GABA’s calming powers on 21 people, eight of whom had acrophobia, or fear of heights. In the first phase of the experiment, researchers measured non-acrophobic volunteers’ brain waves at baseline, as well as 30 minutes and 60 minutes after they took either GABA (100 mg) or a placebo. GABA increased calming alpha brain waves and decreased stimulating beta brain waves.*

Next, the acrophobic participants took GABA or a placebo and then crossed a suspension bridge. When taking the placebo, their salivary levels of IgA (which protects against immune challenges) fell. But they were significantly higher if they took GABA — indicating GABA helped reduce situational stress.* The researchers concluded, “GABA could work effectively as a natural relaxant and its effects could be seen within 1 hour of administration.”[v]

GABA has also been studied for its effect on sleep.* In a 2016 single-blind, placebo-controlled study of ten people with sleep difficulties, volunteers took the equivalent of 100 mg of pure GABA for a week, stopped taking it for a week, and then took it for another week.[vi],[vii] GABA:

  • Reduced sleep latency, or the time needed to fall asleep*
  • Increased the proportion of non-REM sleep — the most restorative part of sleep*
  • Was absorbed quickly, within 30 minutes, and left the system quickly
  • Helped people feel more rested versus placebo*
  • Did not cause grogginess upon awakening*

How does GABA work?

GABA modulates the nervous system by slowing it down.* Basically, it causes your neurons (i.e. your brain cells) to fire less frequently.* This action increases relaxed alpha brainwaves and decreases aroused beta brainwaves.* That’s important, because for you to fall asleep, your brain must descend from beta to alpha to theta and finally to delta.

Unlike many supplements, which are not experiential, GABA is the kind of supplement you can feel working very quickly. You should be able to feel your brain relaxing within an hour of taking it.*

References:

[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8573216

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7979830

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19006051

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21226679

[v]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=relaxation%20and%20immunity%20enhancement%20effects%20of%20gamma%20aminobutyric%20acid%20(gaba)%20administration%20in%20humans&cmd=correctspelling

[vi] http://www.kosfost.or.kr/journal/view.html?uid=9307&start=20&sort=Regnum-0&Vol=25&Num=2&code=Fsnb&JLang=en&mod=vol&year=2016&book=Journal&aut_box=Y&sub_box=Y&pub_box=Y

[vii]https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2016/06/03/GABA-ingredient-shows-sleep-benefits-Study

RESPECT — Supporting free and exceptional education to break the poverty cycle in San Francisco’s highest at-risk neighborhoods.

Vitanova gives 10 percent of all proceeds to the preservation of botanical wisdom and to organizations that provide real hope and change in the world.

OnePurpose School is creating a free and exceptional public charter school in the

Bayview Area of San Francisco that will provide an innovative education to the city’s highest-poverty neighborhoods, and an essential step to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Vitanova has joined with Oracle and Sensato Investors, amongst others, to support this incredible local organization, OnePurpose School.

Vitanova CEO Kamal El-Wattar expressed his vision. “We are excited to be part of supporting our local community through OnePurpose School. They will provide a holistic approach to education by providing the child and their family with services such as organic food and after-school care and counseling, which leads to success in their endeavors.”

Why is this program important to Vitanova?
Currently, demography equals destiny in the U.S. If you start out in poverty, you are almost certain to end up in poverty. The best way to break the cycle of poverty is education, specifically a college degree.

OnePurpose School is committed to supporting low-income children on their road to college graduation. It helps the individual child, their parents and siblings—and, critically, their future children—beat the cycle of poverty.

OnePurpose School believes every child can thrive in an environment that supports curiosity, effort and engagement. Students who are supported at home and in their community do better, achieve more and are happier at school, which leads them on the path to success in life.

You can donate to OnePurpose School here and learn more about how Vitanova pays it forward here.

with RESPECT, dignity is restored

At Vitanova®, it is our respect for the planet and its people that shapes our actions. Vitanova proudly supports and sponsors several organizations designed to create real, positive change in the world and announces its support of Numi Organic Tea Impact programs, which includes H2OPE Madagascar, H2OPE Assam, and the Water Crisis.

Vitanova pays it forward by donating 10 percent of proceeds to preserve botanical wisdom and knowledge within the communities we partner with around the world. Like our own Vitanova botanical growers, the Numi Tea farmers are the stewards of organic, healthy nutrition. Vitanova discovered that Numi Tea shared a similar ethos and learning of the incredible work that the Numi Foundation is doing to restore dignity through providing clean water access to its partners, Vitanova wanted to support them in this important work.

The Numi Foundation works to bring clean, safe drinking water to Numi Organic Tea sourcing partners around the world.

Why is this important?

  • Did you know that 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean, safe drinking water?
  • Or that more people die from lack of water and sanitation each year than other forms of violence, including war?
  • Did you know that 4,000 children die every day from water-related diseases?
  • Despite the dangers, women and children usually bear the responsibility for collecting water for the family. Many are required to walk up to six hours a day to collect and carry it.

“The Numi Foundation is the manifestation of what we believe is needed to improve the lives of our community. It’s how we extend our intentions of goodness and fairness to the greater world.” — Ahmed Rahim, Numi Foundation Co-founder

Find out more about how Vitanova pays it forward here, and you can learn more about Numi Teas Impact programs and donate here.

Vitanova Vitamin Brand Travels to the Amazon to Help Preserve a Tribe’s Culture and Botanical Knowledge

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 10, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The co-founders of Vitanova, a vitamin brand that uses a variety of medicinal herbs in its supplements, traveled to the rainforest this summer to meet with the Shuar’s tribal elders as part of their “Paying Forward” project. Vitanova donates 10% of all profits to the preservation and revival of botanical knowledge worldwide.

The New York Times states; “…of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century. Languages are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.”

The Shuar language is one of those endangered—jeopardizing the community’s culture as well as their ancient knowledge of medicinal plants. To help preserve the traditions, the Paying Forward project encouraged communication between Shuar generations by pairing elders who speak the language with their grandchildren. In this way, the knowledge was passed down directly. A database of 50 botanical remedies has been transmitted, photographed and is now part of a growing archive.

Timothy Rose, Vitanova’s Creative Director, also traveled to meet the Shuar. “We got an opportunity to research new, exciting botanicals as well as meet the indigenous knowledge-keepers,” said Rose.

Vitanova is engaging with the world’s leading linguists, anthropologists and indigenous communities to preserve life-saving plant species and the knowledge about those plants––both of which dramatically affect all of humanity.

Global pharmaceutical companies are looking to plants as a source of new drug candidates. A child suffering from leukemia in 1960 faced a 10% chance of remission. By 1997, the likelihood of remission had been increased to 95%, thanks to two drugs derived from a wild plant native to Madagascar.

When asked about the project’s impact Vitanova’s botanical knowledge liaison, linguistics Professor Maurizio Gnerre said, “With the support of Vitanova, we’ve put children together with elders and created a special school for the kids to learn their own language and interact with nature.”

“Vitanova knows that when a language and culture dies, vital botanical information goes along with it. And, that affects not just the indigenous people but all of us,” said CEO, Kamal El-Wattar.

Vitanova founders are invested in programs around the globe. This month, Rose is traveling through Indonesia to meet with tribal knowledge keepers to continue the project.

Re-posted from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vitanova-vitamin-brand-travels-to-the-amazon-to-help-preserve-a-tribes-culture-and-botanical-knowledge-300503090.html?tc=eml_cleartime

Vitanova travels to the Amazon to help preserve a tribe’s botanical wisdom.

The co-founders of Vitanova, a vitamin brand that uses a variety of medicinal herbs in its supplements, traveled to the rainforest this summer to meet with the Shuar’s tribal elders as part of their “Paying Forward” project. For the past two years, Vitanova has donated 10% of all profits to the preservation and revival of botanical knowledge worldwide.

According to the New York Times, “…of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century. Languages are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.”

The Shuar language is one of those endangered—jeopardizing the community’s culture as well as their ancient knowledge of medicinal plants. To help preserve the traditions, the Paying Forward project encouraged communication between Shuar generations by pairing elders who speak the language with their grandchildren. In this way, the knowledge was passed down directly. So far, a database of 50 botanical remedies has been transmitted, photographed and is now part of a growing archive for current and future use.

Timothy Rose, Vitanova’s creative director, also embarked on the journey to meet the Shuar. “It was a chance to actually see firsthand the community and the effects of the program.” says Rose. “We got an opportunity to research new, exciting botanicals as well as meet the indigenous knowledge-keepers themselves. We have a commitment to our customers to be on top of new discoveries and work toward preserving what is out there.”

“The natural landscapes and vegetation were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life,” adds Vitanova CEO, Kamal El-Wattar. “Most moving was to be a witness as the elders shared their love of nature and their botanical remedies for various maladies.”

Vitanova is engaging with the world’s leading linguists, anthropologists and indigenous communities to preserve life-saving plant species and the knowledge about those plants––both of which dramatically affect all of humanity.

Archeological studies have discovered that the practice of herbal medicine dates as far back as 8,000 years ago in China, and written records about medicinal plants date back at least 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who used plants such as laurel, caraway and thyme as medicine.1,2

Today, global pharmaceutical companies are looking to plants as a potential source of new drug candidates.2,3,4,5,6 According to the Center for Biological Diversity, of the top 150 prescription drugs in the United States, at least 118 are made from natural sources––and some of the drugs are life-saving. A child suffering from leukemia in 1960 faced a 10 percent chance of remission. By 1997, the likelihood of remission had been increased to 95 percent, thanks to two drugs derived from a wild plant native to Madagascar.

Without thriving languages, however, the information about these plant medicines might be lost. The Endangered Languages Project is another organization that’s getting the word out about the topic. “With every language that dies, we lose an enormous cultural heritage; the understanding of how humans relate to the world around us; scientific, medical and botanical knowledge; and most important, we lose the expression of communities’ humor, love and life.”

Vitanova’s botanical knowledge liaison, linguistics Professor Maurizio Gnerre, discusses the impact the Paying Forward program has had on the Shuar community. “With the support of Vitanova, we’ve put children together with elders and created a special school for the kids to learn their own language and interact with nature.”

Gnerre has been working with the Shuar for decades, including Shuar tribal chieftain and head of the Shuar Language Rescue Project, Angel Antun. “We are so thrilled to receive help from Vitanova,” says Angel. “We must pass down what we know from our elders to our young people, or else our knowledge will be lost forever. Language loss means the end of our people.”

Along with their commitment to the Shuar culture, Vitanova founders are invested in other programs around the globe, from Indonesia to Eastern Europe to North Africa. This month, Rose is traveling through Indonesia to meet with tribal knowledge keepers. In addition, Vitanova is exploring various economic models for the vitamin brand, including purchasing botanical ingredients for use in future products.

“Our future health depends on preserving this knowledge,” says Rose. “Untold numbers of cures are out there. Vitanova knows that when a language and culture dies, vital botanical information goes along with it. And, that affects not just the indigenous people but all of us. We just can’t allow that to happen.”

  1. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2014/525340/
  2. Leroi Gourhan, “The flowers found with Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal burial in Iraq,” Science, vol. 190, no. 4214, pp. 562–564, 1975. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  3. R. Seidl, “Pharmaceuticals from natural products: current trends,” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias, vol. 74, no. 1, pp. 145–150, 2002. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  4. -J. Li and H.-Y. Zhang, “Western-medicine-validated anti-tumor agents and traditional Chinese medicine,” Trends in Molecular Medicine, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1–2, 2008. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
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  6. M. Schmidt, D. M. Ribnicky, P. E. Lipsky, and I. Raskin, “Revisiting the ancient concept of botanical therapeutics,” Nature Chemical Biology, vol. 3, no. 7, pp. 360–366, 2007. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  7. https://phys.org/news/2010-09-one-fifth-world-threat-extinction.html#jCp
  8. Kara Rogers, Out of Nature, “Why Drugs from Plants Matter to the Future of Humanity,” pp 216, 2012.
  9. Ethnopharmacology and integrative medicine – Let the history tell the future. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 10 Apr-Jun; 1(2): 100–109. Pulok K. Mukherjee, P. Venkatesh, and S. Ponnusankar