Large Survey of Market Vendors Yields New Data on Medicinal-Plant Trade in Ecuador


Medicinal plants sold at traditional markets in southern Ecuador

Tinitana F, Rios M, Romero-Benavides JC, de la Cruz Rot M, Pardo-de-Santayana M
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Jul 5;12(1):29
PubMed Central: PMC4934001

Loja Province in Ecuador
Loja Province in Ecuador [Source: TUBS, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators from Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, the University of Florida, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid conducted an ethnobotanical study to catalog medicinal plants sold at traditional markets in southern Ecuador’s Loja Province. The team interviewed 196 vendors at 33 traditional markets in the largest sample of Ecuadorian medicinal-plant market vendors to date.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, Fani Tinitana and co-authors note the value and limitations of market surveys for ethnobotanical research:

“Current ethnobotanical research at traditional markets across continents, considering Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America, contributes to the understanding of plant diversity through the trade of medicinal plant species and their cultural value. In this way, market surveys can help to understand regional networks of producers, sellers, healers, and consumers by the supply and demand of medicinal plants and their derivative products. The total number of inventoried medicinal plant species at a particular traditional market is important, but they do not necessarily represent all species used in the traditional medicine of a specific human group.”

Matricaria recutita
Matricaria recutita [Photo: Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia Commons]
The study registered 160 medicinal plant species sold to treat a variety of ailments. Two species were particularly important: Matricaria recutita and Gaiadendrum punctatum, used to treat digestive and respiratory systems ailments. Other important species included Ruta graveolens, Melissa officinalis, Equisetum bogotense, Amaranthus hybridus, and Viola tricolor.

In their conclusion, the authors recommend further research on potential therapeutic applications of these medicinal plant species and urge sustainable management of trade as demand is likely to increase:

“For future efforts, it should be important to focus on correlating the values of FL [fidelity level] and FIC [factor of informant consensus] with the incidence of local ailments, as this will be useful to establish public health policies related with the trade of medicinal plant species. This initiative will be effective to support traditional medicine and its therapeutic repertoire. The first step will be to choose the medicinal plant species with widespread and consistent medicinal use in southern Ecuador and to study their therapeutical applications with physicians and scientists, primarily to identify bioactive compounds.

The evidence presented in this study reaffirms the relationship between ancestral wisdom and traditional medicine, particularly in local markets within the Loja province. In fact, it is important to stress how medicinal plant resources are crucial for local people in 13 cities within the Loja province; also, it is important to understand why a high percentage of them practice auto-medication. Reasons for the maintenance of traditional markets include lower cost of plant products, confidence in traditional medicine, and/or sociocultural environment.

This research is the first contribution to understanding from the ethnobotanical point of view the human-plant dynamics of traditional markets within the Loja province, where medicinal plants have a substantial role in the lives of local people. The trade demand of medicinal plants and their derivatives over the next few years could increase, leading to the over-harvesting of wild plant species and could perhaps even endanger natural populations, (e.g., Oreocallis grandiflora). Sustainable management of wild medicinal plants is important for their diversity conservation and in order to avoid their extinction, particularly in the case of highly used species in traditional medicine.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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