EPISODE #986

Finding Modern Medicines in the Botanical World

Cassandra Quave, Ph.D.

Exploring the deep secrets of plants in search of new solutions for human disease—inside & out.
Cassandra Quave_credit Kemi Griffin Photography
Photo by Kemi Griffin Photography

In this Episode of The Human Upgrade™...

… you’ll learn how botanical remedies treat infectious and inflammatory diseases. You’ll get a fascinating look at how plants and microbes interact and how antibiotic resistance evolves. And you’ll meet a leader in the field of medical botany who travels to remote locations and communities around the globe seeking out modern medicines from plants.

  • Medicinal plants make up the primary form of medicine for 70–95 percent of people living in most developing countries.
  • At least 4 billion people are dependent on plants for medicine.

Ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave, Ph.D., is an herbarium curator and associate professor of dermatology and human health at Emory University. (She’s also a writer, speaker and podcast creator/host.) She teaches courses on medicinal plants, food, and health and her Quave Research Group leads anti-infective drug discovery research initiatives.

“A scientist’s job is finding the right questions, and we just can’t even fathom what some of the right questions are today,” Cassandra says. “I’m very hesitant to discount different medical traditions out of hand just because I can’t provide a laboratory explanation for them.”

Dr. Quave’s also the co-founder and CEO/CSO of PhytoTEK LLC. This drug-discovery company works to develop solutions from botanicals. In particular, they look at treatments of antibiotic-resistant infections like MRSA.

Her battle with MRSA is personal. She was born with congenital skeletal deformities and had her leg amputated at age 3. She nearly died from a staph infection that infection required more amputation. Her early life and disability experiences shaped her life’s work with medicinal plants.

She chronicles her extraordinary life, field work and scientific discovery in her book, “The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines.”

“Ethnobotany has been described as the science of survival, because once we understand how to appreciate and use resources in nature, we can survive in different ecosystems.”

Cassandra Quave, Ph.D.

Plants are incredibly complex, and science has barely scratched the surface, Cassandra says. “Some of our best drugs for infection, cancer and pain were originally found in plants,” she says in her book. “Even though they may be produced in a factory setting now, the original chemical blueprints came from plants.”

Cassandra studied pre-med in college with a double major in biology and anthropology. She couldn’t find a connection between the two fields until she journeyed to the Amazon where she studied with a local shaman/healer who relied on plants as medicine. She realized instead of going into the practice of medicine, her true path was the discovery of new medicines from nature.

“Plants can be very powerful,” Cassandra says. “Yes, there’s reason to be cautious of new things and we do need to study these rigorously. But I think that’s part of my argument is these do merit study, they do merit attention, especially at a time when so much of biodiversity is at risk. We are losing plants across the globe and we’re also losing the languages that hold the knowledge to how these plants are used across the globe as well, at an astonishing rate.”

More About Cassandra Quave, Ph.D.: Cassandra has authored more than 100 scientific publications. She received the Emory Williams Teaching Award and the Charles Heiser, Jr. Mentor Award. She’s a fellow of the Explorers Club and former president of the Society for Economic Botany. She’s been featured in the New York Times Magazine and BBC Focus, as well as on PBS, NPR, the National Geographic Channel and other media outlets. She’s co-creator and host of Foodie Pharmacology, a podcast dedicated to exploring the links between food and medicine. She’s CEO of CLQ Botanicals, a company that provides consulting services on botanicals for personal care, skin health and cosmetics.

Enjoy the show!

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