Image courtesy Matt Hansen, University of Maryland
A new global map of deforestation reveals 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) lost between 2000 and 2012.
Norbert Nagel, Wikimedia Commons
Medical marijuana gets all the headlines, but many legal weeds have traditions as medicines too. Although homeowners often consider these plants as lawn outlaws, weeds can serve as a floral pharmacy. However, would-be patients of the plants should consult a doctor before self-medicating.
Cichorium intybus, the light blue flower frequently seen along roads, provides the main commercial source of the compound inulin. Patients take inulin to fight high blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides, according to WebMD. Research published in Diabetes & Metabolism Journal suggests that inulin intake benefits women with type-2 diabetes by reducing the rate of blood sugar increase after eating. Inulin promotes the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines. While some believe this can help digestion, others suffer serious flatulence when the inulin-fed bacteria build up.
Some people add the dried and roasted root to coffee. Chickory coffee is especially popular in New Orleans.
Böhringer Friedrich, Wikimedia Commons
Trifolium pratense contains chemicals known as isoflavones. These chemicals can act like the female hormone estrogen in the body. Doctors have examined the clover chemicals as a treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. However, doctors warn that women with a history or risk of breast cancer should avoid isoflavones, since estrogen-like chemicals have been associated with increased incidence of some cancers.
H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons
Silybum marianum has a 2,000 year history as a liver medicine. Modern research has looked at thistle extracts as a treatment for alcohol-induced liver damage. Substances in milk thistle, particularly the chemical silymarin, may protect the liver from damage after a person takes an overdose of other medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol). Milk thistle may also be an antidote to poison from the deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Animal studies found that milk thistle completely counteracted the poison if given within 10 minutes of poisoning, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Muffet, Wikimedia Commons
Native Americans used the milkweed (Asclepias sp.) as a contraceptive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The milky, white sap that gives the plant its name served to remove warts. However, milkweeds also contain chemicals known as cardiac glycosides. These chemicals can cause severe illness in humans and livestock. Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat milkweed and build up high concentrations of glycosides, which makes the insects nasty tasting to predators.
Tony Hisgett, Wikimedia Commons
Ancient Greeks and Romans used horsetail (Equisetum arvense) to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis and kidney problems. My wife drinks horsetail tea to flush out her body’s system and help lose weight. The tea has a mildly bitter flavor, similar to chamomile. Research published in Ethnopharmacolgy found that horsetail tea increases urination which corroborates my wife’s contention that the plant is a diuretic, or a substance that increases urination. However, doctors recommend taking a multivitamin when drinking significant amounts of horesetail tea, because it can flush nutrients, such as vitamin B1, thiamin and potassium, out of one's system as well.
J. Carmichael, Wikimedia Commons
In the past, Europeans used remedies made from dandelion (Taraxacum sp.) roots, leaves and flowers to treat fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine take dandelions for stomach ailments and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. Dandelion leaves taste similar to spinach and contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, along with iron, potassium, and zinc.
Uwe H. Friese, Wikimedia Commons
Urtica dioica can put the hurt on an hiker in shorts, but historically the plant has served to treat aching muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis and gout. People still use the plant to treat joint pain, and some studies have suggested that the plant can treat arthritis. Another study found that capsules of dried stinging nettle may reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Europeans frequently use stinging nettle root to treat bladder problems. Boiled nettle makes a side dish similar to collared greens.
For those who brush alongside stinging nettle, a remedy to the sting is often found growing nearby. Applying crushed up dandelion, horsetail, Aloe vera, jewelweed or the leaf of a dock or lock plant can counter the acid in the sting.
Forest and Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons
Like many of the medicinal weeds in this list, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) also makes a healthy snack. The plant contains a high content of omega-3 fatty acids. I ate some that grew in my yard and found it was somewhat sour. A little bit was good, but too much would be overpowering in a salad. In traditional Chinese medicine, purslane treats genito-urinary tract infections. Research published in Phytomedicine found that the plant reduced problems with cognition in older mice.
Robert Steers/NPS, Wikimedia Commons
Since the age of the ancient Greek doctors have used plantains (Plantago sp., the weed in sidewalk cracks, not the fruit) to speed wound healing. In the training manual Survival, Evasion and Recovery, the U.S. Department of Defense recommends plantain as a poultice on wounds or as a nutrient-rich tea to treat diarrhea.
Julia Adamson, photographer in the Saskatoon area, Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, healers use burdock (Arctium sp.) to clear toxins from the blood and increase urination, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The plant also is used to treat skin ailments, such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. The leaves and roots of burdock are edible and contains inulin, like chicory, so they may aid digestion and/or cause a nasty case of flatulence. Burdock also contains high quantities of antioxidants that can prevent damage to cells.
A new global map of deforestation reveals that 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) of forest has vanished since 2000.
The interactive map (viewable online) is based on satellite data and is the first of its kind. The calculations are accurate down to about 100 feet (30 meters), enough detail to provide useful local information while still covering the whole globe.
"We say that it's globally consistent but locally relevant," said Matt Hansen, a geographer at the University of Maryland who led the mapping effort. "We can describe a global dynamic and compare regions as apples to apples, but if you cut out any particular corner, it would be accurate and have meaning."
The map covers the time frame from 2000 to 2012, and includes both forest losses and forest gains. During that time, 309,000 square miles (800,000 square km) of new forests were gained. Of the 888,000 square miles lost and 309,000 square miles gained, about 77,000 square miles (200,000 square km) were areas that were lost between 2000 and 2012 and then re-established.
The rest of the loss and gain occurs in tandem all over the globe. For example, Brazil's efforts to slow deforestation have paid off, with about 500 square miles (1,300 square km) less loss each year. But the rest of the tropics more than made up for Brazil's improvements with rapidly increasing losses.
Indonesia's lost forests -- the fastest of any nation between 2000 and 2012.Image courtesy Matt Hansen, University of Maryland
Indonesia saw the fastest increases in deforestation. Before 2003, the country lost less than 4,000 square miles (10,000 square km) per year. By 2011, more than 7,700 square miles (20,000 square km) of Indonesian forests vanished each year, Hansen and his colleagues report in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Science.
Humans are the main driver of deforestation, through logging and clear-cutting, Hansen told LiveScience. Forest fires come next, mostly in the boreal forests of temperate regions. Storm damage also harms forests. [7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye]
"We see a lot of blowdowns and that kind of thing," Hansen said.
The broad-scale yet fine-grained map was made possible by three technology windfalls, Hansen said. The first was data from the Landsat 7 satellite, which launched in 1999 and has been snapping satellite photos of the globe ever since.
Next, Landsat's operator, the U.S. Geological Survey, altered its policies to make all of the data from Landsat 7 and previous Landsat satellites free. Previously, Hansen said, researchers had to buy the data piecemeal. It would have cost millions to purchase the data for the entire globe.
"We never had the data we needed," he said. "We had the data we could afford."
Finally, with access to all the satellite data came the need for major computing power to process it. Hansen and his colleagues teamed up with Google to make it happen. On a single computer, processing the data archive would have taken 15 years, Hansen said. With Google's cloud computing, it took mere days.
The fine scale of the map allows researchers to zoom in close enough to see logging roads, river meanders and even tornado tracks, Hansen said.
"There are a ton of stories here," he said. Some of the information that comes from forest maps is entirely unexpected, he added. One researcher took another of Hansen's maps and found that tree cover correlates with human health, because forest dwellers eat a more diverse diet than people in other environments do.
A map of change in North American forests between 2000 and 2012. Red is loss and pink represents areas of loss and gain.Image courtesy Matt Hansen, University of Maryland
In the North American West, damage from fire, logging and infection by the devastating mountain pine beetle is evident. A windstorm in 2009 shows up as leveled trees in southwestern France. In southern Sweden, an extratropical cyclone flattened forests in 2005.
Still, 32 percent of global loss occurred in the tropics, with half of that amount attributable to South American countries, the researchers found.
The data reveal that some areas that are supposedly protected really aren't, Hansen said. Clear-cutting appears even inside national-park boundaries in some countries.
Now, the team is working to map primary forest — native habitat that is crucial for biodiversity and storing climate-warming carbon — and differentiate it from secondary forests, which may provide tree cover but without the original ecosystems. The team also plans to continue to update the map annually, and hopes to be able to raise the deforestation alarm even more frequently in the future.
"We want to get in real-time mode," Hansen said.
Original article on LiveScience.
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