The Surprising Reason Channing Tatum Went to the Amazon

When you think of Channing Tatum, you might picture his serious versatility as a performer, easily moving from adventure flick hero to award-winning actor. Or your mind might wander to this summer’s Magic Mike XXL, where Tatum rolled his body in ways you didn’t even know were possible. [Fanning blushing face.]

Either way, you should also know that the Hollywood leading man is also an incredible do-gooder, and is leading an effort to research and preserve the medicinal plant traditions of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

As an ambassador for the Runa Foundation—a non-profit launched by the founders of organic guayusa tea company Runa—Tatum recently traveled to the region to spend time with the Sápara and Kichwa, communities at risk of extinction due to rainforest destruction. The small indigenous tribes have a vast and sophisticated knowledge of the rainforest's plants and trees, many of which could hold cures to chronic illnesses.

“Manari, one of the indigenous Sápara leaders, told me, ‘Our people are going to disappear, but we want to leave the knowledge of our medicinal plants behind,’” says Tatum, who spent a week living among the tribe with the Runa Foundation team.

“While it’s very disheartening to witness the struggles of their people, the humble generosity of this vision spoke to me. The knowledge of medicinal plants is the heart of their people, and my hope is that by sharing these plants we can create a more optimistic future for [them],” he says.


How is that happening? Well, for generations, the Kichwa people have used an indigenous super leaf called guayusa for immune system health and mental clarity (it’s often used as part of pre-hunt tea ceremonies to improve hunters’ focus). It’s also the key ingredient in Runa's teas and natural energy drinks, giving them double the polyphenol antioxidants of green tea and an even caffeine release (as opposed to a sharp spike, like you'd get from coffee).

To help ensure a future for indigenous tribes like Sápara and Kichwa, Runa Foundation has provided more than 3,000 guayusa farmers a stable income through sustainable harvesting practices, and has replanted more than a million rainforest trees.

Tatum originally approached the company due to a belief in the product and mission—he first discovered it while working on the Magic Mike scripts—and is now an investor in Runa and a brand ambassador. “It was great to find a quality energy source to replace coffee,” says Tatum, “but it was truly inspiring to find an organization behind it that takes sustainability and benefiting farmers so seriously.”


During his Amazon trip, Tatum also started working on a new project with Runa Foundation called PlantMed, which will build the world's first medical facilities to clinically research Amazonian plant medicine. The group plans on opening two clinics--one in Peru, called Rios Nete, which will be co-created with the indigenous Shipibo people; and the other in Ecuador, called NAKU, a collaboration with the Sápara people.

Both facilities will have a groundbreaking approach to medicine: Treatments will be administered by indigenous healers and managed and analyzed by Western doctors. Tyler Gage, co-founder of Runa and Runa Foundation, joins Tatum in the venture. "The indigenous people see the rainforest as a natural pharmacy, and yet only a tiny fraction of the plants have been scientifically analyzed," Gage explains. "Spreading the word about the Amazonian rainforest's healing powers through ambassadors like Tatum could improve health for people around the world and potentially save lives."

“You could say Channing is humble for a celebrity, but he’s also humble for a normal person,” says Gage. “He’s immensely caring and that comes through in everything he does and the way he holds himself.”

We can’t wait to see his next act. —Larkin Clark

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(Photos: Brian Bowen Smith)

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