Medicinal plant use in the Peruvian Amazon

The Sandbox

Photo courtesy of Sally Maxwell.

Sally Maxwell is an undergraduate student in the McGill School of Environment. She spent the past summer studying medicinal plant use in the Peruvian Amazon, where she learned of the importance of preserving traditional medicinal knowledge among remote rainforest communities. 

Last summer, I spent some time in the Peruvian Amazon doing research for my Honours thesis. I was looking at the medicinal plant use of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities along the Orosa river in the Loreto province. Throughout 99 interviews, I learned about 154 different medicinal plants and their uses in treating more than one hundred different illnesses and symptoms. I found that there was no significant variation in the breadth of plant knowledge of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Additionally, there was no significant variation in the preference for plant medicine over modern medicine between ethnic groups; however, young Indigenous people were more likely to prefer plant medicine compared to young non-Indigenous people.

Currently, there is a shift towards modern medicine for non-Indigenous people who are moving to urban centres for work. The preservation of this wealth of traditional medicinal knowledge is vital for remote rainforest communities who do not have stable access to modern medicine. The transmission of knowledge from older generations to younger, and between ethnic groups is important for the sustained use of plant medicine. With the data collected in my study and the help of community members, we assembled a book of 60 popular plants and their uses. These books were distributed within the communities that I worked with to promote the sharing of knowledge and encourage the continued use of traditional medicine.

Are you undertaking research relating to social, economic, or environmental sustainability? Tell your story by contacting sustainability@mcgill.ca.

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