Economic Botany

, Volume 58, Supplement 1, pp S294–S306 | Cite as

Forgetting the forest: Assessing medicinal plant erosion in Eastern Brazil

  • Robert A. Voeks
  • Angela Leony
Special Section on Medicinal Plants


Tropical landscapes represent storehouses of medicinal drug plants. It is widely held that these medicinal resources—real and potential—are threatened by a host of destructive forces. This paper examines these threats, especially the process of culture change and ethnobotanical erosion, in a rural Brazilian community. Employing a quantitative analysis of a sample plant pharmacopoeia, we investigate the relationship between medicinal plant knowledge and age, gender, and socio-economic standing. The results indicate that female gender, increasing age, illiteracy, and decreasing formal education are all positively correlated with level of medicinal plant knowledge. The process of modernization, particularly increasing access to formal education, appears to be incompatible with the retention of traditional domains of medical knowledge. Increasingly perceived as an irrelevant province of past generations, knowledge of the healing powers of tropical forests and fields is rapidly declining in this community.

Key Words

Medicinal plants ethnobotany cultural erosion pharmacopoeia Brazil 


As áreas tropicais representam verdadeiras reservas de plantas medicinais. A maioria das pessoas acreditam que estes recursos medicinais—reals e potentials—estão ameaçados por muitas atividades destrutivas. Este artigo examina esta ameaça, especialmente o processo da mudana cultural e a ruina etnobotânica em uma comunidade rural brasileira. Fazendo a análise quantitativa de uma amostra da farmacopéia das plantas, nós investigamos as relações entre o conhecimento das plantas medicinais e alguns fatores como: idade, gênero e nivel sócio-econômico. Os resultados indicaram que o gênero feminino, o aumento da idade, o analfabetismo e o baixo nível da educação formai são todos positivamente correlacionados com o nível de conhecimento das plantas medicinais. O processo de modernização, principalmente o maior acesso a educação formal, parece ser incompatível com a manutenção do conhecimento das plantas medicinais. O conhecimento do poder de cura das plantas das florestas e campos tropicais estão diminuindo rapidamente nessa comunidade pois não e mais visto como uma coisa relevante como já foi em gerações passada.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert A. Voeks
    • 1
  • Angela Leony
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeographyCalifornia State University, FullertonFullerton
  2. 2.Rua Rio Sao FranciscoBahiaBrasil

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