lundi 22 février 2010

Lake Titicaca 3800 metres above sea level

This is a primrose called Primula magellanica.
I believe this is a Gentiana sedifolia
This little yellow flower is very frustrating as it seems so familiar and yet I can not find it.....any suggestions?
This is a Austrocylindropuntia subulata, commonly known as Eve's pin cactus it is native to the higher regions of Eucador and Peru.

This tiny, grey plant was growing on the side of the rocks above lake Titicaca, it was covered with tiny scales that were only visible with my magnifying glass.....I do not know what it is, I even thought of a sort of lichen.
I think this could be a lamiacée, again seems familiar but I need more time to research, will keep you updated.

The cultivated lines in this photo are different varieties of potato, there are apparently over 3000 different pototoes in Peru, we were lucky to be there in the flowering season, lines of rose, purple and off white flowers were everywhere, being, alongside quinoa, their basic crop.

Don't talk to me about the next photo, at first I was sure it was a Papavaracaea, which wouldn't be difficult to determine with the help of internet, well I can not find it any where, although I am still pretty sure it is a member of the poppy family.
We visited the Lake from both the Peruvian and Bolivian sides, the fauna and flora are exceptional, many of the plants had similarities to French alpines, that is to say , they were samll, hairy and growing compactly.

samedi 20 février 2010

A new member of "Herbalists sans frontiers"

We were in Santiago at the end of our 10 week trip and I had an inkling that we had to go to a certain hostel for a reason, as we approached the hostel, there was the reason; "Salud Integral", Ricardo Nancur Poblet's centre of alternative therapies just next door to our hostel.
With the help of Lorelei's translating skills, I asked Ricardo if he would be interested in joining our cross cultural group of International herbalists and if so would he mind me interviewing him, he was very positive and eager to communicate about herbal healing......perfect!

Ricardo is a herbalist and gerontologist, which means that he is a specialist in ailments that effect elderly poeple. He created his consulting rooms in Santiago, 12 years ago, and is now, along with a group of alternative therapists, that he works alogside, very active informing people about herbalism.
He told me about the Chilean ministers decree bought out two years ago stating that herbalism can be used safely and with very good results alongside conventional medicine, this is a good point and a step forward for Chilean herbalists, however the decree goes on to state that a basic scientific formation is needed in order to practise, the draw back here being that plant based herbal knowledge in Chile comes from the local Indian population (indigenes), who are penalised by a decree of this sort.
Ricardo uses dried plants for herbal teas, which he sources personally from organic plant producers in Southern Chile. He also uses herbal extracts in capsule form, he creates the mix of plants he want, his recipes target of course problems of old age, and the small laboratory he works with makes them up with organic plants.
He works closely with a local radio, with whom he helps inform the public about the different alternative therapies available etc and from here he gets quite alot of his clientelle, as well as from word of mouth from satisfied clients. He doesn't yet work directly with hospitals and old peoples homes, he says they are not ready yet as they still consider herbalism to be unscientific. There are however two hospitals in the Santiago region, that since the decree have created information centres based on informing people about available alternative therapies.....another step forward.
I asked Ricardo to briefly describe his philosophy,he said "I am from a scientific background originally, I decided to concentrate on herbal medicine due to a great respect for nature. The most important thing for me regarding herbal healing is the interaction that occurs between each patient and each plant and this with the planet as a whole. Also the fact that plants don't leave secondary effects or produce disease through their interaction with each other is another reason that I chose herbalism.
Ricardo's favourite plant is Taraxacum off (Dandelion), when asked why, he told me it was an ancient plant that showed great resistance ( it resisted the glaciers for example).

The link with Ricardo is more than just a link with a herbalist from Santiago, its a link with a whole group of professional therapists with scientific backgrounds working together to promote alternative medecine in Chile. The idea of being able to exchange knowledge and techniques with them is very exciting, for example Richard's specialisation of working with the elderly, the Chilean flora that contains Amazonian plants is most interesting and perhaps our knowledge of essential oils for example could be useful for this group as aromatherapy is only just begining in South America........the future looks promising

vendredi 5 février 2010

Coca leaves

Once in Peru and heading in the direction of the "Altiplano" that is to say the steppes of the Andes, we noticed amongst the drinks and snacks being sold in the streets and bus stations, women selling bagfuls of leaves. Yes! we had suddenly entered into the coca chewing regions of south Americia.
The leaves of the Erythroxylon coca or Khoka meaning "tree by excellence" have been used for thousands of years by the local people and were used by the Incas for medicinal and ritualistic purposes, given as offerings to the sun and the mountains and also used in the same way as tea-leaves for divination.
The first use we came across was that of relieving altitude sickness. Men and women alike chew the leaves creating a ball of leaf pulp, which they keep for long periods in the corner of their mouth. We also noticed people with coca leaves stuck to their foreheads, when I asked why, the reason was for relieving altitude related headaches, I know that essential oils penetrate the sytem very efficiently through the skin but I am less sure that much of the active principals of a dried coca leaf are transfered in this way.
Later on in the silver mining town of Potosi, we witnessed another use for these leaves. This time it was for their stimulating virtues, the ability to help one support physical stress and repress hunger, qualities that the miners working in incredibly difficult conditions needed. I spent a morning at the mine and watched the miners skillfully, de-stalking coca leaves one by one with their teeth and then making little by little an enormous ball of pulp, which they all had in the sides of their mouths. It seemed as if the only way these boys and men could support working conditions that have remained unchanged since the middle ages was by a constant chewing of coca leaves, the work and the chewing were inseperable. To see this constant use of coca made me think about their long term effects, after reading several studies on the web, there seems to be no real evidence that long term use has an nefast effect. There is, however plenty of evidence that the use of coca leaves helps support heavy, physical work and supplies valuable vitamins and minerals to the body.

And the link between coca leaves and cocaine, I hear you saying, yes, cocaine is made from coca leaves but involves a complicated and long winded chemical process, including a solution of alcohol, gasoline, kersosene, or some other solvent that will seperate the cocaine from the leaves. Too complicated to go into here and of little interest to herbalists.
Coca leaves are used all over South America and consumed either by chewing them or in herbal tea, they are often mixed with cactus or quinoa ashes as the potash in the ashes helps liberate the cocaine.
I have tried to indicate the active agents of the coca leaf below, however this information has been gathered from the internet, please forgive me if their are any errors, the aim is to give a general idea.
Coca leaves contain : an enzyme called papaine, which helps digestion by accelerating the process and also has helps heal scar tissue.
Higraine, which helps blood circulation and protects against high altitude sickness.
Quinoleine, which helps stop tooth decay when mixed with calcium and phosphore.
Atropine, which has a drying effect on the respiratory tract.
Benzonine, which helps heal skin tissue and has antifermenting properties.
Pectine which is effective against diarhea.
Globuline, which tonifies the heart protecting against tachycardie and hypotension, has an immediate regulating responce to high altitudes thus making it a efficient remedy for high altitude sickness.
Pyridine, which stimulates blood circulation, oxygenating the brain thus helping at high altitudes where blood flow slows down.
Reserpine, which reduces high blood pressure.
Cocamine , which has anesthetic effects.
Conine, a powerful local anesthetic.
The cocaine, which represents 80% of the alcaloids in coca leaves is a local anesthetic, which acts on damaged internal and external tissues.
Inuline refreshes and helps liver function, bile secretion, is diuretic, helps eliminate toxic substances.

lundi 1 février 2010

The wonderful world of mosses

We decided to go and find the man-made lakes up in the hills above Potosi this afternoon. What a great surprise we found the lakes that were implanted at 4200 metres altitude and alongside them the most amazing biotop. A complete minature world of flowering mosses, bonsais and minature plants. I was definetly out of my depths botanically, this is a world for experts. My lack of knowledge didn't stop me from having a great time studying these tiny but perfect plants and so lucky that they were all in flower. Here are some of the photos, hope you enjoy them and if there are any experts out there please let me know a few of their names.