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SHOULD WE TRUST HERBAL REMEDIES OR ARE THEY JUST MONKEY BUSINESS?


What does this Orangutan have in common with me?



Apart from the strong cheekbones, stylish beard and devastating good looks, the shared characteristic between us, is our use of naturally growing local herbs for significant medicinal reasons.


I am learning how to use Yarrow via the great tradition of Europe's finest witches and healers, knowledge kept alive via old wife's recipes and treasured books by the likes of Maria Treban (thank you Dr T) and more.

See more about Yarrow here.


Yet, it is orangutan Rakus that is causing a ruckus, due to his bare-faced success in herbal healing without an apparent lineage of healers to learn from.



THE STORY OF THE ORANGATAN HERBAL HEALER

Excitement has grown after what has been seen as to quote the BBC "the first time a creature in the wild has been recorded treating an injury with a medicinal plant."

An orangutan in Sumatra after suffering a war wound has been seen using a plant called Akar Kuning.


The orangutan's use of this plant has sparked great interest for three reasons.


1 - The plant is not part of the Orangutan's normal diet.

2 - The orangutan chewed the leaves and used the resulting paste as a poultice applying it to the wound.

3 - The plant Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria) has scientific studies to prove it has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and is used locally to treat malaria and diabetes.



However, I think the thing that has blown away the scientists is also the effectiveness of the remedy. A large open wound like this in the jungle could have been expected to become infected and be fatal.

The images below detail the healing achieved over six weeks.



BEFORE AND AFTER



In a photograph taken on June 23, 2022, an adult male orangutan named Rakus was seen with a facial injury on the left side.

Two days later, he applied chewed leaves from an akar kuning plant to treat the wound.

Within a month the wound had closed.

By August 8, 2022, when photographed again, the wound was barely visible.

credits Armas (left); Safruddin (right)



THE CHEWING OF THE LEAVES AND MAKING A POULTICE



Step through images of the healing process


The scientists have been amazed as it seems to mimic the ancient herbal practices of humans even suggesting the Orangatans might have learnt it from 'ancestors':

Scientists say the behaviour could come from a common ancestor shared by humans and great apes."They are our closest relatives and this again points towards the similarities we share with them. We are more similar than we are different," said biologist Dr Isabella Laumer at the Max Planck institute in Germany and lead author of the research.


This is quite an admission as it infers the wisdom of herbal medicine does not just belong to our wise ones, but could predate humanity itself.

Could an intuition towards 'knowing healing plants' be embedded within our DNA?

If so, any being with a finer intuition towards the correct plant medicine will have for sure outlived and outbred any competitor.


You can see more of the medicinal herbs and spices used and perfected by man in the range at Mamma-Nature.co.uk



These are the medicinal properties of the plant Rukus chose to use.


THE MEDICINAL PLANT: Akar Kuning


Fibraurea tinctoria, has other generic names such as Akar Kuning

It is known for its analgesic, antipyretic, antidote, and diuretic effects, and is used in traditional medicine to treat conditions such as dysentery, diabetes, and malaria51,54,55.


All plant parts have been reported to be used for these medical applications, including leaves, stems, roots and bark54.


Pharmacological analysis of the plant's chemical compounds reveals the presence of furanoditerpenoids.


These compounds are known for to be

  • antibacterial

  • anti-inflammatory

  • anti-fungal

  • antioxidant

  • anticarcinogenic 55,56.


Fibraurea tinctoria is also rich in protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to be

  • anti-inflammatory

  • analgesic

  • anticonvulsant

  • antiamnesic

  • narcotic

  • antiarrhythmic

  • antihemorrhagi

  • hypotensive

  • antioxidant

  • antitumoral

  • antidiuretic

  • antiulcer

  • muscle relaxant activities57.


Additionally, it contains jatrorrhizine known to be

  • antidiabetic

  • antimicrobia

  • antiprotozoal

  • anticancer,

  • hypolipidemi (as reviewed in58)


Additionally, it contains palmatine recognized to be

  • anticancer

  • antioxidation

  • anti-inflammator

  • antibacterial

  • antiviral effect (as reviewed in59,60).


Malaria treatment

Among 38 plants utilized in traditional medicine and cultivated in South Vietnam, Fibraurea tinctoria exhibited the most potent antimalarial properties61.

Studies have demonstrated that the leaves and stems of Fibraurea tinctoria hinder the growth of various bacterial strains, including Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli53,62.

Moreover, Fibraurea tinctoria displayed a notable anti-inflammatory effect by reducing mouse paw edema55.



How did the young orangutan know?

How did this orangutan know about the medicinal effect that science has now confirmed of the plant?

  • Luck?

  • Ancient knowledge?

  • Intuition?

  • Copied behaviour?


Much more on this in later articles!


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You can see more of the medicinal herbs and spices used and perfected by man in the range at Mamma-Nature.co.uk




Meanwhile here is the study in more detail.



THE STUDY


TITLE: Active self-treatment of a facial wound with a biologically active plant by a male Sumatran orangutan


Abstract

Although self-medication in non-human animals is often difficult to document systematically due to the difficulty of predicting its occurrence, there is widespread evidence of such behaviors as whole leaf swallowing, bitter pith chewing, and fur rubbing in African great apes, orangutans, white handed gibbons, and several other species of monkeys in Africa, Central and South America and Madagascar. To the best of our knowledge, there is only one report of active wound treatment in non-human animals, namely in chimpanzees. We observed a male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) who sustained a facial wound. Three days after the injury he selectively ripped off leaves of a liana with the common name Akar Kuning (Fibraurea tinctoria), chewed on them, and then repeatedly applied the resulting juice onto the facial wound. As a last step, he fully covered the wound with the chewed leaves. Found in tropical forests of Southeast Asia, this and related liana species are known for their analgesic, antipyretic, and diuretic effects and are used in traditional medicine to treat various diseases, such as dysentery, diabetes, and malaria. Previous analyses of plant chemical compounds show the presence of furanoditerpenoids and protoberberine alkaloids, which are known to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and other biological activities of relevance to wound healing. This possibly innovative behavior presents the first systematically documented case of active wound treatment with a plant species know to contain biologically active substances by a wild animal and provides new insights into the origins of human wound care.


Introduction

In the early 1960s Jane Goodall first described the presence of whole leaves in the feces of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Gombe Stream, Tanzania1. By the late 1990s, this behavior, now called whole leaf swallowing, was documented at several African great ape study sites, along with bitter pith chewing, and demonstrated to have therapeutic, anti-parasitic functions2. Since then, various forms of self-medication have been observed in wild great apes (e.g.,2,3,4,5,6). Some of the most detailed evidence for animal self-medication comes from research in primates (e.g.,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12).

Animal self-medication is now divided into five categories2,4: (1) sick behaviors, such as anorexia; (2) avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding e.g. feces, contaminated food or water; (3) prophylactic behaviors, such as routine consumption of foods with preventive or health maintenance effects; (4) therapeutic behaviors, defined by the ingestion of a small amount of a biologically active or toxic substance with no or little nutritional value for the curative treatment of a disease or its symptoms, and; (5) therapeutic topical application of pharmacologically active plants onto the body for the treatment of external health conditions or placement of such species in the nest as a fumigant or insect repellent13. Several of these behaviors can be found in wild apes2.

While sick and avoidance behavior (category 1 and 2) can be regularly observed in non-human animals (e.g.14), self-medication in the form of ingestion of specific plant parts (prophylactic and therapeutic behavior, category 3 and 4) is widespread, albeit exhibited at low frequencies (e.g.,15, but see16). So far, leaf swallowing has been reported in chimpanzees (Pan sp.; e.g.,7,9,16,17), bonobos (Pan paniscus3), gorillas (e.g. Gorilla beringei graueri18), and in only one Asian ape species, the white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar)19. Another study reported the consumption of plant species directly related to the occurrence of parasite infections in individual orangutans (Pongo sp.), but not correlated with the plant’s distribution in the environment20. Another therapeutic self-medicative behavior seen in chimpanzees is bitter pith chewing of Vernonia amygdalina to treat worm infection8,10,13. Despite the plant’s year-round availability, the behavior is highly seasonal, peaking during the rainy season when worm infections also peak8,13. Interestingly, as Vernonia amygdalina is not evenly distributed in their home range, the apes often need to actively adapt their usual travel routes to gain access to the plant13.

Among Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) there are several reports proposing the intentional ingestion of specific plant species also used in ethnomedicine for their medicinally active properties. In Sabah, Malaysia, a 4- to 5-year-old severely wounded female Bornean orangutan was observed eating ginger leaves and stem (Zingiberaceae)21. Ginger is known as a traditional medical plant against inflammation with antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties22,23,24,25. In 7 years of observation, no other individual, except two flanged males was ever observed feeding on the same ginger species at that study site. The researchers concluded that the juvenile may have attempted to treat itself with these plants. Another study, which interviewed 13 traditional healers from Central Kalimantan, showed that Bornean orangutans feed on the same plant parts from two plant species (Uncaria gambir Roxb and Pternandra galeata Ridl), used by traditional healers for treating internal illness, tumors, and haemorrhage26. Additionally, they observed a female Bornean orangutan selectively choosing young leaves of Mezzetia sp., the pulp of Dyera lowii and Ilex cymosa, and leaves of Belang Handipek (Scolopia macrophylla)27. This plant combination is used in ethnomedicine as a prevention against fatigue27. Despite these reports, overall, evidence of plant consumption for self-medication in orangutans is still limited.


Reports of the topical application of plants or insects to one’s own body (category 5) are found in a limited number of taxa, but the evidence for medicinal benefits remain mostly anecdotal (e.g.28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38). However, there is growing evidence for the application of biologically active plant compounds to the skin in orangutans. At Sabangau peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan, two adult female and one adolescent female Bornean orangutans were observed chewing leaves of Dracaena cantleyi for three to five minutes and then rubbing the resulting green-white lather onto their arms and legs for up to 35 min11. Ten years later, a follow-up study confirmed the same behavior in six additional adult females and one flanged male of the same population (the lather was similarly applied and massaged into the skin for up to 45 min6). The behavior appeared to be intentional as only specific body parts were treated, the behavior was repeated several times until the hair was fully wet and the entire process took a considerable amount of time6,11. Orangutans were never observed ingesting the leaves6. Dracaena cantleyi is a medicinal plant used by indigenous people for several medical treatments including sore muscles, joint or bone pain6, pain after a stroke6 and swelling11. Indeed, pharmacological analyses revealed that Dracaena cantleyi inhibits TNFα-induced inflammatory cytokine production thereby acting as an anti-inflammatory agent6.


There are some brief anecdotal mentions of chimpanzees using leaves (plant species unknown) to wipe blood from their wounds39,40. Active wound treatment with a substance has only recently been documented for the first time in a great ape species. Chimpanzees of the Rekambo community (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) in the Loango National Park, Gabon, were observed applying insects to their own wounds (n = 19) and to the wounds of conspecifics (n = 3)5. The five adult males, one adult female, and one juvenile female applied the insects in the same sequence: they caught a dark-colored, winged insect approximately 5 mm in size (unidentified at the time of publication), immobilized it by squeezing it between the lips, then applied the insect to the wound moving it with their mouth or finger, then removed it. The last two steps were usually repeated several times. Further research is needed to investigate the efficiency of this behavior. Active wound treatment has also been described in a captive capuchin monkey, that was observed grooming her vaginal area and four of her own wounds with a sugar-coated tool41. However, as the authors noted that the capuchin was used to having her wounds treated with an antibacterial salve topically applied by caregivers.

We here report for the first time active wound treatment with a known biologically active plant substance by a male Sumatran orangutan in the wild, and discuss the hypothesis that this may be a form of self-medication to treat a wound and possibly prevent infection and accelerate wound healing.


Introduction

In the early 1960s Jane Goodall first described the presence of whole leaves in the feces of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Gombe Stream, Tanzania1. By the late 1990s, this behavior, now called whole leaf swallowing, was documented at several African great ape study sites, along with bitter pith chewing, and demonstrated to have therapeutic, anti-parasitic functions2. Since then, various forms of self-medication have been observed in wild great apes (e.g.,2,3,4,5,6). Some of the most detailed evidence for animal self-medication comes from research in primates (e.g.,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12).


Animal self-medication is now divided into five categories2,4: (1) sick behaviors, such as anorexia; (2) avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding e.g. feces, contaminated food or water; (3) prophylactic behaviors, such as routine consumption of foods with preventive or health maintenance effects; (4) therapeutic behaviors, defined by the ingestion of a small amount of a biologically active or toxic substance with no or little nutritional value for the curative treatment of a disease or its symptoms, and; (5) therapeutic topical application of pharmacologically active plants onto the body for the treatment of external health conditions or placement of such species in the nest as a fumigant or insect repellent13. Several of these behaviors can be found in wild apes2.


While sick and avoidance behavior (category 1 and 2) can be regularly observed in non-human animals (e.g.14), self-medication in the form of ingestion of specific plant parts (prophylactic and therapeutic behavior, category 3 and 4) is widespread, albeit exhibited at low frequencies (e.g.,15, but see16). So far, leaf swallowing has been reported in chimpanzees (Pan sp.; e.g.,7,9,16,17), bonobos (Pan paniscus3), gorillas (e.g. Gorilla beringei graueri18), and in only one Asian ape species, the white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar)19. Another study reported the consumption of plant species directly related to the occurrence of parasite infections in individual orangutans (Pongo sp.), but not correlated with the plant’s distribution in the environment20. Another therapeutic self-medicative behavior seen in chimpanzees is bitter pith chewing of Vernonia amygdalina to treat worm infection8,10,13. Despite the plant’s year-round availability, the behavior is highly seasonal, peaking during the rainy season when worm infections also peak8,13. Interestingly, as Vernonia amygdalina is not evenly distributed in their home range, the apes often need to actively adapt their usual travel routes to gain access to the plant13.


Among Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) there are several reports proposing the intentional ingestion of specific plant species also used in ethnomedicine for their medicinally active properties. In Sabah, Malaysia, a 4- to 5-year-old severely wounded female Bornean orangutan was observed eating ginger leaves and stem (Zingiberaceae)21. Ginger is known as a traditional medical plant against inflammation with antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties22,23,24,25. In 7 years of observation, no other individual, except two flanged males was ever observed feeding on the same ginger species at that study site. The researchers concluded that the juvenile may have attempted to treat itself with these plants. Another study, which interviewed 13 traditional healers from Central Kalimantan, showed that Bornean orangutans feed on the same plant parts from two plant species (Uncaria gambir Roxb and Pternandra galeata Ridl), used by traditional healers for treating internal illness, tumors, and haemorrhage26. Additionally, they observed a female Bornean orangutan selectively choosing young leaves of Mezzetia sp., the pulp of Dyera lowii and Ilex cymosa, and leaves of Belang Handipek (Scolopia macrophylla)27. This plant combination is used in ethnomedicine as a prevention against fatigue27. Despite these reports, overall, evidence of plant consumption for self-medication in orangutans is still limited.


Reports of the topical application of plants or insects to one’s own body (category 5) are found in a limited number of taxa, but the evidence for medicinal benefits remain mostly anecdotal (e.g.28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38). However, there is growing evidence for the application of biologically active plant compounds to the skin in orangutans. At Sabangau peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan, two adult female and one adolescent female Bornean orangutans were observed chewing leaves of Dracaena cantleyi for three to five minutes and then rubbing the resulting green-white lather onto their arms and legs for up to 35 min11. Ten years later, a follow-up study confirmed the same behavior in six additional adult females and one flanged male of the same population (the lather was similarly applied and massaged into the skin for up to 45 min6). The behavior appeared to be intentional as only specific body parts were treated, the behavior was repeated several times until the hair was fully wet and the entire process took a considerable amount of time6,11. Orangutans were never observed ingesting the leaves6. Dracaena cantleyi is a medicinal plant used by indigenous people for several medical treatments including sore muscles, joint or bone pain6, pain after a stroke6 and swelling11. Indeed, pharmacological analyses revealed that Dracaena cantleyi inhibits TNFα-induced inflammatory cytokine production thereby acting as an anti-inflammatory agent6.


There are some brief anecdotal mentions of chimpanzees using leaves (plant species unknown) to wipe blood from their wounds39