Economic Botany

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 68–79 | Cite as

The Inclusion and Selection of Medicinal Plants in Traditional Pharmacopoeias—Evidence in Support of the Diversification Hypothesis

  • Nélson Leal Alencar
  • Thiago Antonio de Sousa Araújo
  • Elba Lúcia Cavalcanti de Amorim
  • Ulysses Paulino de AlbuquerqueEmail author


The Inclusion and Selection of Medicinal Plants in Traditional Pharmacopoeias—Evidence in Support of the Diversification Hypothesis. An ethnobotanical study with phytochemical analyses was undertaken to examine the medicinal plants used by residents of a small rural community in northeastern Brazil. The present work tested two ideas that attempt to explain the inclusion and selection of medicinal plants in a given culture: the diversification hypothesis and the concept of versatility. The study involved 101 people and used semistructured interviews. A total of 61 plants were selected, including 25 exotic and 36 native species. Plants were classified according to their habit and analyzed for their phytochemical components. In addition, the relative importance (RI) of these plants was calculated, and a chemical diversity index (CDI) was created and applied to each of the species. Exotic and native plants were found to have significantly different occurrences of certain classes of compounds; this result supports the diversification hypothesis. It was therefore concluded that exotic plants are included in traditional pharmacopoeias to fill therapeutic vacancies that native plants cannot satisfy.

Key Words

Ethnobotany Caatinga Secondary metabolites Seasonal dry forests Versatility 



The authors would like to thank the community of Carão for their gracious welcome and receptivity, as well as the following researchers from the Laboratory of Applied Ethnobotany (LEA) for their support during the ethnobotanical surveys: Ernani Machado de Freitas Lins Neto, Flávia Santos Almeida, Joabe Gomes de Melo, Alyson Luiz de Almeida, Miguel de Santana Almeida, Luciana Gomes de Sousa, Viviany Teixeira do Nascimento, and Lucilene Lima dos Santos. We also thank Victoria Lacerda of the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina for help during her internship at the LEA; the Municipality of Altinho, especially the Secretary of Agriculture, Sr. Miguel Andrade Júnior, for logistic support; the Community Health Agents’ Carão, Srs. Inaldo, and Alexandre; and the CNPq for their financial support (“Edital Universal”) and for the productivity grant to U.P. Albuquerque.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nélson Leal Alencar
    • 1
  • Thiago Antonio de Sousa Araújo
    • 1
  • Elba Lúcia Cavalcanti de Amorim
    • 2
  • Ulysses Paulino de Albuquerque
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de Biologia, Área de Botânica, Laboratório de Etnobotânica AplicadaUniversidade Federal Rural de PernambucoPernambucoBrazil
  2. 2.Departamento de Ciências FarmacêuticasUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de Ciências da SaúdePernambucoBrazil

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