Medicinal Plant Knowledge in the Caribbean Basin

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Medicinal plant knowledge in Caribbean Basin: a comparative study of Afrocaribbean, Amerindian and Mestizo communities

Torres-Avilez W, Méndez-González M, Durán-García R, et al
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Feb 25;11:18
PubMed Central: PMC4347915

Caribbean Basin
Caribbean Basin [Map: US Congressional Research Service]
Working with data collected under the TRAMIL Program of Applied Research to Popular Medicine in the Caribbean, investigators from the Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, and Université des Antilles et de la Guyane conducted a comparative study of medicinal plant repertoires used by Afrocaribbean, Amerindian, and Mestizo communities living in the Caribbean Basin, a region comprising portions of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean islands.

The authors open with the biogeographical and cultural histories shaping the region’s landscapes , botanical:

“Floral diversity is distinctive in the Caribbean Basin…. Regional geological and biogeographic events, in association with its geographical complexity, have promoted diversity on many fronts. In tandem with the Basin’s social history during the last five hundred years, these biogeographic events have contributed to shaping its biological diversity, with a unique mix of native and exotic species….”

“Floral diversity is extremely high, with high rates of endemism. Hotspots with particularly high rates of endemic species include the islands of Cuba (53%) and Hispaniola (30%). Myers and his collaborators estimate floral species richness in South Florida and the Caribbean islands to be 12,000 species, including endemic species representing 2.3% of all vascular plants on the planet.”

And cultural:

“When European contact began in the Basin in the late 15th Century, a process was begun of severe transformations in ecosystems, natural resources, human groups and cultural components. Significant changes in biodiversity were initiated; for example, deforestation to make way for crops such as sugar cane, banana, tobacco and coffee, active exploitation of native plants and animals and introduction of many exotic species.

“The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean islands were almost totally decimated and replaced by slaves, largely from Africa and Asia, who were used as labor in the developing cultivation and extraction systems. In the islands, slaves mainly mixed with Europeans, but along the Basin’s continental margins both slaves and Europeans mixed with surviving indigenous populations. As a result, the current ethnic composition of the Basin is a heterogeneous mixture including Amerindian, Afrocaribbean and a wide range of Mestizo populations.”

The team selected nine communities – three Amerindian, three Afrocaribbean, and three Mestizo – from the total sample of communities surveyed by TRAMIL. Finding that “native plant species represented a large portion of the medicinal plants used in the Amerindian (81%) and Afrocaribbean (67%) communities, and somewhat less in the Mestizo communities (59%),” they reasoned that “the high proportion of natives used by the Amerindians is both a result of millennia of cultural development in the region and a partial reflection of their preservation of indigenous knowledge in the face of historical events, i.e. a kind of cultural resistance.”

Chief uses of medicinal plant species were for infectious and parasite diseases; symptoms and signs (e.g., headache, fever, itching); digestive system diseases; and respiratory system diseases.

Aloe vera
Aloe vera [Photo: William Avery Hudson, Flickr]
Species used frequently by all three groups included Aloe vera, Citrus aurantiifolia, Citrus aurantium, Chenopodium ambrosioides, and Psidium guajava. Plants used frequently by Afrocaribbean communities included Gossypium barbadense, Saccharum officinarum, Haematoxylum campechianum, Ocimum gratissimum, and Spondias mombin; by Amerindian communities, Lippia graveolens, Ruta chalepensis, Punica granatum, Byrsonima crassifolia, and Struthanthus orbicularis; by Mestizo communities, Mentha nemorosa, Origanum majorana, Ruta graveolens, Justicia pectoralis, and Bidens pilosa.

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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