Health, Well Being and Medicine

Between 1960 and 1997 the chances of remission for a child suffering from leukemia rose from 10 to 95 percent due to two derived from the Madagascar periwinkle. Medicines from this plant have also been used to treat diabetes and high blood pressure.

Pacific Yew photo by Dennis Paulson

Another revolutionary cancer fighting drug, Taxol, was discovered in the bark of the Pacific Yew, a native of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.

Medicinal plants that reside in natural areas have received increasing scientific and commercial attention. In the United States, of the top 150 prescription drugs, at least 118 are based on natural sources.

In recent years, studies have found public health benefits from native plant communities as well as native plant species. Studies have found stronger immune systems and reduced incidence of asthma for children in areas dominated by native plants compared to areas dominated by non-native plants or pavement. The 2018 Forest Service study is the first to indicate that native plant diversity can protect public health.

Ecosystem Services Toolkit, Canada 2015

Ecosystem services also support health and life (e.g., by providing air, water, food, raw materials, medicines), security (e.g., by mitigating extreme weather events, spread of vector-borne diseases), and quality of life (e.g., by supporting mental and physical health, cultural identity, recreation), among many other things (Ecosystem Services Toolkit, Canada 2015).

Examples and Additional Information

Nature’s pharmacy, our treasure chest — Pamphlet by NPCC and the Center for Biological Diversity

Medicinal Plants at Risk — 2008 Report by NPCC and the Center for Biological Diversity

Mother Nature’s Medicine Cabinet. Scientific American 2001.

Black Cala Lilly — cancer-fighting agent made from a lily that grows in Palestine.

Vegetation diversity protects against childhood asthma: results from a large New Zealand birth cohort. Nature Plants 2018

Native Bush Keeps Asthma at Bay — digest of NZ study above.

A 2016 Harvard School of Public Health study found that living among green spaces and natural areas reduces mortality.

A 2019 study from Aarhus University, Denmark, reported that children who grow up with greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life.

A 2018 Harvard School of Public Health study found that teens living near the highest-quality green space were 11% less likely to be depressed than their peers who lived around the least amounts of lush greenery.

Green therapy: how gardening is helping to fight depression – The Guardian UK