Okay, it’s nearly May and things are heating up!  The Shark’s Paintbrush will be published in June and there’s already an early review! If you haven’t visited our Facebook page, it’s here.

Here’s a bit from the book to whet your appetite:

Zoopharmacognosy is the long- winded scientific label for studying animal self- medication. You may have seen your pet cat or dog chewing on grass when it’s unwell. Chemicals in animal-chosen medicinal plants have been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antihelminthic (antiparasitic worm) properties. Wild chimps eat Vernonia amygdalina to rid themselves of intestinal parasites and aspilla leaves for rheumatism, viruses, and fungal infections. Other animals chew on charcoal and clay to neutralize food toxins and rub themselves with citrus, clematis, and piper for skin ailments. Pregnant elephants have been seen to walk miles to find a certain tree of the Boraginaceae family that brings on labor. There are undoubtedly many more remarkable opportunities to be understood and adapted.

Pharmaceuticals are essentially biomimetic in principle, but are not often designed to have no side effects. Drugs were historically created from natural substances; the word drug comes from the Dutch droog, meaning “dried plant.” As evidenced in Neanderthal archaeological digs, natural medicines have been in use for more than sixty thousand years. Excavations have revealed the use of at least seven herbal remedies that still show proven therapeutic value, including ephedra (as a cold remedy), hollyhock (poor man’s aspirin), and yarrow (wound dressing). It’s thought that early humans may have learned about some of these cures by observing sick animals seeking out plants that were rich in beneficial substances.

More than seven thousand compounds used in modern medicine have already been derived from plants, with thousands more waiting to be identified. In fact, of all the pharmaceuticals marketed in the United States today, more than 50 percent are synthesized from isolated active ingredients in medicinal plants— from stimulants to sedatives, painkillers to chemotherapy, detoxicants to antioxidants, and cardiotonics to antidepressants. As we know, often these synthesized compounds create side effects, and sometimes even very serious unwanted consequences. Though we do see headlines about overdose deaths from illicit drugs, there are actually relatively few of them compared to the more than three hundred thousand serious complications each year, just in the United States, from the improper use of, or interactions between, prescribed pharmaceuticals. In fact, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that there are many more deaths from adverse drug reactions than from road accidents— approximately one hundred thousand per year. Interestingly, there are almost no major complications or deaths reported from cultures that still use original medicinal plant compounds, which often do at least as effective a job as their pharmaceutical equivalents. This is fortunate, when you consider that 80 percent of the earth’s people can’t afford or don’t have access to pharmaceuticals and rely on plant remedies.

Excerpt from The Shark’s Paintbrush, copyright Jay Harman. All rights reserved.