More than a quarter of our drugs come from wild plants. Traditionally, researchers in search of new drugs would ask local folk healers about plants that might be helpful. However, that isn’t always the best approach. In some societies, plants are thought to have healing powers simply because they look like a disease.
Researchers are now learning to follow animals around. Monkeys have led medical researchers to several potentially new medicines. Chimps in Tanzania were seen swallowing the unchewed leaves of a tree. Studies of the leaves and the droppings showed that the leaves were not digested. However, the chimps’ digestive system had removed chemicals from the surface of the leaves that kill intestinal parasites.
The female of a rare species of woolly spider monkey in Brazil does not ovulate for about six months after she gives birth. This gives her time to raise her offspring. About six months after giving birth, the female will travel outside its usual area to gorge on the fruit of a specific tree. Researchers found that its fruit is rich in a chemical that causes the female to produce a hormone that re-starts ovulation.
As in other cases of this type, we have to ask the question: Do these animals really have innate medical knowledge or is it that God cares for them when they are sick and leads them to the right medicinal plant?