The Amazon River region, in northern South America, has been under attack for decades due to excessive logging, cattle grazing, oil exploration, development of roads and towns and other causes. It is the largest river basin in the world, with the largest rainforests, which contain 40,000 plant species, or a tenth of known species. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon area have used many of these plants as medicine, and many more have yet to be discovered.
The peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) produces an edible fruit on a tree that grows to 60 feet tall. When you boil the fruit for one hour in salty water, it is said to taste like a cross between a chestnut and a potato. The peach palm and its fruit have served Amazonian peoples well over the centuries by providing them with not only the fruit, but also with "heart of palm."
The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) provides the world with almost all of its rubber. Trees can reach 120 feet in height in their native setting. To harvest the latex that is processed into rubber, cuts are made into the trunk and the latex is extracted much like maple syrup. Rubber trees have been grown in plantations since the early 1900s, so the Amazon's wild trees are rarely used.
The Pataua palm (Oenocarpus bataua) is a palm with feathery leaves that reaches 75 feet in height. An oil similar to olive oil is extracted from its olive-like fruit. This oil also contains a high percentage of protein--as much as some animal protein and better than the protein in grains and legumes. This palm also gives local residents fiber for their roofs, weaving, arrowheads and blow darts, as well as medicine, palm hearts, animal feed and more.
Called guarana in Brazil, the Paullinia cupana vine has become popular in the United States and other developed countries for its energy-boosting caffeine content. It's a vining shrub that can grow as tall as 30 feet. It has glossy green leaves and big fruit clusters that are orange to red in color. The fruit contains a brown seed, which is where the caffeine is located. Traditionally, the seeds are macerated and made into rolls of paste, which when dry are shipped to the markets that crave this product.