At the end of 2017 I received sobering news about the health of a loved one. And while at present he is as healthy overall as one could hope, he has been diagnosed with a rare blood cancer that effects the plasma cells. It is incurable, but according to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, "very much treatable."
Nature provides me with all the faith I require to believe those words, "very much treatable." Research has long upheld the theory that a walk in the woods boosts the immune system. Phytoncides released by trees (to defend against disease and pests) benefit us humans, too!
According to a report published by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health, Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan:
Phytoncides, such as isoprene, alpha-pinene, and beta-pinene, were detected in the forest air..[a] day trip to the forest park also increase[s] the NK ( human natural killer cell ) activity, number of NK cells, and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins, and that this effect lasted for at least 7 days after the trip. Phytoncides released from trees and decreased stress hormone levels may partially contribute to the increased NK activity.
What does this mean? Essentially, it has been scientifically proven: a walk in the woods is beneficial to us.
Furthermore, I am a cancer survivor. And nature is significantly responsible. Adriamycin, a bright red anti-tumor antibiotic was given to me. As a lover of forest detritus, I can't help but delight in the fact that one of my most potent drugs is derived from a type of soil bacterium, Streptomyces.
In the 1950s, an Italian research company, Farmitalia Research Laboratories, began an organized effort to find anticancer compounds from soil-based microbes. A soil sample was isolated from the area surrounding the Castel del Monte, a 13th-century castle. A new strain of Streptomyces peucetius, which produced a red pigment, was isolated, and an antibiotic from this bacterium was effective against tumors in mice (Wikipedia, retrieved 2/8/18).
Another of my chemotherapy drugs - Paclitaxel, derived from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree - is a plant alkaloid, attacking cells during various phases of division. A U.S. native tree is responsible for my good health - isn't that an amazing realization?
Considering all of these wonderful (and curative) discoveries, why do humans continue to view nature with skepticism? Why are herbalists, aromatherapists and even, holistic physicians regarded as outsiders on the fringe of the professional medical community? Why do insurance companies refuse to pay for therapies as prescribed by such learned individuals? Why do chemical companies create synthetic toxins to blanket our crops and indiscriminately kill all manner of so-called pests? I imagine you know.
So what can be done to combat society's skepticism and dictatorial view of nature? We must promote the virtues of nature, whether they be related to healing, organic pest control or simply, aesthetics. Everything I have learned about medicinal plants and biological pest control has emerged from my initial appreciation of the beauty of flora and fauna.
My definition of beauty has evolved to include not only the physical attributes of a plant species or family of insects but instead, an admiration for the function it serves in its ecosystem. Everything is interconnected; if humans choose admiration and cooperation, think what we might discover together?
Jessica Allen explores the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband, Michael Allen, and their son, Benjamin. She shares her observations through words and pictures of everyday magic and beauty she sees in her world.