The Secret World of Herbs: In Latin America (Episode 4)
Healing effects, fragrance, and intense flavor – the benefits of herbs were discovered by the indigenous peoples of South America long before Spanish conquistadores subdued the continent. Even today, in the remote regions of South America, life without herbs is unthinkable. For many inhabitants, they provide the sole medicine. For more than two thousand years, this wisdom of the healing powers of nature has been passed down from generation to generation.
In Bolivia, the film accompanies ethnobiologist Rainer Bussmann on one of his expeditions documenting which herbs the locals use against which illnesses. The German scientist has spent the last 15 years in the region, focussed on preserving this invaluable knowledge.
The global trend toward natural therapy has created a growing market for medicinal plants. More than 70,000 varieties of plants are traded around the world. In Peru, this has given the local population a new source of income. Our viewers meet José Ingamani and his family. The Ingamanis gather the roots of the extremely sensitive rhatany plant for a Swiss cosmetics producer. Camped for weeks in the Andean foothills, they guarantee their European buyer sustainable harvesting methods. The antibacterial compound extracted from their harvest is later used in toothpaste.
The film follows a trail of herbs across the continent. In Patagonia, pharmacologist Silvia Gonzalez draws captivating fragrances from a hardy herb; while, in Buenos Aires, top chef Martin Molteni explores old botanical books, gleaning from them the herbs that distinguish his award-winning menus.
Argentinians seem addicted to their herbal tea, mate. In the province of Misiones, small growers have united to produce a two thousand year-old variety originated by Guarani Indians – yerba mate, smoked over an open fire. This delicacy has revived the prospects of these mate farmers and their families.
High above Lake Titicaca, the audience witnesses a Kallawaya ceremony. The Kallawaya are legendary Andean healers. Since the peak era of Incan civilization, these medicine men have been appeasing the gods with offerings, while prescribing their patients such herbs as muña muña, whose essential oils help with stomach problems. Scientists have not yet determined what exactly makes muña muña so effective – the ordinary-looking herb contains more than 10,000 components.
A film by Christian Stiefenhofer
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