chapter  23
Herbal Medicines in the Developing World: South America
Pages 18

For countless generations, humans have relied on plant extracts and plant preparations for the healing of any type of suffering. Medicinal plants are still the main therapeutic resource in many regions of the South of the World, including Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50% and 80% of the population in the developing world use predominantly medicinal herbs for the treatment of their medical ailments. Beyond these data, unied epidemiological studies of the use of medicinal plants focusing particularly in whole continents are not available. One of the main reasons is the great variability that conspires with any unied approach: millions of people use the most diverse medicinal herbs in every Earth region where sometimes the same plant is used for different ailments. A second important fact in the study of the use of medicinal plants is that their therapeutic indications have been scientically con-rmed in a very low number of cases and most of the claimed curative uses in the South are based only on popular knowledge.*

23.1 Introduction .................................................................................................. 439 23.2 Brazil and The Amazon................................................................................ 441 23.3 Atlantic Forest Region (Northeastern Brazil)...............................................446 23.4 Peru and Ecuador ..........................................................................................446 23.5 Colombia and Venezuela .............................................................................. 447 23.6 Bolivia ...........................................................................................................448 23.7 Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay .................................................... 450 23.8 Conclusions ................................................................................................... 453 Acknowledgments .................................................................................................. 454 References .............................................................................................................. 454

In this context and in order to focus rst in one continent, several arguments point to South America as a starting point to begin an evaluation of the use of medicinal herbs in the South. In the rst place, the world distribution of plant diversity shows the importance of South America mainly considering the enormous ¤ora of the Amazon region. South America adds to the Amazon the Atlantic forest, the tropical regions, the mountain zones like the Andean region or the dessert areas of the north of Chile as well as the high altitude altiplano land in Bolivia. Besides, South America combines extensive spaces, almost empty of human presence with huge metropolitan urban concentrations such as Sao Paulo in Brazil, Buenos Aires in Argentina or Santiago in Chile, mega cities that in fact act as large areas of cultural mixing of local, regional and international uses of medicinal herbs. Considering people living in the Amazon jungle, the urban areas, the Indian populations in the Pacic coast (Peru, Ecuador) or the inner land regions of Bolivia, South America combines a very rich ethnic diversity with diverse historical and cultural backgrounds that, as a whole, composes an extremely varied picture of populations and spaces that can give clues of general signicance about the use of medicinal plants in the developing world.*

WHO Regional Ofce for the Americas (AMRO/PAHO) reports that 71% of the population in Chile and 40% of the population in Colombia use Traditional Medicine (Bussmann and Sharon, 2006), and although no comprehensive continental evaluation on the use of medicinal plants is available, global efforts are being made to advance in regulatory issues in the Americas on the use of plants.