Relative Importance and Knowledge Distribution of Medicinal Plants in a Kichwa Community in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Brian Joseph Doyle, Caroline Michael Asiala, Diana Margot Fernández


Traditional knowledge, such as knowledge of the use of plants as medicine, influences how indigenous people manage forest resources. Gender and age-associated differences in traditional knowledge may impact forest resource management because of the traditional division of labor. We interviewed 18 men and 18 women between 9 and 74 years old in San José de Payamino, an indigenous community of the Kichwa ethnicity in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to determine if there are gender or age-associated differences in medicinal plant knowledge among the Payamino people and to identify the most important species from a sample of medicinal plants. Individuals were interviewed using a tablet that displayed images of 34 plants, which had been cited by traditional healers in the community. Quantitative analysis provided insight into the relative importance of plants in the sample as well as the distribution of medicinal plant knowledge among members of the community. The most important plants were Tradescantia zanonia and Monolena primuliflora. These plants should be considered candidates for further investigation. There was a positive correlation between age and knowledge of medicinal plants, but no significant difference between genders. Our results suggest that an interview method that relies on digital images can reveal differences in the importance of medicinal plants as well as provide insight into the distribution of traditional medical knowledge. While men and women are likely to manage forest resources similarly, younger members of the community may not have the same regard for forest resources as their elder counterparts.


Traditional medicine; Ethnobotany; Quichua; Runa; Payamino

Full Text:



Alencar, N. L., W. S. Ferreira Júnior, and U. P. Albuquerque. 2014. Medicinal Plant Knowledge Richness and Sharing in Northeastern Brazil. Economic Botany 68:371–382. DOI:10.1007/s12231-014-9284-5.

Alexiades, M. N. 1996. Collecting Ethnobotanical Data: An Introduction to Basic Concepts and Techniques. In Selected Guidelines for Ethnobotanical Research: A Field Manual, edited by N. M. Alexiades and J. W. Sheldon, pp. 53–94. The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY.

Anderson E., and K. Sax. 1936. A Cytological Monograph of the American Species of Tradescantia. The Botanical Gazette 97:433–476.

Andrade-Cetto, A., and M. Heinrich. 2011. From the Field into the Lab: Useful Approaches to Selecting Species Based on Local Knowledge. Frontiers in Pharmacology 2:1–5. DOI:10.3389/fphar.2011.00020.

Arias, R. I., A. Tapia, A. Tapia, L. Santacruz, R. Yasaca, and N. Miranda. 2012. Evaluación de la biodiversidad en cinco comunidades Kichwa de la zona de colonización de la alsta Amazonía Ecuatoriana. Revista Amazónica: Ciencia y Tecnología 1:157–172.

Ayantunde, A. A., M. Briejer, P. Hiernaux, H. M. J. Udo, and R. Tabo. 2008. Botanical Knowledge and its Differentiation by Age, Gender and Ethnicity in Southwestern Niger. Human Ecology 36:881–889. DOI:10.1007/s10745-008-9200-7.

Bennett, B. C., M. A. Baker, and P. Gomez Andrade. 2002. Ethnobotany of the Shuar of Eastern Ecuador (Advances in Economic Botany Vol. 14). New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY.

Berkes, F., J. Colding, and C. Folke. 2000. Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management. Ecological Applications 10:1251–1262. DOI:10.1890/1051-0761(2000)010[1251:ROTEKA]2.0.CO;2.

Browner, C. H., and S. T. Perdue. 1988. Women's Secrets: Bases for Reproductive and Social Autonomy in a Mexican Community. American Ethnologist 15:84–97. DOI:10.1525/ae.1988.15.1.02a00060.

Chiriboga, X. 1995. Investigación Fitoquímica de Plantas con Actividad Antibacteriana y Antimicótica. In La Medicina Tradicional en el Ecuador, edited by P. Naranjo and R. Escaleras, pp. 109–116. Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Corporación Editora Nacional, Quito, Ecuador.

Colding, J., and C. Folke. 2001. Social Taboos: “Invisible” Systems of Local Resource Management and Biological Conservation. Ecological Applications 11:584–600. DOI:10.1890/1051-0761(2001)011[0584:STISOL]2.0.CO;2.

Davis, E. W., and J. A. Yost. 1983. The Ethnomedicine of the Waorani of Amazonian Ecuador. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9:273–297. DOI:10.1016/0378-8741(83)90036-3.

Doyle, B.J., G.S. Svobodny, R. Batallas, and D. Fernández. 2014. Medical Ethnobotany of the Amazonian Kichwa Community of San José de Payamino, Ecuador: Preliminary Results from an Undergraduate-Level Field Course. Acta Horticulturae 1030:103–108. DOI:10.17660/ActaHortic.2014.1030.12.

Fierro, A. F., D. Fernández, and C. Quintana. 2002. Usos de Melastomataceae en el Ecuador. SIDA, Contributions to Botany 20:233–260.

Friedman, J., Z. Yaniv, A. Dafni, and D. Palevitch. 1986. A Preliminary Classification of the Healing Potential of Medicinal Plants, Based on a Rational Analysis of an Ethnopharmacological Field Survey among Bedouins in the Negev Desert, Israel. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 16:275–287. DOI:10.1016/0378-8741(86)90094-2.

Giovannini, P. 2015. Medicinal Plants of the Achuar (Jivaro) of Amazonian Ecuador: Ethnobotanical Survey and Comparison with other Amazonian Pharmacopoeias. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 164:78–88. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2015.01.038.

Gupta, M. P., P. N. Solís, A.I. Calderón, F. Guinneau-Sinclair, M. Correa, C. Galdames, C. Guerra, A. Espinosa, G. I. Alvenda, G. Robles, and R. Ocampo. 2005. Medical Ethnobotany of the Teribes of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 96:389–401. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2004.08.032.

Heinrich, M., A. Ankli, B. Frei, C. Weimann, and O. Sticher. 1998. Medicinal Plants in Mexico: Healers’ Consensus and Cultural Importance. Social Science & Medicine 47:1859–1871.

Hoffman B., and T. Gallaher. 2007. Importance Indices in Ethnobotany. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 5:201–218. DOI:10.1234/era.v5i0.130.

Innerhofer, S., and K. Bernhardt. 2011. Ethnobotanic Garden Design in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Biodiversity Conservation 20:429–439. DOI:10.1007/s10531-010-9984-9.

Irvine, D. 1987. Resource Management by the Runa Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA.

Jørgensen, P.M., and S. León-Yánez. 1999. Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador. Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden. 75:i–viii, 1–1182.

Kvist, L.P., M.K. Andersen, M. Hesselsoe, and J.K. Vanclay. 1995. Estimating Use-Values and Relative Importance of Amazonian Flood Plain Trees and Forests to Local Inhabitants. Commonwealth Forestry Review 74:293–300.

Licuy-Mamallacta, L. Z. 2013. Estudio Farmacognóstico y Actividad Cicatrizante del Jatun Quilun Quilun. Unpublished Thesis, Escuela Superior Politecnica de Chimborazo, Ecuador.

Martin, G. J. 1995. Ethnobotany: A Methods Manual. Chapman and Hall, London, UK.

Mathez-Stiefel, S., R. Brandt, S. Lachmuth, and S. Rist. 2012. Are the Young Less Knowledgeable? Local Knowledge of Natural Remedies and its Transformation in the Andean Highlands. Human Ecology 40:909–930. DOI:10.1007/s10745-012-9520-5.

Mootoosamy, A., and M. F. Mahomoodally. 2014. Ethnomedicinal Application of Native Remedies Used Against Diabetes and Related Complications in Mauritius. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 151:413–444. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2013.10.069.

Mutheeswaran, S., P. Pandikumar, M. Chellappandian, and S. Ignacimuthu. 2011. Documentation and Quantitative Analysis of the Local Knowledge on Medicinal Pants among Traditional Siddha Healers in Virudhunagar District of Tamil Nadu, India. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 137:523–533. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2011.06.003.

Oldekop, J. A., A. J. Bebbington, K. Hennermann, J. McMorrow, D. A. Springate, B. Torres, N. K. Truelove, N. Tysklind, S. Villamarín, and R. F. Preziosi. 2013. Evaluating the Effects of Common-Pool Resource Institutions and Market Forces on Species Richness and Forest Cover in Ecuadorian Indigenous Kichwa Communities. Conservation Letters 6:107–115. DOI:10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00297.x.

Oldekop, J. A., A. J. Bebbington, N. K. Truelove, G. Holmes, S. Villamarín, and R. F. Preziosi. 2012. Environmental Impacts and Scarcity Perception Influence Local Institutions in Indigenous Amazonian Kichwa Communities. Human Ecology 40:101–115. DOI:10.1007/s10745-011-9455-2.

Oldekop, J. A., N. K. Truelove, S. Villamarín, and R. F. Preziosi. 2012. Information Flows in Community-Based Monitoring Exercises in the Ecuadorian Amazon. International Journal of Zoology 2012:4. DOI:10.1155/2012/980520.

Phillips, O., and A. H. Gentry. 1993a. The Useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: I. Statistical Hypotheses Tests with a New Quantitative Technique. Economic Botany 47:15–32.

Phillips, O., and A. H. Gentry. 1993b. The Useful Plants of Tambopata, Peru: II. Statistical Hypotheses Tests With a New Quantitative Technique. Economic Botany 47:33–43.

Plowman, T. 1977. Brunfelsia in Ethnomedicine. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 25:289–320.

Quinlan, M. B., and R. J. Quinlan. 2007. Modernization and Medicinal Plant Knowledge in a Caribbean Horticultural Village. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 21:169–192. DOI:10.1525/maq.2007.21.2.169.

Rios, M., M. J. Koziol, H. B. Pedersen, and G. Granda, eds. 2007. Useful Plants of Ecuador. Applications, Challenges, and Perspectives. Abya-Yala, Quito, Ecuador.

Rossato, S. C., H. F. De Leitão-Filho, and A. Begossi. 1999. Ethnobotany of Caiçaras of the Atlantic Forest Coast (Brazil). Economic Botany 53:387–395.

Sanz-Biset, J., J. Campos-de-la-Cruz, M. A. Epiquién-Rivera, and S. Cañigueral. 2009. A first Survey on the Medicinal Plants of the Chazuta Valley (Peruvian Amazon). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 122:333–362. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2008.12.009.

Savage, J. R. K., and M. A. Pritchard. 1969. Campelia zanonia (L.) H.B.K.: A New Material for the Study of Radiation-Induced Chromosomal Aberrations. Radiation Botany 9:133–134.

Schultes, R. E., and R. F. Raffauf. 1990. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Tardío J., and M. Pardo-de-Santayana. 2008. Cultural Importance Indices: A Comparative Analysis Based on the Useful Wild Plants of Southern Cantabria (Northern Spain). Economic Botany 62:24–39. DOI:10.1007/s12231-007-9004-5.

Tene, V., O. Malagón, P. V. Finzi, G. Vidari, C. Armijos, and T. Zaragoza. 2007. An Ethnobotanical Survey of Medicinal Plants Used in Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe, Ecuador. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 111:63–81. DOI:10.1016/j.jep.2006.10.032.

The Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1. Available at: Accessed on November 16, 2016.

Thomas, E., I. Vandebroek, and P. Van Damme. 2007. What Works in the Field? A Comparison of Different Interviewing Methods in Ethnobotany with Special Reference to the Use of Photographs. Economic Botany 61:376–384. DOI:10.1663/0013-0001(2007)61[376:WWITFA]2.0.CO;2.

Timburi Cocha. 2015. Map provided by the Timburi Cocha Research Station, San José de Payamino, Orellana, Ecuador.

Trotter, R. T., and M. H. Logan. 1986. Informant Consensus: A New Approach for Identifying Potentially Effective Medicinal Plants. In Plants in Indigenous Medicine and Diet: Biobehavioral Approaches, edited by N. L. Etkin, pp. 91–112, Redgrave Publishing Company, New York, NY.

Vandebroek, I. 2010. The Dual Intracultural and Intercultural Relationship between Medicinal Plant Knowledge and Consensus. Economic Botany 64:303–317. DOI:10.1007/s12231-010-9135-y.

Voeks, R. A., and A. Leony. 2004. Forgetting the Forest: Assessing Medicinal Plant Erosion in Eastern Brazil. Economic Botany 58:S294-S306. DOI:10.1663/0013-0001(2004)58[S294:FTFAMP]2.0.CO;2.

Whitecloud, S. S., and L. A. Grenoble. 2014. An Interdisciplinary Approach to Documenting Knowledge: Plants and Their Uses in Southern Greenland. Arctic 67:57–70.

Yeo, Q. M., R. Crutchley, J. Cottreau, A. Tucker, and K. W. Garey. 2013. Crofelemer, a Novel Antisecretory Agent Approved for the Treatment of HIV-Associated Diarrhea. Drugs of Today 49:239–252. DOI:10.1358/dot.2013.49.4.1947253.


Copyright (c) 2017 Brian Joseph Doyle, Caroline Michael Asiala, Diana Margot Fernández

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.