A comparison of traditional healers' medicinal plant knowledge in the Bolivian Andes and Amazon
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AbstractMedicinal plant knowledge of two groups of traditional healers was thoroughly studied during a 2-year ethnobotanical survey in the Bolivian Andes (Quechua farmers from Apillapampa) and Amazon rainforest (Yuracaré-Trinitario slash-and-burn cultivators from Isiboro-Sécure National Park), respectively. Both areas represent ecologically and culturally diverse zones, differing in floristic diversity, physical accessibility to health care and degree of modernization, the latter evidenced by presence or intensity in use of modern services such as electricity, water distribution, and materials for house construction. It is generally believed that indigenous people have an impressive knowledge of useful plant species and that this knowledge reflects the plant wealth of their living environment. However, the present study shows that healers' knowledge of collected medicinal plants (expressed as percentage of plants known by name and use by the majority of healers) is higher in the Andean area characterised by a long history of anthropogenic activity, than in the biodiversity-rich rainforest (protected since 1965). Therefore, medicinal plant knowledge does not seem to depend on the level of plant diversity, degree of modernization or absence of Western health care infrastructure. Indeed, although Andean healers live in a floristically poorer environment, have adopted more modern services and have easier access to primary health care facilities, they are more knowledgeable about medicinal plants than rainforest healers who live isolated in an environment with considerable floristic/ecological variation and lack of Western health care. It is hypothesised that social factors underlying traditional medical practices (background of extensive family in traditional medicine) play an important role in transmission--and hence survival of knowledge on medicinal plants.
Medicinal plants Bolivia Biodiversity Traditional healers Andes Amazon