Indigenous People and Herbs
By Alex Strande, P.h.D



I believe one of the greatest gifts indigenous people have on this planet is their knowledge of herbs, the environment and how to live in harmony. In our chaotic society, we have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature. We have been given the gift of plants to heal, yet we have separated ourselves from nature in favor of SUV’s, computers, cell phones, and television. It is not easy to go back to nature when you are used to living in such a fast-paced society.

In many parts of the world, indigenous people classify everything from plants, climate, soil and animals. In fact, these people have words for plants and insects that have yet to be identified by the world’s botanists or entomologists. For example, the Hanunoo people in the Philippines distinguish 1600 plant species in their forests. Yet the scientists in that area distinguish only 1200. The Kallaywayas, who are wandering healers in Bolivia, use 600 medicinal herbs. Traditional healers in Southeast Asia use approximately 6500 plants for healing.

Of the estimated 500,000 plant species in the world, more than 85% are in areas that are home to indigenous people. Scientist start to believe that indigenous knowledge will eventually provide cures for such horrific diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

Sadly, because indigenous medicine is cheaper and there is no profit because you cannot patent an herb, drug companies will not encourage much research. For example, the natural form of aspirin is white willow bark. White willow bark is a wonderful remedy for pain. I use it consistently.

However, you cannot patent it, therefore you cannot profit from it. It is considered a food product. If you make a synthetic form and create aspirin, you can patent the item. As Americans, it is much easier to simply take a drug handed out from your doctor or buy something from a pharmacy rather than seek out traditional alternative medicine.

The basic principle of naturopathy is borrowed from the philosophy of indigenous people. That is working on body and mind together to heal illness or disease. Medicinal herbs are used to treat the whole body — mind and spirit, not just treat symptoms. I view indigenous people as the “Original Traditional Naturopaths.” 

Slowly the vast knowledge of these people is being acknowledged by the world and there are many wonderful organizations working to understand the wealth of information that they have to offer. Enlightened health care providers are reintroducing plant-based medicine in their practices. Remember, it has only been since World War II that natural medicine was surpassed by allopathic medicine.

The largest stretch of forest in the world is the Brazilian Amazon. However, last year 10,000 square miles of virgin forest were destroyed (this would be roughly the size of Albania) to plant mainly soy and for logging. The soy boom has been created by European consumers, who reject genetically-modified soy from the U.S. in favor of conventionally-grown soy. During the past three years, Brazil’s share of the world soy market has risen from 34% while the U.S. share has declined from around 50%.

At the current rate, Brazil is expected to overtake U.S. production within five years. This is nice for Brazil but it is at the expense of the Amazon rainforest. Rainforests cover only 2% of the earth’s surface, yet they are home to 40%-50% of all life forms. It is believed that up to 30 million species of plants, animals and insects call the rainforest home.

Scientists are not able to catalogue all these species. At the current rate of destruction, we may lose valuable information that could provide the next cure for cancer.

I believe we can learn from these indigenous people. They have stretched their knowledge across generations of people. It is not too late to look to these rare healers to learn. It is actually our tradition to use plant-based medicine and it is time to get back to our roots. 

I have learned many informative facts from healers all over the world and hope to continue learning. I have studied with alternative healers in Mexico and Tahiti. Although these people did not have “traditional education,” their knowledge was passed down from centuries of tradition. I believe healing is a continual learning process and I am constantly learning from other healers and my patients.

Alex Strande, PhD is a Traditional Naturopath and Microbiologist. His special interests are difficult conditions. He can be reached at his office in Irvine at (949) 587-1513 for questions and appointments. Find more information about Dr. Strande’s background, articles published and many testimonials at


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