Medicinal Plants

of the







How much is known about the medicinal properties of plant species forming or growing in the canopy, 'the greenish layer in between the lowest living tree branch and the upper level of the crowns'? Some of the ethnobotanical information on this website will show that, from a human perspective, tropical forest ecosystem regions, including the canopy layers, are valuable for much more than their timber or agricultural potential, both of which often involve clearing.

The following pages describe a selection of plants in the ethnobotanical garden 'Sachamama' in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. Plants were selected based on their growth in, or partly in, the canopy layers. This included trees, lianas as well as epiphytes. The information covers the plants' local names, harvested parts, and their medicinal preparation and application. For a general impression of the biotopes of the selected plants, one can read the corresponding page of this site. The soil profiles that are shown were naturally exposed by a stream or a fallen tree.



Approximate overview of the garden




The ethnobotanical garden was directed by Francisco Montes Shuña during my visit. All information concerning the plants' local names, harvested parts, medicinal preparation and application has been transmitted by him through conversation and demonstration.

Knowledge of the plant and its application differs amongst peoples and their shamans. Shuña's knowledge may be complemented by that of people living elsewhere in the Amazon. When he mentions the leaf of a shrub and not the roots for example, he does not mean to say that the roots are not applicable or not being applied already.

The 'local name' is not particularly associated with one geographical area, as shamans travel and develop their own set of local names that may have originated from interactions with teachers in several locations. Shamans now working together in the same geographical area may have different 'local names' for the same species.

The harvest of parts takes place depending on their presence, stage of development and other indications that are recognised by the shaman. The present document conveys what part is harvested, but not when or under what circumstances.

Medicine is prepared for instance by mixing material with water at ambient temperature. An infusion can be made by adding the parts to previously boiled water for several minutes. Another possibility is to boil them in water, increasing the concentration of the extraction with time. The parts can also be put in an alcoholic liquid derived from sugar cane for a period of 10-20 days. When dried material is used as a basis, it is important to know whether drying took place in the sun or shade, as the effects of direct sunlight and high temperature may result in the loss of medicinal properties of some plants.

The medicinal application of the preparations has been described in western terms, accept when a disease recognised amongst the population in Peru has no equivalent here. Information concerning where the medicine is applied, at what stage and with what result, is not available on this site.

For adresses of sites offering complementary information, the reader is referred to the 'links' page.




Out of all known applications of plants and their parts in the Ethnobotanical garden 'Sachamama' in Peru, only a small percentage can be related to 'medicinal plants of the canopy'. I was first introduced to the bark of trees and lianas prepared only for students of medicine. Then Shuña showed me the planted herbs and shrubs, followed by naturally established trees and lianas. Only after I mentioned my interest for 'plantas aéreas', or epiphytes of the canopy, we went for a walk through the forest looking upwards to distinguish and recognize the various plants that he knew. The distance between us on the ground and the plants growing high-up, allowed observation of general architecture and triggered our curiosity in a direction of more detail. This could be realized partly by observing the collection of epiphytes that was present in the garden. I hope to spark some more curiosity towards the canopy itself by presenting this website.

I would like to thank Professor R.A.A. Oldeman and The Canopy Foundation for introducing me to and sparking my interest for the canopy, and providing the means to realize this project. I thank John Allen for recognizing and encouraging my interest for medicinal plants, and Chili Hawes for putting me in contact with Francisco Montes Shuña. Francisco introduced me to the Amazonian plants of Peru, for which I am grateful. I would also like to thank Dr. P. Romeijn and D. Romeijn from Treemail for their efforts leading to the publication of this site.



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