Many a young boy who read Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book dreamed of adventures in the jungle and learned about courage from Mowgli's encounters with man, plants and beasts. FI talked with Chris Kilham, aka the Medicine Hunter, about how he turned boyhood dreams of adventure into a career of exploring the medicinal treasures hidden deep within the rainforests.
Chris Kilham began his career in the spotlight as a child actor and self-proclaimed 'studio rat.' Today he is known as The Medicine Hunter, author, and global educator and researcher for indigenous herbs and natural products spanning more than 20 countries.
FI: Most boys grow up wanting to be baseball players or firemen. What led you to your passion for the wilderness? What was your 'aha moment' that led you to your career as the Medicine Hunter?
CK: As a child I played daily in the woods, and had access to streams and reservoirs, and a good amount of nature. In summers, I stayed at the beach, and also had access to the woods. So I became familiar with nature and an abundance of animals.
At age 15, I participated in a school-sponsored work project in the Puerto Rican countryside, where I first experienced travel outside of the continental US, and got my first taste of the tropics. This drove me wild with excitement. The idea that a person could travel to marvelous places seemed too good to be true. Also in my teens I began to learn about herbs. My love of travel and love of plant medicines collided nicely, and so from early on I began to explore medicines in different natural places. Additionally, reading about the lives of the great botanists and other explorers helped me to develop an ardent passion for this life.
FI: What is the most amusing or dangerous situation you've encountered in your travels?
CK: On my first trip to Vanuatu South Pacific, a group of a few natives and I found ourselves in a small boat with no safety equipment, in extremely high seas. We were quite convinced that we were all dead men. To break up the horror of our situation, we told stories and jokes. We arrived at our remote destination cold, shivering and determined never again to do such a stupid thing.
FI: What part of the world do you find most fascinating?
CK: While many places in the world have been fascinating for me, the Amazon has completely captured my heart. The grandeur of nature there is beyond description. I weep bitter tears at the senseless destruction of that vast forest and its immense river. If we go at our current rate, the Amazon rainforest will be a museum exhibit by 2030. This must not happen. The Amazon is a global treasure.
For more on Chris Kilham and Medicine Hunter, go to www.medicinehunter.com. Kilham also serves as a consultant for the Naturex Foundation, a nonprofit group that aims to improve the living conditions of local populations in countries where the company sources its raw materials. The foundation sponsors young students, from their training to the set-up of their own farms. For more information, go to www.foundation.naturex.com.
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