"We're here in the middle of the Amazon jungle today," booms Chris Kilham, an adventurer and medicine hunter, as he's about to show us the benefits of maqui berries or green coffee bean extract or any number of up-and-coming plants in medicinal healing.
Kilham, whom the New York Times calls part-David Attenborough, part-Indiana Jones, is an ethnobotanist who travels the world hunting for medicinal plants that can be used in novel ways. More than anything, he's an expressive, talk-with-his-hands pulpit-pounding advocate for herbs.
Kilham looks like a better-looking version of Juan Valdez. (Yes, the famous fictional coffee character who represented the Columbian coffee farmer for a quarter century.) Kilham is equally as comfortable walking through the coffee fields of Columbia or fondling black currant from Chile as he is appearing on "The Dr. Oz Show" or doing his regular TV segments for Fox News.
When I spoke with him, he was a week away from investigating olive leaf extract in Morocco. His informative segments are usually set to destination music and accompanied by vivid videography capturing the brilliant purple in a heap of berries, the chartreuse leaves of the Echinacea plant or the deeply tan, creased face of a coffee harvester.
"The work involves doing research in the field — finding herbs that will be beneficial in some way either in this market or in Europe," says Kilham. He meets with various companies that might be interested. For instance, a high-end cosmetics company might be interested in a novel oil that reduces wrinkles and comes from the Amazon, whereas a supplement company may want him to explore the latest medicinal plant that has anti-inflammatory properties somewhere in the icy Peruvian Andes.
Kilham comes by assignments organically — either he has an idea to explore some part of the world in search of a plant he's wondered about, or newspapers, magazines or companies call him up and say, "We want you to go to Siberia at the end of the month and look into this herb that builds muscle."
Either way, Kilham meets with harvesters, producers, growers, healers, shamans, scientists, trade officials and indigenous people in search of botanicals with proven health efficacy.
He scours remote jungles and highlands for plants, oils and extracts that heal and returns to the U.S. to passionately tell the rest of us about them.
"I'm very much interested in having people take herbs that make them feel good because if they do that, they'll have an experience and they'll say, 'Oh, this is real.' This is something you take and you don't have to go on faith, but you can feel the difference."
As people become more aware of the benefits of herbs, Kilham hopes they will be willing to dive in and try them for health purposes — whether it's allergies, improving digestion, pain or any other purpose.
"We’ve been sold a pharmaceutical bill of goods," says Kilham. "About 300,000 Americans die every year from the proper use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. They don't get sick; they die. Every year usually not one single person dies from herbs. So herbs are safer by far. The science on herbs is massive."
Here are some herbs the Medicine Hunter is particularly enamored with:
- Olive leaf, which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. If Kilham has his way, we'll be hearing more about this Moroccan beauty.
- Aadaptogens, herbs that help us adapt to different physical and mental stressors, are increasingly popular, like Rhodiola from Siberia, which is probably the single most effective antidepressant agent of any kind on Earth, Kilham notes.
- Schizandra, a berry from North China that’s taken to relieve stress and generally make you feel good.
- Green coffee bean extract (the unroasted beans) called Robusta from the Ivory Coast, which are higher in caffeine and lower in flavor than most people want, but they are rich in chlorogenic acids, which help reduce the absorption of sugar, making it an effective weight loss therapy.
"There are 50,000 plants that people use around the world as medicine," Kilham says. If people can get into the mindset that herbs heal, Kilham has become more than simply a Medicine Hunter.
To learn more about Kilham and the healing herbs he promotes, visit the Medicine Hunter website.