Palmae
Euterpe spp. • Assai

 

Several species of Euterpe are referred to as Açaí. Euterpe oleracea, also known as Açaí, is widely spread in northern South America with its greatest abundance in the Amazonian flood plains of Brazil (1). This palm is an important source for palm hearts, whose harvest leads to the death of the tree (1,2). The other important nontimber product of the palm is the grape-sized, dark purple fruit that is used mainly for preparing a favored thickish beverage (1). The antioxidant capacities of 11 purple fruit pulp samples of Euterpe oleracea were found to be excellent against peroxyl radicals, good against peroxynitrite and poor against hydroxyl radicals compared with common European fruit and vegetable juices (3). Antioxidant activity was also shown for the seeds of Açaí fruits (1). The roots of some of the Açaí growing at Amazonat are furthermore reported to be used in local traditional medicine (2).

(1) Rodrigues RB, Lichtenthaler R, Zimmermann BF, Papagiannopoulos M, Fabricius H, Marx F, Maia JG, Almeida O (2006) Total oxidant scavenging capacity of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (acai) seeds and identification of their polyphenolic compounds. J Agric Food Chem 54(12): 4162-7

(2) Guides at Amazonat (pers. comm.)

(3) Lichtenthaler R, Rodrigues RB, Maia JG, Papagiannopoulos M, Fabricius H, Marx F (2005) Total oxidant scavenging capacities of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (Acai) fruits. Int J Food Sci Nutr 56(1): 53-64

 

Iriartella setigera • Paxiúba

 

The stem of the young Paxiúba (circa 3 years old) is cut to make blowpipes. The inner, soft wood is removed with the rachis of a palm leaf of which the leaflets are cut off almost entirely. The rachis enables the forward movement and the remaining parts of the leaflets catch the inner wood on the way back, thereby helping to take it out. Sheath fibres of Jessenia bataua can be used as darts.

Guides at Amazonat (pers. comm.)

 

Jessenia bataua • Patauá
& 
Oenocarpus bacaba • bacaba

Patauá

 

Bacaba



This account consists of quotes from Balick (1986). Other sources are indicated separately.

“The unusual construction of the inflorescence of Oenocarpus and Jessenia separates this complex from all other palms in the Amazon Valley. The fleshy, variously coloured (greenish, white, lavender) mesocarp of the fruits has a high oil content - in some species ca. 30% or more of the dry weight. The production of a refreshing, oil rich drink from the fruits of Oenocarpus (e.g. Oenocarpus bacaba) in particuler was a primary use noted by explorers of the Amazon.

Fatty acid analysis of Jessenia bataua oil showed it to be remarkably similar in chemical composition to olive oil, containing a significant amount of oleic acid. After extracting oil from the fruits' mesocarp and subsequently boiling it, the oil is fairly pure and ready to bottle. The protein from the same fruit (mesocarp and epicarp) is comparable in quality to that of good animal protein and considerably better than most grain and legume proteins separately. In Brazil, many people consider palm fruits to be inedible or harmful when consumed with certain other foods.

The seeds of Jessenia bataua are completely surrounded and sheathed by flattened longitudinal fibres. With the removal of the epicarp and mesocarp (rotten, eaten off) the clearly visible fibres become strongly reflexed from the seeds. This condition appears to serve as an aid in germination and early growth - the seed becomes anchored to the ground by the reflexed fibres. The fibres may also afford protection from potential predators.

Heart of palm or palmito is a regional delicacy obtained from the young growing tips of various species of Euterpe, but also Oenocarpus and Jessenia. The heart can be harvested after six years of growth from seed, which means the palm will die even if it is not cut down, since the 'heart of palm' is the growing tip of the tree (2). A weevil grub, known as suri, is frequently found in newly felled trunks of Jessenia bataua as well as in damaged or exposed stem sections of living specimens. For the Bora the grubs are one of the most delectable insect foods, and they therefore provide many extra entrance areas for the adult weevils to bore into and lay their eggs by making cuttings into sections of fallen stems.

Rainforest peoples regard palms as an important source of fibre and construction materials. One of the more unusual uses of Jessenia bataua is the exploitation of its sheath fibres as darts for Indian blowpipes. These darts, or "arrows" as he called them, were covered with curare and utilized in hunting. Durable sheath and petiole fibres always enclose the immature stem.

A number of Oenocarpus-Jessenia derivatives are used in the belief that they cure or control diseases and infirmities. A common use of the oil, said to be particularly effective, is against certain bronchial and pulmonary afflictions.” People in the Amazon valley point out the importance of this oil as a 'cure' for tuberculosis, and also as a purgative (3). The adventitious roots of Jessenia bataua can also be used medicinally (4).

Main text: Balick, MJ (1986) Systematics and Economic Botany of the Oenocarpus-Jessenia (Palmae) Complex. Volume 3 of Advances in Economic Botany, New York Botanical Garden 140 p.

(2) Guides at Amazonat (pers. comm.)

(3) Mors, WB, Rizzini, CT and Pereira, NA (2000) Medicinal Plants of Brazil. Reference Publications Inc: 501 p.

(4) Estrella, E (1995) Plantas Medicinales Amazonicas: Realidad y Perspectivas. TCA: 302 p.


 

Mauritia flexuosa • Buriti

Mauritia is a genus native to the Amazon region, where in warm climates it often grows in marshes or water-covered ground (1). The leaves of Mauritia flexuosa (Buriti) supply the thread the natives used to make their sleeping hammocks (2). At Amazonat, leaves of young Buriti palms are harvested for decorational purposes and construction (3).

From the edible fruits a favourite local beverage is prepared (4). In general, the ripe fruits are used to make refreshing drinks and ice cream. The species is dioecious, and therefore only female plants are harvested for their fruits (2). The leaves and the juice from the young stems are used in traditional medicine (5).

(1) McCurrach, JC (1960) Palms of the World. Harpers & Brothers New York 290 p.

(2) Balick, MJ (Ed) (1988) The Palm - Tree of life: Biology, Utilization and Conservation. The New York Botanical Garden 282 p.

(3) Guides at Amazonat (pers. comm.)

(4) Wallace, AR (1853) Palm trees of the Amazon and their uses. Taylor and Francis 129 p.

(5) Mors, WB, Rizzini, CT and Pereira, NA (2000) Medicinal Plants of Brazil. Reference Publications Inc: 501 p.