The title, I think, is enough to indicate that this is either a very long post or a very short one, as the first part of a series. The latter is right. The importance of rainforests and forest in general is ... well, you know that.
Let me start with a story.
Long, long ago, in ancient India there lived a sage. He was also a teacher. All his life he taught his disciples earnestly. After their formal education was over, the disciple had to give their teacher a reward. What the teacher wanted was very simple. He said, 'Go to the forest and bring me plants which don't have any medicinal value. I give you the whole day to perform this task. That'll be my gift.'
So all his disciples went to the forest in search of such plants. They searched all day. Everybody returned at night. Almost everyone had plants in his hand to offer as a reward. Some of them returned with a lot of plants. But the sage found that one of them didn't bring even a single plant. He was sitting in a corner of the room. He seemed to be very gloomy.
After all his disciples offered him all kinds of plants, the sage went to the student with a strange expression on his face and said, 'I see that you have failed to perform the task I gave you. Where is my reward? Would you like you explain?'
The student said, 'Sir, you gave us the task to find a plant which didn't have a medicinal value. I went to the forest and examined every kind of plant. But I could not find a single plant without usefulness. I have failed and I am ready to accept any punishment.'
At this, the sage smiled at him and said, 'Son, don't be disappointed. That was the reward I was asking for. No one else ever offered me such a reward.'
The student, in question, was Jeevak, one of the pioneers of ancient Indian medical science.
This story – or legend as you may call it – beautifully illustrates how our ancestors understood the importance of our green friends and developed a relationship with them. Sadly, we possess neither their deep understanding of Mother Nature not their concern for it (her?). If we did, the rainforests wouldn't have covered a mere 5% of earth's surface.
As I've already told you that I'd continue the series, let's discuss the importance of the trees in medical science since the story is related to that.
A look at alkaloids derived from trees will show us various benefits. Quinine (derived from cinchona) is anti-malarial. Reserpin reduces hypertension. And ... well ...
Tulsi (Osimum sanctum) and Neem (Azadirachta indica), found in almost every corner of India, have disinfectant qualities. They're not exactly part of rainforests, though.
I've just found a page where a list of such drugs and medicines is provided. It's here. So the post almost ends here.
Suffice it to say that we are using the trees to find a cure for AIDS. We are already fighting cancer with their help. Only if they could help us fight psychological cancer.