Good news from a new article in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine: knowledge of local medicinal plants is still fairly strong even in a native community only 4 km from a city center and bisected by a highway. The majority of the population still relies exclusively on medicinal plants for self-medication.
In the community of Bajo Quimiriki, despite the vicinity to the city of Pichanaki, traditional plant knowledge has still a great importance in the daily life: 402 medicinal plants were indicated by the informants for the treatment of 155 different ailments and diseases.
Scientists interviewed Asháninka community members who recognized 402 medicinal plants and knew their uses. 84% were wild plants and 63% were collected from the forest. There were only 2% exotics. Knowledge of the plants was significantly correlated with age and gender, with women significantly outscoring men.
Women described a medicinal application in a higher number of [plants]: they scored a total of 310 record of use versus 206 total records of use by men.
Of the 72 plants that researchers had pre-marked, women described one or more medicinal use of 49.5%, while men did so in 26.6%. Unfortunately, the Asháninka language is vanishing, and most younger community members know only the Spanish names of their traditional plants.
The children of the community spend most of the day at school, where they are taught in Spanish. This decreases their chances to learn about the uses of the medicinal plants from the older people.
Among the most interesting discoveries is that plant use by the Peruvian native population correlated well with that of the Malinké of Mali, in West Africa. There is always a stronger likelihood that a benefit is real when widely dispersed populations use the same plant for similar conditions.
This is a fascinating study and the full text is available free of charge at the link.
Asháninka medicinal plants: a case study from the native community of Bajo Quimiriki, Junín, Peru. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010; 6: 21.