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.
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'
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.