Welcome to the second issue of our official Plantmed newsletter. Plantmed is focused on keeping the plant medicine traditions of the Amazon from disappearing, and creating the world’s first medical facilities to clinically research Amazonian plant medicine.
In this issue, we will be focusing on a profile of Tyler Gage, one of our founders, and information about why plants in the Amazon are different from plants elsewhere.
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Tyler Gage is a founding member of PlantMed, whose full time role is as CEO of Runa, a social enterprise that supports Amazonian farming families and sells a native tea called Guayusa in the United States.
In high school, I felt a lot of pressure as a top performing student, a celebrated Eagle Scout, and a college athlete recruited to play soccer at Brown University. As time passed and the demands intensified, I found myself struggling with deeper tension, anxiety and mild depression that affected my education and social life.
During my college years, I found myself deep in the Amazon jungle studying indigenous languages. While immersed with the Shipibo people in Peru, I participated in many of the local healing traditions and practices. Receiving plant medicine treatments from the healers, I found myself feeling lighter, more connected to myself, and more confident in my vision for how I wanted to live my life. It was as if everything had lifted, the clouds of doubt alleviated and I could see clearly that I had benefited from the plant medicine.
At the end of my college career, I turned down a Fulbright grant in order to start a social enterprise that would benefit the indigenous communities and provide new economic alternatives.
Name: Tyler Gage
Homebase: Brooklyn, NY
Day Job: Co-founder and CEO of Runa, Fundacion Runa, Founding member of Rios Nete
Runa supports over 3,000 indigenous farming families that sustainably produce a native tea called guayusa in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I've been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur, and Runa has been acclaimed as one of Inc Magazine's 500 Fastest Growing Companies in the country.
Personal Benefits working with plant medicine and indigenous leaders:
The work I've done and the support I've received from the Amazonian plant medicine traditions have been absolutely fundamental to my success as a business leader and my personal growth.
Why where a plant grows matters
It makes a difference where a plant grows. The same plant, grown in one environment, may not look the same, smell the same, or produce the same metabolites as a plant grown in a different environment. A medicinal plant may not produce the same medicinal qualities if it is not raised in its normal habitat. And the reason is a fairly new area of study in plants: the microbiome.
All multi-cellular organisms have a relationship with the bacteria, yeasts, and viruses around them. You may be familiar with the idea of the human microbiome. We host a large number of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts in our guts, mouths, skin, and hair. Without these microorganisms, we would be unable to protect ourselves or digest our food. They are an essential part of human existence. And disorders of the microbiome can result in serious illness. In fact, many autoimmune diseases may be affected by such disorders.
But few people understand that plants have their own essential microbiome. Plant-associated microorganisms can help plants to suppress diseases, stimulate growth, occupy space that would otherwise be available to pathogens, promote stress resistance, and influence crop yield and quality by nutrient mobilization and transport.
This microbiome exists in multiple areas around the plant. Firstly, the dirt in which the plant is rooted – called the rhizosphere. This has been the most studied area. But the air-plant interface is also important. This is called the phyllosphere. It is particularly important to protect against air-borne pathogens.
An area that has only just begun to be studied is the endosphere – the microorganisms contained within the plant. These were originally thought to only be a contaminant or pathogen. But newer studies have shown that they can be both beneficial AND antagonistic to the plant.
A completely sterile plant is not found in nature. Although they may be found in cultivation such as gardens and greenhouses, it should not be considered “normal.”
The plant in nature is the product of the expression of both plant and microbial genes. Genetic expression is clearly affected by the presence of the microbiome of the plant. Sterile plants do not resemble their wild cousins. Furthermore, many of these bacteria and fungi (similarly to humans) are passed from mother plant to seed.
Further, in studies, it was found that plant genes can be transferred through the soil microbes, resulting in increased biodiversity.
There is a very careful balance between antagonistic and mutually beneficial effects of the host plant and its “guests.” It is difficult to specifically label one microbe as good and another as bad. They can shift along an axis from pathogenic to beneficial, based on the environment and interactions amongst the microbes.
So how does this affect us?
In the past, study of medicinal plants has focused on the plant itself. But newer studies are showing that the microbiome of the plant may affect its efficacy.
A recent study by Schmidt et al. (2014) shows that Chamomile plants treated with selected Bacillus strains produced more bioactive substances than untreated controls, thus the microbes themselves may be what causes the plant to be medicinal, or improve its effectiveness.
Additionally, when we consume the plant, we also consume the microbes contained in and on the plant, which may change our own gene expression.
What this means is that the same plant grown in different habitats may not have the same medicinal effect. Amazonian plants grow best and most effectively in their native environment.
Equally importantly, a plant that can maintain a balanced relationship with a particular bacteria may produce a medicinal effect that fights that bacteria in humans. As resistant bacteria have become such an issue in the human population, it may be possible to find new resources amongst the medicinal plants to decrease or circumvent that resistance.
There is much more research to be done in this fascinating field.
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