The Healing Forest on Fire: Plant Medicines of the Amazon, Uncontacted Tribes and Climate Change
Ethnobotanists are scientists who study the relationship between people and plants, often with a special focus on traditional healers and their botanical medicines. As rainforests disappear, however, many of these plant species face extinction. At the same time, due to acculturation, much of this indigenous knowledge is disappearing as well, often much faster than the plants themselves. And climate change—particularly changing rainfall patterns—is placing added stress on rainforest animals, plants and peoples. We see these impacts resulting from the Amazon fires that are devastating the most biodiverse forests in the world, crippling indigenous livelihoods and fundamentally altering traditional indigenous landscapes.
For well over three decades, Dr. Mark Plotkin of the Amazon Conservation Team has played a pioneering role in biocultural conservation, working to protect both rainforest ecosystems and tribal cultures. This talk details those efforts to fight fires and climate change while protecting biological and cultural diversity. To date, he and his organization have partnered with more than 50 South American tribes to map and improve protection of over 80 million acres of ancestral forests.
The Prehistory and Ethnobotany of Wine in the Ancient World
The story of wine does not begin with the ancient Greeks and Romans, nor even with the human species.
It was the great Jane Goodall who noted than chimpanzees not only seemed to enjoy elevating their moods with alcohol but that they in fact sought out overripe, fermented fruits and alcohol-rich nectar on a regular basis. Subsequent field research has revealed that animals as diverse as fruit flies, butterflies, moths, deer, shrews, bats and elephants frequently enjoy the equivalent of a good glass of wine (or more). Some evolutionary biologists have gone so far as to hypothesize that a major reason primate ancestors evolved into terrestrial forms was to take full advantage of life on the ground, where the biggest, ripest – and often over-ripest and most alcohol-laden- fruits were to be found.
The human love affair with wine began not in the Mediterranean but in the Caucasus, where Armenia, Georgia and Iran all meet and where wine presses dating back 8000 years have recently been excavated. From there, traders carried viticulture west to Greece where it quickly became a major commodity in international trade and – as such – played a vital role in the birth of capitalism. In fact, it was the Greeks who established the first vineyards in Italy, long before the birth of the Roman Empire, to take advantage of the superior soils they found there. And the excellent volcanic soils at the foot of Mount Vesuvius made Pompeii the epicenter of the Roman wine trade which sent their wine as far south as Africa and as far north as England!
In the ancient world of the Mediterranean, wine served many purposes. It was added to water to kill microorganisms, it was employed as a religious sacrament and was highly valued as a social lubricant at the famous ancient Greek symposia which are often described as one of the cornerstones of western civilization since the beginnings of western law, philosophy and science originated as discussions held in these settings.
In addition to being consumed as a beverage, wine was highly esteemed for many medicinal purposes. Wine was valued as a soporific, as an anesthetic and – above all – as an antibiotic. The medicinal uses of wine appear frequently in the Sumerian cuneiform of ancient Iraq, in the papyri of ancient Egypt, in the writings of the great Greek physicians Hippocrates and Discorides and is frequently cited in both the Old and the New Testaments.
The lecture presents the story of wine from a unique prehistoric, cultural, biological and medical perspective that you most assuredly have not heard before-
The Power of Social Entrepreneurs to Change the World
Dr. Plotkin understands some of the unprecedented economic, environmental, social and cultural challenges that we are facing in the world today, and that the most efficient and effective way to turn these challenges into opportunities is to open the door to innovative thinkers with a social cause. In this speech, Dr. Plotkin outlines his inspiring journey and addresses the key goals that every social entrepreneur should follow in order to create a successful path for change. Audiences leave his presentations with renewed focus and energy to become true change agents in societies around the world.
Living Longer & Better: 30 Years of Lessons from the Rainforest
Western medicine represents the most successful and sophisticated system of healing ever devised. Antibiotics, surgery, CAT scans – the list of medicines and technologies that treat and cure conditions and diseases once considered incurable is long and impressive.
That being said, western medicine does not have all the answers. On the one hand, we are threatened by “old” diseases – like increasingly drug-resistant bacteria that are killing tens of thousands of Americans each year. At the same time, we are menaced by “new” diseases -like AIDS or bird flu – that continue to arise. Meanwhile, we continue to suffer from what have been called “the diseases of industrial society” – like acid reflux, insomnia, and other forms of stress – that western medicine has never been able to cure.
Mark Plotkin, Ph.D. has spent much of the past three decades studying some of the most ancient and powerful shamans (medicine men and women) of the Amazon rainforest. This experience has given him unique insights into the healing powers and plants of these tribal healers – and why they don’t suffer many of the chronic diseases that plague our industrialized society. On the one hand, these cultures rely on plants and animals and the powerful chemicals they contain – pharmaceutical classes like beta blockers, statins, and ACE inhibitors are based on products of natural origin. At the same time, there are lessons to be learned from both practices and lifestyle from these so-called “primitive” peoples that can be of direct benefit to us here at home.
In this lecture, Dr. Plotkin – a spellbinding speaker and intrepid explorer – shares many of those lessons learned – from which we can all benefit.
Mitigating Climate Change: A Proven Approach
In the age of killer hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, melting polar ice caps, and increasingly weird weather patterns - it may seem as if the scope and scale of the climate change issue is so daunting that nothing can be done. However, when rainforests are burned, the carbon released into the atmosphere is the world’s second largest source of greenhouse gases. If we wish to mitigate global warming, the most efficient and effective way to do so is protecting tropical rainforests than the more intractable problem of reducing global fossil fuel consumption. In other words, if you are in a boat which is leaking, you should plug the leak in addition to bailing water. Mark Plotkin, Ph.D. has been working in the Amazon for over 30 years and has developed a uniquely effective and efficient method of protecting rainforests and mitigating global warming. This enthralling lecture documents the trails and travails of this extraordinary adventure.
Dr. Mark Plotkin hosts The Plants of the Gods Podcast
“Plants of the Gods: Hallucinogens, Healing, Culture and Conservation” is a new and unique podcast focusing on the hallucinogenic plants and fungi whose impact on world culture and religion – and healing potential – is only now beginning to be appreciated on a global scale as never before. Unlike other podcasts relating to these issues, “Plants of the Gods” is hosted by renowned ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin, a Harvard and Yale-trained scientist who has been studying the healing plants and shamans of the Amazon rainforest for almost four decades. An award-winning scientist and best-selling author, Dr. Plotkin is a spellbinding storyteller who will be speaking from personal experience, exceptional scholarship, and will be joined by exceptional leaders in the field. Check out his podcast episodes > >
Ethnobiologist Mark Plotkin shares with audiences the fascinating healing potential of the Amazon, and why our lives depend on us protecting the forest from deforestation and burning
Healthcare and the environment are intertwined for ethnobiologist MARK PLOTKIN who recently penned a compelling New York Times Op-Ed in which he highlighted some of the potent natural medicines found in the Amazon, and the threats to their existence through deforestation and burning. "The world's medicine chest is on fire," argues Plotkin, who has spent decades learning from the Amazon's shamans and translating their findings into terms that Western medicine can accept. In his talks and companion books Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature's Healing Secrets and The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know, Plotkin shares tales of his adventures and their deeper meaning for our health, and the health of the world at large.
World-renowned explorer and ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin dives into the origins of wine
An explorer of rainforests and the wisdom of its shaman, Dr. MARK PLOTKIN turns his attention to the prehistory and ethnobotany of wine in the ancient world. As Dr. Plotkin explains in this excerpt from a recent intimate lecture, the story of wine does not begin with the ancient Greeks and Romans, nor even with the human species. The lecture presents the story of wine from a unique prehistoric, cultural, biological and medical perspective that you most assuredly have not heard before.
Mark Plotkin, Co-Founder of Amazon Conservation Team
A renowned ethnobotanist with decades spent studying traditional plant use with traditional healers of tropical America, Dr. Mark Plotkin co-founded the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) with fellow conservationist Liliana Madrigal to implement a unique and novel strategy: biocultural conservation. At that time, 1996, the dominant environmental conservation model entailed creating protected areas that displaced local communities. In contrast, ACT began with the conviction that the viability of Amazonian ecosystems and the integrity of traditional cultures are interdependent aspects of an integrated whole. Particularly, ACT nurtured relationships with prominent indigenous healers, who often represented both a community’s natural leadership and its cultural core. ACT seeks to steadily increase the number of indigenous peoples in Amazonia to be able to monitor, sustainably manage, and protect their traditional forestlands, and by extension, significantly increase the area of Amazonian rainforest enjoying considerably improved protection.
ACT's events, vision, and accomplishments can be followed via their website, but Dr. Plotkin's presentations like this TED talk, based on over thirty years of research, one can better grasp the energizing and urgent importance of the myriad discoveries that have already surfaced from the riches of the Amazon. The threat to the Amazon is a threat to our very civilization, as Dr. Plotkin makes the case in this video. You can follow ACT via Twitter @AmazonTeamOrg.
Renowned ethnobotanist and Bestselling Author of Tales of a Shamans Apprentice, has been hailed by Time Magazine as an environmental “Hero for the Planet.”
A spellbinding orator and storyteller, Dr. Plotkins work has been featured in a PBS Nova documentary, in an Emmy-Winning Fox TV documentary, on the NBC Nightly News and Today Show, and on CBSs 48 Hours. Dr. Plotkin has also been the subject of several articles in Life, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Elle, and People, and on National Public Radio. He now also shares his stories and scholarship hosting the podcast, Plants of the Gods.
For over 30 years, Dr. Mark J. Plotkin has worked with and learned from the ancient shamans in the rainforests of Central and South America, providing him with incomparable knowledge of healing plants and shaman traditions. Dr. Plotkin was educated at Harvard, Yale and Tufts. He formerly served as Research Associate in Ethnobotanical Conservation as the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, Director of Plant Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund and Vice President of Conservation International in Washington, D.C.
Mark Plotkin currently serves as President of the Amazon Conservation Team, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biological and cultural diversity of the tropical rain forest. Dr. Plotkin and his group have been working with 32 Amazonian tribes and Google Earth to protect 75 million acres of South American rainforest.
Dr. Plotkin was recently named by Smithsonian magazine as one of “35 Who Made a Difference,” along with other luminaries such as Bill Gates, Wynton Marsalis, and Steven Spielberg. In 2008, Dr. Plotkin was hailed one of the “Social Entrepreneurs of the Year” by the prestigious Skoll Foundation. The Harvard Extension Alumni Association has also honored Doctor Plotkin with the Michael Shinagel Award for Service.
The author of numerous scientific papers and reports, Dr. Plotkin received the 1994 San Diego Zoo Gold Medal for Conservation, one of the top awards in the environmental field (previous winners include Jane Goodall, Sir David Attenborough, and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh).
Dr. Plotkin's book, Tales of a Shamans Apprentice (Viking-Penguin) is currently in the THIRTIETH printing and has also been published in Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. A childrens version, entitled The Shamans Apprentice - A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest co-written and illustrated by acclaimed author Lynne Cherry (The Great Kapok Tree), was published by Harcourt-Brace in the summer of 1997. Smithsonian magazine hailed it as “the outstanding environmental and natural history title of the year.”
Dr. Plotkins critically acclaimed book, Medicine Quest: In Search of Natures Healing Secrets, addresses the battle between rapidly evolving bacteria and the doctors struggling to outwit them. His latest book, The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford U. Press), offers an engaging overview of this irreplaceable ecosystem and the challenges it faces.
In 2000, Dr. Plotkins work hit the IMAX screen in the film Amazon, which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary.
In 2010, Dr. Plotkin was granted an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Lewis and Clark College in recognition of his pioneering conservation activities in the Amazon rainforest.