Known as The Lungs of the World, the Amazon rainforest covers just under two per cent of the Earth’s surface. And yet this biological treasure produces over 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen, and is home to hundreds of thousands unique plants and animals.
Among the traditional diet of the peoples of the rainforest are any number of ‘miracle’ plants. The camu camu contains an astonishing amount of vitamin C (one teaspoon is said to provide 760 per cent of the RDI for this nutrient); the antioxidant açaí berry has gained worldwide notoriety as a superfood; and passion fruit (traditionally known as the maracuya) leaves can be used to concoct a health-giving tea.
Less well-known are the acerola (a shrub which treats everything from liver problems to the common cold), the graviola (which is being studied as an anti-cancer agent), and the cupuassu (loaded with B vitamins, amino acids, and at least nine antioxidants, and known to the local tribes as ‘the pharmacy fruit’) – all of which have lent their health-giving properties to generations of Amazonians.
Of course, not all local foods are potential medical marvels. But most of what is eaten in the Amazon is extremely healthy. Freshwater fish is a dietary staple here: the paiche, pirarucu, tambaqui, jaraqui and surubim are all enjoyed grilled, fried, steamed or blended into a myriad of different sauces and stews.
Among the veggies are manioc (also known as cassava), which is the main source of carbohydrate in the traditional Amazonian diet. Plantains are another veggie that’s essential here; similar in many respects to the humble banana, they’re traditionally enjoyed steamed, boiled or fried.
But for the most part, deforestation is causing the traditional diet to disappear. And along with that go thousands of potential cures. Over 70 per cent of plants with anticancer properties are believed to exist only in the Amazon; cat’s claw is being studied for its ability to treat HIV; and the cayaponia tayuya vine – used extensively in native medicine – has demonstrated remarkable anti-inflammatory properties.