The Pitfalls of Relying Solely on Modern Science to Understand Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine has a vast history that dates to ancient times. Although no one knows exactly when it emerged, it may be as old as mankind itself. With the advent of pharmaceuticals and the Flexner Report of 1910, it fell out of favor in the West. Thankfully, it has recently re-surged in popularity due to improvements in herbal analysis, standardization, quality control, and advances in clinical research.
Unfortunately, the scientific method of assessing plants doesn’t always provide the full picture of what medicinal properties they embody. Across the globe, shamans and traditional healers possess the missing pieces to understanding their complete power. This is based on their connection to nature and their ability to tap into a divine essence that ignites one’s innate healing potential.
In fact, shamans aim to bridge the internal world of the patient to the external world where the problem or dis-ease originates. Shamanic practices use various techniques for the modification of consciousness to accomplish this. Many shamans are also medicine people who can access the secret wisdom of plants and who are called upon in times of illness.
Although science has not fully discovered the mechanism of how traditional healing creates transformation in its people, it is now being linked to psychoneuroimmunological changes. This understanding is in some part due to the rise in popularity of psychedelics. Specifically, researchers have been studying several of the plant compounds found within this category of hallucinogens due to their positive mental health results in recent clinical trials.
The Merging of Science and Traditional Healers
Deep within the Jamaican Cockpit country on the parish of Trelawny, lies such ancient and exquisite knowledge of herbal medicines and methods used by the Maroons. Throughout the years, they succeeded in keeping their native languages and medicine customs from Africa, combining them with their Jamaican Arawak traditions.
Today, the Maroons maintain their independence and identity after a 14-year-old struggle with the British Colonizers. They are known as The Maroon Federation, and Maroon territory is considered a sovereign nation within the tiny island of Jamaica. According to Dr. Eugene Zamperion, “One of their strongest tenets is the healing power of nature and their deep knowledge of the myriad Jamaican herbs and their uses.”
What a shame it would be if their knowledge was never tapped. We would not be able to understand the complete therapeutic power of plants from more than just a clinical, sterile, isolated mechanistic perspective.
Exploring the Ancient Wisdom and Healing Properties of Medicinal Plants from the Tropics
On this episode of the Essential Oil Revolution, we merge ancient healing with modern medicine. We glance into the world of Shamanic and traditional healing with a world-renowned licensed naturopathic medical physician, registered professional medical herbalist, ethnobotanical researcher, botanical formulations inventor, educator, international lecturer, author, spokesman, and beloved radio personality.
During the show, Dr. Eugene Zampieron, ND takes us on a journey through the world of the healing plants and herbs of the Caribbean. He shares what he has learned from his clinical experience using botanicals and tells captivating stories from his far away travels with Shamans.
What is perhaps the most endearing and impressive thing about Dr. Z, as he’s referred to by his students and audience, is that his genius matches his big heart. He has a passionate desire to spread his knowledge for the betterment of mankind and the planet. As a result, in this interview he continues with his mission of providing evidence of the power of natural healing on an individual and international level.
Below is an overview of the show, but don’t stop here. Give yourself of the gift of hearing and experiencing the real-life tales told by Dr. Z by listening to the full episode.
Dr. Z’s Journey into Ethnobotany and Naturopathic Medicine
Dr. Z gained firsthand experience of the healing power of “Maroon science” from his many travels to Jamica. Starting as a young biology student, he embarked to the West Indies with his marine biologist professor, Dr. Ernst, “Doc”. During his journeys to Jamaica, Dr. Z met and befriended Jamba Scott, a Jamaican herbalist and village bush doctor.
As he was pursuing a graduate level course with Dr. George Hechtel, Dr. Z fell ill with intestinal dysentery. He tried conventional treatments to no avail. It was then that Jamba introduced him to an elder bush doctor, Pop-A-Top. Pop-A-Top provided a formula that resolved Dr. Z’s condition.
From that point, Dr. Z decided to learn more about using plant medicine in people and become a naturopathic doctor (ND). He was impressed to learn that ND’s are the only board-certified doctors who are thoroughly taught botanical medicine. This includes plant and herb identification, chemical structure, habitat, traditional and clinical use, safety, dosing, and formulations. With this education, Dr. Z could merge Maroon science with modern science.
Through his travels, Dr. Z was graced to be an apprentice of Pop-A-Top and then with Jamba, even though he was a non-Maroon. Jamba shared his traditions with Dr. Z. due to the advice of Jamba’s grandmother’s duppy (spirit) in a dream. Dr. Z. was “chosen” to pass along his secrets to the world as an “ethical ethnobotanist,” who would give back to the community and the local people. Jamba continued to mentor Dr. Z until he passed in 2014.
Today, Dr. Z can still be found combing the hills, valleys, and rainforests of the Caribbean for new medicines as he has since 1981. Dr. Z has kept the Maroon’s wisdom alive and continues to apprentice with their shamans. He shares their historical traditions with others during his ecological tours and lecturing. Dr. Z further combines this love of empowering others with natural healing knowledge through his work as an herbalist, physician, and educator.
Ethnobotany: Sustaining Traditional People’s Culture and Plant Wisdom
According to Britannica, ethnobotany is a “systematic study of the botanical knowledge of a social group and its use of locally available plants in foods, medicines, clothing, or religious rituals.” According to Dr. Z, it entails a full immersion in the culture and spiritual landscape of the traditional people and the chemistry of their plant medicine. The findings can lead to new discoveries of medicines, teach a reverence for the plant habitats, and strengthen cross-culture communication.
Dr. Z embodies this definition with the way he integrates his background in marine biology, shamanic tradition, herbalism, and naturopathic medicine. He reiterates how a famous ethnobotanist and his mentor, Mark Plotkin, states that when a shaman dies, they take all their wisdom with them. Dr. Z is ensuring this does not happen.
Over the years he has taken hundreds of doctors, pharmacists, naturopathic medicine students, and various others on journeys to help them rediscover their roots with the earth and empower them with natural medicine. He also has documented many of the plants in Jamaica with his co-author and business partner, the Natural Nurse, in the book The Natural Medicine Chest. Recently, Dr. Z’s work with Jamba was recorded in the documentary Eco Tours for Cures: A Retrospective Journey.
Spreading the Word About the Communication of Plants
During the show, Dr. Z discusses how plants have an innate intelligence and can form a connection and a type of communication with people. (R, R) For example, there seems to be “a kindness to the design” where nature educates us about her plants through the doctrine of signatures (symbolism), innate intelligence, and trial and error. Although some cultures documented the insight gleaned from mother earth, others have only passed them down through oral traditions.
For this reason, Dr. Z seeks to verify what he has learned from the Maroons through scientific research and documents it in articles and books so this knowledge will not be forgotten. Dr. Z stresses how we must also give credit to ancient herbalists such as Culpepper, Discorates, Galen, and Hippocrates who were traditional healers as well. Perhaps that is why a detailed history of herbalism is written out in his book, The Natural Medicine Chest.
The Medicinal Plants and Essential Oils of Jamaica
Next, Dr. Z and I discuss several of his favorite medicinal plants from Jamaica. These include:
1. Allspice, Pimenta dioica, a plant that belongs to the Myrtaceae family. The flavor of allspice is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and juniper which also makes it a tasty remedy. For this reason, it has been used in Jamaica as a spice to preserve meat.
Dr. Z explains how both its essential oil and herb are very usual as an analgesic for pain relief. In fact, like clove oil, it is high in eugenol. This is a compound used in dentistry for pain relief.
Other traditional uses of allspice include easing smooth muscle and menstrual cramps and alleviating joint pain. The rural people would also use allspice to provoke sweating to assist in breaking fevers and dealing with infections. According to Dr. Z, healers in Jamaica would recommend a “bush bath” filled with allspice to help those with sore muscles. Allspice oil is also mixed with Vaseline or beeswax to create salves. The traditional use of allspice is Dr. Z’s favorite essential oil DIY. He will often use it as a topical salve for pain.
Several methods for extracting the active compounds out of plants are used in Jamaica. There are local distillers who distill essential oils, like allspice, to isolate specific constituents for their medicinal properties. Also, the Maroons use simple extractions of the whole plant with coconut oil. Overall, the most popular method for herbs and plants is teas.
2. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia or bitter gourd) is a bitter herb that grows in a few areas, including Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and East Africa. It is well documented for managing high blood sugar. Researchers have even isolated a compound they believe to act similar to insulin. Dr. Z feels that it can be a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals, under the guidance of a knowledgeable physician.
3. Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) is a tropical tree that’s found in Florida, the West Indies, and throughout Central America. It is very popular for pain relief.
Interestingly, the Jamaican people would use this bark to anesthetize cold blooded fish, so they were easier to catch. However, it does not anesthetize people, though the herb is calming. Jamaican dogwood acts on the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, which modulates nerve transmission, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which aids in the inhibition of nerve impulses and induces relaxation. This is how it may stop spasms and manage pain.
Ancient herbal medical doctors, the Eclectics, used Jamaican Dogwood as a replacement for opium in those who suffered with severe nerve pain, fractures, facial discomfort, and other ailments. Dr. Z has witnessed its efficacy in these areas in his practice and in his personal experience. In the past, he used it topically and internally when he broke his hand in martial arts. This allowed the pain to subside so he could sleep.
Jamaican dogwood can be combined with Guinea Hen Weed (known as garlic weed, gully root, or Anamu) which is also useful for pain. Guinea Hen Weed is also being studied for its potential use in preventing prostate cancer cell growth.
4. Ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, and it’s closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. The herb and essential oils both contain gingerol, which is highly anti-inflammatory and acts an antioxidant. It has been studied to help assist with all kinds of pain and its effectiveness is linked to its multiple mechanisms. In fact, it acts on similar pathways as pain relievers. Recently, Dr. Z noted a study that favorably compared its topical application to a medication for knee pain.
5. Rosemary, (Rosmarinus officinalis) is from an evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and has a woody aroma. It contains rosmarinic acid in both the oil and herb. This compound is effective in modulating the immune response. It is especially beneficial in autoimmune diseases, as it destroys autoreactive immune cells and preserves healthy immune cells.
Rosemary also has antimicrobial properties and modulates many pathways that can help get to the root of immune issues. For this reason, it is in one of Dr. Z’s herbal formulations for autoimmune patients.
6. Lignum vitatae, genus Guaiacum, is the national tree of Jamica. It can be used for pain and osteoarthritis, according to Dr. Z.
The Validation of Ancient Healing
Today we are seeing a merger of modern medicine and ancient medicine being popularized and verified in science.
For example, naturopathic doctors have gained scientific verification and vindication that the gut does, in fact, get “leaky.” Still, caution is warranted. It is “intestinal permeability” that has become the proper reference to this breakdown in the barrier of the intestinal lining which is now linked to various disease processes.
Another old naturopathic method that is being acclaimed is hydrotherapy, or water therapy that alternates hot and cold. This was an ancient practice of naturopathic medicine and now all the rage in biohacking!
The Importance of Sustainability
As herbal medicine becomes more popular, it is important to honor sustainability and to be mindful of using herbs which are not in danger of extinction. This means being aware of how much you consume of a plant or oil and what you truly need vs. want and what is useful.
For example, Boswellia is becoming very popular and may be in danger of being overused. The gumbo limbo tree in Jamaica is plentiful and from the same botanical family. It can be used for many of the same issues.
“Weeds” and “invasive species” also hold therapeutic effects and should be used for health issues, not destroyed.
Without being aware and holding respect for nature, we may not have access to these healing plants in the future.
There is so much “magic” and mystery yet to be discovered in what surrounds us in nature.
The above summary is just a taste, or sniff, of what Dr. Z and I explore.
You will not want to miss the full episode!
You will gain a new appreciation for the sacred healing power of plants, the beauty of our planet, and our own inner nature.
Click here to hear the interview and access the show notes.
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Links to Learn More About Dr. Zamperion and His Offerings:
- Dr. Z’s Website
- Eco Tours for Cures
- FB: @ecotoursforcuresjamaica
- Dr. Z’s documentary for Eco Tours for Cures on YouTube
Peer Reviewed Papers and Presentations by Dr. Zamperion:
- Dr. Z’s National Presentation on Pain
- Dr. Z’s Paper on the Topical Application of California Poppy for Opioid Addiction
- Dr. Z’s Paper on the Natural Support for Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease
- Dr. Z and the Natural Nurse’s Paper on Natural Support for Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease
- Dr. Z and Ellen Kahmi’s Paper on Topical and Oral Pain Remedies
- Herbal Gram: Tribute to Lloyd “Jamba” Scott 1937-2014
- Extra-GI Manifestations of Parasites and Their Link to Autoimmune (NDNR
Dr. Z’s Radio Shows:
- Natural Alternatives Health Radio (Alternating Fridays 6-7PM)
- The Natural House Call (Alternating Sundays 8-9 AM)
- The Natural Nurse and Dr. Z (Tuesday at 10 AM on Progressive Radio Network and available as a Podcast)
Books by Dr. Z:
- The Natural Medicine Chest
- An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Arthritis
- Supplements for Pain
Previous Episode with Dr. Z on The Essential Oil Revolution:
- Ep. 379: Merging Traditional and Modern Medicine for Pain Relief with Dr. Eugene Zamperion, ND, MH, RH (AHG)
Bio of Dr. Eugene Zamperion, ND, RH(AHG), Ethnobotanical Researcher
Dr. Eugene Zampieron earned a B.S. in Biological and Marine Sciences from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, minoring in Science & Technology. He began to engage in masters’ level course work in marine invertebrate zoology, but his field research in Jamaica, WI changed his life and career path after recovering from an illness using ancient, herbal medicine. Due to his awe for the power of plant medicine, in 1990, he pursued his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.) degree at the acclaimed Bastyr University. In addition, he became a Professional Registered Medical Herbalist/Phytotherapist and Ethnobotanist with expertise in tropical and Northeastern medical botany.
As an esteemed global authority in the areas of natural medicine and natural healing, Dr. “Z”, as he’s affectionally referred to by his students and audiences, has appeared on numerous radio shows, news segments, and television episodes. He has authored over 1000 media resources and articles, contributes to various health columns, and hosts several radio shows. In fact, you can hear Dr. Z’s voice on Natural Alternatives Health Radio (alternating Fridays 6-7PM EST), The Natural House Call (alternating Sundays 8-9 AM EST), and The Natural Nurse and Dr. Z (Tuesdays at 10 AM EST). In addition, Dr. Z has published several books. These include An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Arthritis, The Natural Medicine Chest, and Supplements for Pain. Dr. Z’s vast experience and intelligence has also made him an invaluable consultant to the nutritional and herbal industry. He even developed his own line of botanical products for the consumer and has been a presenter at major national expos.
In 1996, Dr. Z served on the founding advisory board to the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM), the first accredited naturopathic medical college on the US Eastern seaboard in 100 years. There he taught courses in naturopathic and botanical medicine. Before retiring, he succeeded in teaching and sculpting the brains of hundreds of naturopathic doctors and physicians internationally with his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and science-based natural medicine wisdom. His illustrious brain, exuberant personality, contagious passion for plants, and endearing compassion has made him beloved by his students and the naturopathic profession as a whole. Among his many accolades, he was named one of the best and most innovative Naturopathic Doctors in 2016 by the Canadian Naturopathic Doctors Development Center. He also won the national natural leader NMSA beacon award, and the DOCERE award in 2021 from the Connecticut Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
From national herb walks to leading adventures and ecologically based tours into rainforests around the world with EcoTours for Cures TM, Dr. Z continues to lecture around the globe teaching people about plants and natural medicine. He also currently has a private practice in Woodbury, CT, where he specializes in the care of patients with autoimmune disorders, chronic illnesses, and decoding challenging medical mysteries. Dr. Z’s care stresses “quality, detail-oriented time with patients” where he literally personifies the definition of doctor as teacher. What is perhaps most impressive about Dr. Z is that his genius matches his big heart and infinite desire to spread his knowledge for the betterment of mankind and the planet. As of today, he already has succeeded in his mission of providing evidence of the power of natural healing on an individual and international level. Dr. Z resides with his wife Kathleen and his two children, Caitlin and Kevin, on a 10-acre woodlands sanctuary in historic Litchfield County, CT. You can find Dr. Z at http://www.drznaturally.com/.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
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