In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, – no disgrace, no calamity which nature cannot repair. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When we are dealing with difficulties, with physical or emotional pain, nature is there to provide us with peace, strength, and hope. And as we slowly become an enlightened species, we continue to learn ways to helping nature heal…through habitat restoration, re-introduction of species (the giant panda was just removed from the endangered species list!) and living more lightly on the planet.
Nature also does a pretty incredible job of healing itself. While plants soak up toxic metals and magically sprout after volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, growing scientific evidence indicates that animals carry knowledge of natural medicines. And they have access to the world’s largest pharmacy: nature itself. Zoopharmacognosy, (our new word for the day) or simply known as animal self-medication, has been used by many animals, including our faithful, domestic companions and their wild relatives, to treat a variety of ailments.
Scientists studying baboons at the Awash Falls in Ethiopia noted that although the tree desert date grew all around the falls, only the baboons living below the falls ate the tree’s fruit. These baboons were exposed to a parasitic worm found in water-snails. Date fruit is known to repel the snails. Baboons living above the falls were not in contact with the water-snails and therefore had no need of the medicinal fruit.
Many animals eat minerals like clay or charcoal for their curative properties. Colobus monkeys in Zanzibar have been observed stealing and eating charcoal from human bonfires. The charcoal counteracts toxic phenols produced by the mango and almond leaves which make up their diet.
Some species of South American parrot and macaw are known to eat soil with a high kaolin content. The parrots’ diet contains toxins because of the fruit seeds they eat and the kaolin clay absorbs the toxins.
Plants produce medicinal substances to protect themselves, attract pollinators, procreate, and perhaps perform more functions than scientists have yet discovered. Only recently scientists have learned that plant secondary metabolites provide benefits to animals as well as humans. ~