Antibiotic Properties of Jungle Soil

If ever it could be said that there is such a thing as miracle healing soil, Ivan Sanderson said it best in his 1965 book entitled Ivan Sanderson’s Book of Great Jungles.

Sanderson grew up with a natural inclination towards adventure and learning.  He hailed from Scotland but spent much of his youth in Provence, France where he moved with his parents as a young boy.  His description of Provence painted with his youthful imagination would later lead to a lifetime of jungle adventure across all points on the map. Sanderson’s father was killed by a rhinoceros while working with a documentary film crew in Kenya, Africa in 1925.

In the Forward to his book, Sanderson states:

“West Africa, when I first visited it, was still known as “The White Man’s Grave.” But I knew that if you could only get away from people and into the a jungle, provided you did not carry any disease in with you, you were in the healthiest place on earth, except for the bacteria-free air of the polar regions. 

What is more, it’s never too hot or too cold there; there is water, though sometimes you may have to know where to search for it; and there is foo.  Shelter is always to hand, and the animals simply don’t bother to molest you.  Bugs are there in quantity if you show a light, but even the biting ones are much less abundant in the jungle that outside it.  If you discard clothes and especially footwear, you’ll have few problems, and if you should get your foot ‘chopped,’ the antibiotic properties of the jungle soils (something discovered only a few decades ago) are so potent that your foot will heal almost while you watch.”   (Pg. 17)

I purchased a copy of this book just a few days ago and after reading that statement, I was intrigued, thus, I set about reading to discover if there was additional information on this topic within its pages.  Indeed there are.

In Chapter 16, entitled, The Lowly Things, we learn the following:

“Even more widespread are some of the lesser fungi often referred to as molds, the sort of thing that forms a fuzzy film on shoes or books or anything kept in a damp, dark closet.  The earth of the jungle floors is chock full of them.  Among them are many forms related to Penicillium from which Sir Alexander Fleming got the substance that became the first wonder drug, penicillin.

These molds help to make the jungles healthier than any other regions on earth except for the almost bacteria-free Arctic lands.  Even if you cut your foot badly when you are far from your camp and without medical aid, you need not fear infection, provide you do not wrap the would in some dirty rag or force your foot into a leather or rubber shoe.  And if it does become infected, the very best thing you can do is to smother it in the loam or mud of the forest floor. 

Several years before the announcement that Dr. Fleming had discovered penicillin, we had collected jungle earths during our trips and sent them to the laboratories of Messrs. Burroughs and Welcome, one of the larger pharmaceutical companies in England.  We still prize the reports they sent us in 1938-Sir Alexander won the Nobel Prize in 1945-which informed us that the samples displayed outstanding “antibiotic properties.”

Our research began after I had contracted an appalling case of athlete’s foot in the best hotel in a certain tropical capital.  It defied all treatment, and I was in agony.  I could not walk and had to be carried back to my camp in the jungle.  The first night there, a cloudburst washed out tent away.  I had to flounder about in the dark, knee-deep in mud for most of the night, rescuing our precious possessions.  And I was barefooted.  The  mud, of course, was soothing.

By noon of the next day, all the pain had gone and the sores were beginning to heal.  In four days my feet were devoid of any sign of the infection, and remained healthy ever since. 

The floors of jungles are, in effect, vast antibiotic laboratories.  They are designed, after all to reduce all dead matter that falls from above to the basically pure and fairly simple substances that are then reused by the growing plants. “

To read an interesting story of Richard Grigonis’s 1970 interview with Ivan T. Sanderson, click here.

Sanderson also coined the term “Cryptozoololgy”, or the search for unknown species.  Big foot hunters seem to be well aware of his lifetime work as a scientist.  To read more about the field of Cryptozoology, click here.

On a side note:

The Burroughs and Wellcome company was founded in London by two Americans, Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs.  They opened the The Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories in the year 1902.  Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the company today is known as GlaxoSmithKline.  Henry Solomon Wellcome was the son of a traveling tent preacher and grew up in a strict environment in Wisconsin.  He took to medicine early and sold his first concoction at the age of sixteen, lemon juice marketed as invisible ink.  This is almost funny, if were not for the fact that GlaxoSmithKline recently paid the U.S. Government a $3 billion dollar fine for false advertising.  You might say it is a family tradition.

However not to shortchange Mr. Wellcome, the Wellcome Trust which was left his vast fortune, today spends more than $600 million dollars per year on medical research and in the field of medical ethics.  The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in Great Britain.

Top of Pg.

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

— Napoleon