This post is the latest in the series Uncover Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.

As a result of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Society for Economic Botany celebrated in Braganca (Portugal) during June 4-9 of June 2017, the book “ Living in a global world: ethnobotany, local knowledge and sustainability.” was produced. The program included  “Changing markets: medicinal plant ethnobotany in the Andes of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia” by Authors: Paniagua-Zambrana, Narel Y. [1], Bussmann, Rainer W [2], Hart, Robbie E [3], Romero, Carolina [2], Moya Huanca, Araseli Laura [1].

Given the importance of local markets as a source of medicinal plants for both healers and the population, literature on market flows and the value of the plant material traded is rather scarce. This stands in contrast to wealth of available information for other com- ponents of Andean ethnobotany. The present study attempts to remedy this situation by providing a detailed inventory of medicinal plant markets in the La Paz-El Alto (Bolivia); Lima, Trujillo and Chiclayo (Peru) and Bogota (Colombia). Both species composition, and medicinal applications, have changed considerably over time. From 2001-2015, semi– structured interviews were conducted with hundreds of plant vendors in order to elucidate more details on plant usage and provenance. The results of the present study were then compared to previous inventories of medicinal plants in the region, as much as available, to elucidate changes over time and impact of interview techniques. Over the years we we encountered and documented over 800 plant species. This indicates a great wealth of ethnobotanical knowledge in the Andean region of South America. All markets show a considerable change over the last few decades, with new species being introduced into the market chain, and other species being replaced. In course of the present study it became apparent that even well known species might often be replaced by other ap- parently similar but botanically unrelated species due to environmental and market forces The present data indicate that, while the floristic composition of often remained relatively constant over the last decades, the number of indications for which certain species were used increased tremendously, and that profound differences exist even between markets in close proximity. The dramatic increase in previously not used species used per indica- tion might pose serious risks for consumers. We found serious problems due to species replacements. Even plants that have a well established vernacular name, and are easily recognizable botanically, can be replaced by other species that can pose a serious health risk. Vendor education and stringent identification of the material sold in public markets are clearly needed.


1 – Universidad Nacional de San Andres, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Cota Cota, La Paz, Murillo, Bolivia; 2 – Missouri Botanical Garden, WLBC, PO Box 299, Saint Louis, Missouri, 63166-0299, United States; 3 – Missouri Botanical Garden, WLBC, P. O. Box 299, Saint Louis, MO, 63166-0299, United States

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Learn More:

Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline

Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

Herbal Medicine Natural Remedies: 150 Herbal Remedies to Heal Common Ailments

Natural Antibiotics And Antivirals For Beginners: An Easy Guide To Herbal Medicine And Natural Healing (The Doctor’s Smarter Self Healing Series)

Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution


Photo: Botanical Garden of the Pacific. Mecana River Nature Reserve. Bahia Solano, Choco, Colombia. © Kike Calvo


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