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Medicinal Plants of Trinidad

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An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants in Trinidad

Clement YN, Baksh-Comeau YS, Seaforth CE
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2015 Sep 15;11:67
PubMed Central: PMC4570261

Location of Trinidad and Tobago
Location of Trinidad and Tobago [Map: Vardian, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators from The University of the West Indies and The University of Trinidad and Tobago conducted the first systematic ethnobotanical survey to identify medicinal plants commonly used in traditional medicine across the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

The authors describe Trinidad’s unique geology, flora and fauna, and human characteristics:

“The island of Trinidad which lies approximately 13 km off the coast of the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela is the larger of the twin-island state of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The island has a population of approximately 1.3 million people with about 77% being either of African or Asian Indian ancestry or an admixture of these major ethnic groups. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Trinidad is a continental island sharing its geology, flora and fauna, with South America having recently separated from the mainland ca. 10,000 years ago. This gives Trinidad a unique mix of Antillean and South American elements in its flora and fauna. However, the natural vegetation has been significantly transformed in the post-Columbian era with the arrival of the Europeans, West Africans and the East Indians.”

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Cymbopogon citratus [Photo: WAH, Flickr]
Based on interviews in 50 rural communities, the team identified 917 plant remedies from 96 species including Leonotis nepetifolia, Neurolaena lobata, Cymbopogon citratus, Momordica charantia, and Stachytarpheta jamaicensis. The authors detail uses for ailments affecting the upper respiratory tract and the genitourinary tract, chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes mellitus, hypertension), and for “cooling-cleansing” and treatment of fever.

While noting evidence of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and related pharmacological activities of some of the plants in laboratory studies, the authors advise caution in interpretation pending clinical studies:

“Although the literature shows limited pre-clinical evidence to demonstrate pharmacological activities for some of the plants cited in our survey, this must be taken cautiously, as this level of evidence does not represent the reality in the traditional use setting. Firstly, the pre-clinical evidence comes from studies utilizing solvent extracts, fractions, or isolated compounds which are not the modality traditionally used. Secondly, the concentrations of putative components in these solvent extracts, fractions or isolated compounds used in pre-clinical experiments may be significantly higher than that which could be attained following oral administration, thus making the extrapolations to the clinical setting unjustified. However, there are a few promising examples, such as Senna (an FDA-approved non-prescription laxative) which has been clinically proven to be efficacious. A similar approach is needed to determine the clinical efficacy of other herbal remedies.

“However, the identification of these medicinal plants provides a platform from which further pre-clinical and clinical studies could be formulated to determine the efficacy and safety of herbal preparations. These research efforts may provide alternative and/or complementary approaches for healthcare provision in the Caribbean and beyond.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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