Economic Botany

, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 500–512 | Cite as

The diverse uses of fish-poison plants in Northwest Guyana

  • Tinde Van Andel


Although prohibited by law, fish poison plants are still widely used by indigenous tribes in Guyana. The latest ethnobotanical collections date from the first half of the 20th century and, from recent anthropological studies, it cannot be deduced whether the same species are still used today. The present study attempts to clarify the taxonomy and ethnobotany of the fish poisons, in particular those containing rotenone, currently used by Amerindians in northwest Guyana. Specimens were collected from 11 species known to be ichthyotoxic, both from wild and cultivated sources. It was found that fish poisons not only serve as a quick method of providing food in times of shortage, but also play an important role in magic rituals and traditional medicine. Particularly striking was the use of Lonchocarpus spp. and Tephrosia sinapou in the treatment of cancer and AIDS. Further ethnobotanical and pharmacological research should focus on the medicinal applications of rotenone-yielding plants.

Key Words

fish-poison plants Guyana indigenous peoples traditional medicine cancer AIDS Lonchocarpus Tephrosia ethnobotany 

Los diversos usos de los barbascos en el noroeste de Guyana


Aunque prohibidos por la ley, los barbascos aún son usados ampliamente por las tribus indígenas de Guyana. En dicha región, las colectas etnobotánicas más recientes datan de la primera mitad del siglo XX y desafortunadamente los estudios antropológicos contemporáneos no señalan los nombres científicos de las especies utilizadas. Este artículo tiene por objetivo aclarar la taxonomía y etnobotánica de los barbascos empleados actualmente por los amerindios del Noroeste de Guyana. Se colectaron muestras de once especies, cultivadas y silvestres, reconocidas como ictiotóxicas. Se encontró que los barbascos no solo proporcionan un método rápido para obtener alimento en tiempos de escasez, también son ingredientes importantes en rituales mágicos y como plantas medicinales. En particular es sorprendente el uso de Lonchocarpus spp. y Tephrosia sinapou en el tratamiento del cancer y SIDA. Las investigaciones etnobotánicas y farmacológicas futuras deben enfocarse a las aplicaciones médicas de las plantas que contienen rotenoides.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden Press 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tinde Van Andel
    • 1
  1. 1.National Herbarium of the NetherlandsUtrecht University branchTC UtrechtThe Netherlands

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