Chaulmoogra essential oil
Leprosy is a disease that in its most extreme form erodes the bones and causes deformities, especially in the fingers and toes. It dates back to ancient times, and signs of this have been found in Egyptian mummies. “To smuggle leprosy spots on the skin,” suggests a medical papyrus, Adam “cooked some onions in a mixture of sea salt and urine and placed it on the spots.” Vedic texts are reminiscent of leprosy, as is the Bible, which includes elaborate purification rites and battles. In the New Testament Jesus touches the leper, and the gospel according to Matthew, “Immediately the leprosy of the man disappeared.”
There are two basic types of leprosy. The milder form, in which the human body’s immune response envelops the bacteria that cause the disease, is not contagious. The more serious form, in which bacteria move more freely in the body, can spread through the air and through skin-to-skin contact. But until quite recently, perhaps in response to the grotesque distortions they sometimes saw, people had an excessive sense of the degree of contagious leprosy. Most societies have myths about how families, including royalty, took their loved ones to the forest, placed props in a cave and left them. Until modern times, leper colonies for those suffering from this “living death” existed throughout Europe. Funeral services were held for living lepers, who often had to ring the bell when walking near other people. If lepers came to church to pray, they would often have to watch the toilet through a special leper slot,
A 20th century leper remedy came from traditional Chinese medicine, whose other remedies may include ingredients like arsenic, snakes and scorpions. The Chinese medicine is derived from the chulum tree, which originates in Thailand and is also found in Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and eastern India. The tree grows from a height of 50 to 65 meters and has a thick trunk, drooping branches and long yellow leaves. Animals eat the chulmogar fruit, but it can be toxic to humans. According to one of the legends describing the discovery of the anti-leprosy powers of the Chulmogar, the king of Burma suffered from the disease. Since his doctors could do nothing for him, he transferred his chair to his son and retreated to the jungle, where he lived as a monk. There the gods advised him to eat the leaves and fruits of a tall tree with yellow leaves. Healed, returned to his family. An alternative version of this myth says that the monk king ate the leaves and fruits himself, without specific instructions from the gods.
The medicine derived from the chulmogar tree is its oil, which probably came to China sometime in the 14th century along with the knowledge of how to use it. Purchasing Chalmogger oil was one of the tasks assigned to the 15th-century treasure ships. According to traditional Chinese teachings, cauliflower oil was most effective in the early stages of the disease, it could make scientific sense. The bacterium that causes leprosy has a long incubation period and can be dormant for three to five years before major symptoms appear. Bacteria may have been the most sensitive to chemicals in the oil during this dormant period.
Chaulmoogra oil also had a reputation in Asia for working on wounds, ulcers, in the early stages of tuberculosis, and rheumatism and other causes of pain. In 1853 a doctor in the British Indian Medical Service came across Hindu and Chinese writings discussing this treatment: Take 10 to 20 drops of olmographer after meals, and apply the oil directly on the skin wounds; Continuing this procedure for three months, the doctor tried this procedure on leprosy patients, found the results encouraging, and at the end of the 19th century Europeans adopted Chulmogar oil treatment. It was taken orally or injected.
The oil did not cure advanced leprosy. It provided great relief from the symptoms and often appeared to be a cure, but the disease recurred in 80 percent of cases. Taking the oil, in addition, was such a difficulty that many people decided to give up the treatment. When taken orally, it can cause nausea and irritation in the stomach. The injection is very painful because the oil is so thick. Large abscesses can form where the needle enters.
In 1873, a Norwegian researcher, Armor Hansen, isolated the bacterium that causes leprosy. (In the 1940s, people began to call Hansen’s disease to avoid the stigma associated with the word “leper.”) This discovery did not slightly change the treatment, which continued to rely on Chaulmoogra oil. But often the oil was not available because it was difficult to grow the chulamuga seeds outside the natural habitat of the plant. In the thirties of the twentieth century, chalogram trees were grown around leper colonies to obtain oils of constant strength and quality. The plant also works in Africa. No alkaloid or other active element has ever been found in Chaulmoogra oil, which is 49 percent hydrochloric acid. This acid is probably what kills the bacteria that cause leprosy, although there are also about half a dozen other acids. The use of chaulmuga oil was discontinued in the 1940s, when the anti-bacterial chemical drug was proven to be effective against leprosy.
Depson prevented the growth of bacteria that cause leprosy but did not kill them. It continues to be used in combination with rifampin and other antibiotics. Multi-drug treatment for leprosy is currently used. Such reliance on more than one drug becomes much more common (see Chapter 8) because disease-causing organisms develop resistance to modern drugs built around a single active factor. Chaulmoogra trees, once threatened when valued in their own oil, still grow in the wild.