Interview with Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter, author of Hot Plants

Saturday, May 28, 2005
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
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Mike: I'm here with Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter. Is that a trademarked term?

Kilham: I don't trademark it. I mean, I'm a medicine hunter. If other people use it, good for them. I research natural medicinal plants all around the world, and so I like the name "Medicine Hunter." I think it gives people an idea that they can relate to pretty easily.

Mike: And what do you do as a medicine hunter, then?

Kilham: Well, I go to different parts of the world where I research plant medicine. So let's say maybe I would go to Southern India and research ashwaganda, which is a very high value plant they use in the Ayurvedic system of medicine, and see everything about it -- from how it's grown to how it's prepared, maybe how it's dispensed in clinics, talk with traditional healers, talk with medical doctors, see its use in a variety of settings, really understand, kind of get a global understanding of the plant -- and then translate that knowledge here in the marketplace. My idea -- which isn't a new idea, by the way – is that you can deliver health benefits, help to keep natural environments under agricultural use, and help indigenous cultures to flourish by promoting this whole category of medicine. So that's really what I'm about. I look for those opportunities that will deliver the health goods to people like you and me, will help to keep the environment better preserved, and will enable indigenous, native people to kind of come up from the very lowest possible rung of the economic ladder.

Mike: Then are your customers the vitamin companies and formulators, or do you offer some things direct to consumers?

Kilham: I don't personally offer products direct to consumers. I work with different companies. And I'm a real ardent believer in trade. You know you have a lot of academics who feel that if they get involved with trade, they're somehow tainting their academic position. I teach at the University of Massachusetts, but my opinion is that trade is the most direct way to provide environmental and cultural benefits. So I'm very pro finding good relationships with companies, whether it's somebody like Enzymatic or whoever, to make sure this trade happens.

Mike: It sounds like you did a stint at the Chicago School of Economics as well.

Kilham: No, I didn't start out believing that trade was critically valuable to environmental and cultural preservation. I came to it as a result of working in the field, and seeing that everything has a dollar value. An acre of rainforest has some dollar value -- either for timber, for grazing, for mining, for petroleum development, for medicinal plant cultivation, or whatever. So once I really "got" that equation, then it only made sense to push the trade aspects of this to finish the job of researching the plant. I don't want to just publish a paper and have it wind up in a journal that gets forgotten. I want you to be able to walk into CBS or Whole Foods and buy an herb that'll help your health in ways that you need more safely than a pharmaceutical, and have this whole other cascade of benefits take place.

Mike: Because there are so many treasures in these so-called Third World countries, treasures that the Western world needs and that the Third World just needs markets for.

Kilham: Yeah, indigenous cultures -- whether you're talking China, India, the Amazon, South Pacific, South East Asia, whatever -- have long histories of use of plant medicines. And so I can go to a shaman in the Amazon and say, "What have you got for pain in the joints?" And they say, "Oh, we have this particular tree bark." And then the challenge is to translate that into some sort of a marketable product here. There's no shortage of good, effective remedies.

Mike: Right. That's right. Well said. And what is your background in terms of studying the medicinal qualities of plants and phytonutrients?

Kilham: Oh, it's the most peripatetic possible background. I wish I could say, "I've got my doctor’s in ethnobotany from University of Hawaii." It's not that easy. I had Bachelor’s from the University of Massachusetts, where I'm now faculty. But I got involved in this industry in the early 70s, started to become familiar with herbs in the kind of vague, not really knowledge-laden way that a lot of people did back then. Over time, I became more informed, more expert in the category, combined a genuine of plant medicine with a love of travel, discovered that I had a facility for doing field work, studied the works of the great ethnobotanists, really learned about the works of some of the true experts in the field, and eventually found that I could do this work well and deliver the goods.

Mike: What a wonderful way to explore and discover your passion for professional life.

Kilham: It's been so amazing. The market is mature enough to accommodate somebody like me to basically travel the world and do this work, and 20 years ago it wouldn't have been possible.

Mike: Your website is

Kilham: Yes it is.

Mike: And could you share what some of the most delightful or interesting discoveries you've come across in your travels are?

Kilham: Well, the plant I think with which I'm most associated is kava. I did a lot of the market breakthrough work in the 1990s that made kava popular. My time with native people in Vanuatu, South Pacific, sort of the epicenter of Pacific Island kava culture, has been probably the most rewarding ongoing relationship. I've got hundreds of friends there; I'm there once or twice a year. I'd say that kava, probably more than any other plant, demonstrated to me how a plant can be at the center of a culture, center of its rituals, and of the lives of the people. And it opened me up to a whole society of folks I'd never get to be friends with otherwise. That's happened with other plants, too, like maca from Peru and Siberian Rhodiola rosea. I've done some work in Siberia, but I'd say kava has been the most overall rewarding ongoing experience for about 10 years now.

Mike: What do you think is the next biggest, hot item that people are going to be hearing about in the next year or so?

Kilham: I have a bias in that I've been working with sex-enhancing plants for 10 years or so, so I'm convinced that, in the sort of "hot plant" category, one will be the sex-enhancing plants. I know there's a lot of garbage out there. A lot of people get crazy spam: "Take this herb, your penis will be longer." That's not what I'm talking about.

Mike: Yeah.

Kilham: I'm talking about genuine, legitimate, sex-enhancing herbs. I also think that we're seeing a very significant increase in interest in the anti-inflammatory herbs -- turmeric, ginger, hops, powerful anti-inflammatories. Now that we're getting so much negative press about Vioxx, Celebrex, and Naproxen, it's inevitable that we'll see a gigantic increase in the use of herbal anti-inflammatories, so I'm all over those.

Mike: What about anti-cancer herbs? There are so many potent anti-angiogenesis properties from the rainforest.

Kilham: I think a lot of people, either during or after conventional cancer treatment, supplement their treatment with things like reishi mushroom, una de gato, or some other things. I don't see the cancer herb category becoming a major category any time soon. I believe that the majority of people who get cancer are still going to turn to a conventional medical doctor. I think the greatest majority will. And those doctors are not likely to say, "You should also be taking Andrographis paniculada," or "You should also be taking ... whatever." I don't disagree that there are, in fact, hundreds of cancer-inhibiting herbs, but I don't think that's going to be a big, emerging category soon.

Mike: For those who know, there are resources available. There are plants, right?

Kilham: Yes there are. Certainly a lot of people take reishi mushrooms post-chemotherapy, as a matter of course. It's probably the biggest cancer-support herb being used out there. And there are definitely rainforest products as well.

Mike: And then, getting back to the anti-inflammatories, I think you're right on with the Vioxx backlash. The drug is now apparently legal to sell; the FDA has said, "This is safe enough for us." It has to kill apparently more than 60,000 people to be considered dangerous, but people are desperately searching for alternatives. What can they turn to that they can buy locally in their health food store?

Kilham: Well, of course you have branded products that are anti-inflammatories different companies are putting out. A lot of them contain concentrated extracts of turmeric root, which is a potent anti-inflammatory, or ginger root. People might think turmeric and ginger are just common herbs, but they're also powerful medicines. There's a lot of very excellent work that's been done on a hops-derived extract, which is rich in a group of compounds called humulones. And these show every bit as effective anti-inflammatory activity as 400 mg of Ibuprofen, for 9 hours. So here you've got something with activity comparable to a common anti-inflammatory drug, and Ibuprofen's a damn good anti-inflammatory, but primarily without some of the stomach hazards. I think that those are some of my picks. Cat's claw is a very significant anti-inflammatory. An herb that a lot of people don't know as much about is called andrographis, which is Chinese. I think we'll see a lot more from this anti-inflammatory.

Mike: Do you know the Chinese name for that herb?

Kilham: Now, what's Andrographis paniculada called in Chinese? I don't know, but andrographis is becoming more popular.

Mike: Okay. Now your book is called "Hot Plants." And is this available on the market right now?

Kilham: "Hot Plants" is available in bookstores. It was published by St. Martin's Press in September 2004. So, it's out and around. I always believe that the distribution of my books could be better. I think every author thinks, "Well, I should be in all of the Barnes and Nobles, not just some!" But yeah, people can find "Hot Plants," and if they can't find it in their local bookstore, they can find it on, of course, or

Mike: And this book gives them a sort of encyclopedia of sex-enhancing herbs and plants?

Kilham: It gives them good information on 10 major sex-enhancing plants. But it does more than that; it tells them about my travels in different countries investigating these plants. I want to take people behind the scenes. I want my readers, however many there are, to know about the world of plant medicines, to know about the traditional healers -- the shamans, the countries where these things come from, the people who labor to produce these plants. So I try to bring that whole story to bear, as well as telling about the plants and their effects, and what we know from the science standpoint.

Mike: And if they can't find this book locally, can they order it online?

Kilham: Absolutely. All of the major suspects will supply this book.

Mike: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, even maybe

Kilham: I don't sell anything on my website, but people can browse around my site for information, and they can get links to other sites that do sell products.

Mike: And anything coming out as a follow up to this book that you'd like to share?

Kilham: The Hot Plants products accompany this book -- Hot Plants for Him, Hot Plants for Her. I teamed up with Enzymatic Therapy to produce these formulas. I thought, rather than just telling people about the herbs, I'd formulate these products for men and women and make them available. So they're also everywhere -- all the Whole Foods, the Wild Oats, GNC, etc. They all carry the products.

Mike: So any local health food store that carries Enzymatics should have the Hot Plants products. Look for Hot Plants right on the label.

Kilham: Hot Plants for Him or Hot Plants for Her.

Mike: Okay, you'll have to keep that straight, otherwise…

Kilham: Otherwise, they could have a really interesting evening that they weren't expecting!

Mike: There might be a market for that too!

Kilham: There might be a market for that.

Mike: Well, Chris, it's been a delight.

Kilham: Thank you, Mike.

Mike: Thank you.

Kilham: It was a real pleasure.

About Chris Kilham: Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter, author and educator. The founder of Medicine Hunter Inc., Chris has conducted medicinal plant research in India, China, Siberia, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Vanuatu South Pacific, Hawaii, Lebanon, Syria, Ghana, Austria, Thailand, and Malaysia. Chris is Explorer In Residence at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he teaches ethnobotany.

Chris works with numerous companies to develop and popularize traditional plant-based medicinal products into market successes. These successes include kava, maca, horny goat weed, catuaba, tamanu oil, Tongkat Ali, and others.

Chris is the author of thirteen books, including Psyche Delicacies, Tales From The Medicine Trail, and Kava, Medicine Hunting in Paradise. His latest book, Hot Plants, is available now. Chris also writes articles on plant medicines for several publications.

Chris lectures extensively on botanical medicines throughout the United States and abroad. He held the post of Honorary Consul to the United States for the Republic Of Vanuatu from 1997 through 2000. Chris has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles including Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Parade, Boston Herald, Vogue, Natural Health and Men’s Health, and hosted his own health-oriented talk radio programs in the Boston area for five years. He has appeared on over 1,000 radio programs, and over 250 TV shows worldwide. An avid body surfer and adventure traveler, Chris lives and works in Massachusetts.

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About the author: Mike Adams is a natural health author and award-winning journalist with a passion for sharing empowering information to help improve personal and planetary health He is a prolific writer and has published thousands of articles, interviews, reports and consumer guides, and he has published numerous courses on preparedness and survival, including financial preparedness, emergency food supplies, urban survival and tactical self-defense. Adams is a trusted, independent journalist who receives no money or promotional fees whatsoever to write about other companies' products. In 2010, Adams co-founded, a natural health video sharing site that has now grown in popularity. He also founded an environmentally-friendly online retailer called that uses retail profits to help support consumer advocacy programs. He's also the founder and CEO of a well known email mail merge software developer whose software, 'Email Marketing Director,' currently runs the NaturalNews email subscriptions. Adams also serves as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a non-profit consumer protection group, and pursues hobbies such as martial arts, Capoeira, nature macrophotography and organic gardening. Known on the 'net as 'the Health Ranger,' Adams shares his ethics, mission statements and personal health statistics at

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