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Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical

Print version ISSN 0037-8682On-line version ISSN 1678-9849

Rev. Soc. Bras. Med. Trop. vol.37 no.2 Uberaba Mar. 2004 



Preliminary assessment of medicinal plants used as antimalarials in the southeastern Venezuelan Amazon


Avaliação preliminar de plantas medicinais usadas como antimaláricos no sudeste amazônico Venezuelano



Alejandro Caraballo; Brigida CaraballoI; Alexis Rodríguez-AcostaII

IDepartamento de Botánica, Facultad de Agronomía, Universidad del Zulia, Apartado Postal 526, Maracaibo, Venezuela
IIInstituto de Medicina Tropical, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Apartado Postal 47423-Caracas 1041A, Venezuela





Eighteen species of medicinal plants used in the treatment of malaria in Bolívar State, Venezuela were recorded and they belonged to Compositae, Meliaceae, Anacardiaceae, Bixaceae, Boraginaceae, Caricaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Leguminosae, Myrtaceae, Phytolaccaceae, Plantaginaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Solanaceae and Verbenaceae families. Antimalarial plant activities have been linked to a range of compounds including anthroquinones, berberine, flavonoids, limonoids, naphthquinones, sesquiterpenes, quassinoids, indol and quinoline alkaloids.

Key-words: Ethnomedicine. Phytotherapeutic. Medicinal plants. Malaria. Venezuelan amazon.


Dezoito espécies de plantas medicinais usadas no tratamento da malária no estado Bolívar, Venezuela, foram estabelecidas e pertenciam às familias Compositae, Meliaceae, Anacardiaceae, Bixaceae, Boraginaceae, Caricaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Leguminosae, Myrtaceae, Phytolaccaceae, Plantaginaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Solanaceae e Verbenaceae. As atividades antimaláricas destas plantas parecem estar ligadas a um grupo de compostos que incluem antroquinonas, berberina, flavonoides, limonoides, naftquinonas, sesquiterpenos, quassinoides, indol e alcalóides de quinolina.

Palavras-chaves: Etnomedicina. Fitoterapêutica. Plantas medicinais. Malária. Amazonas Venezuelano.



Malaria is the most important and devastating parasitic infection in the world16 23. Malaria cases are frequently recorded in Bolívar state territory, which comprises sweeping grassy plains, as well as areas along the Orinoco River and tropical forests inhabited by gold and diamond miners. The area is also inhabited by near nineteen Amerindian groups who live scattered throughout the jungle and highlands. For several years, the standard antimalarial drugs which include quinoline derivates, sulpha drugs and antifolates have been employed in the treatment of malaria by the National Malaria Control Program. Preparations based on plants used in traditional medicine have been widely employed in the Bolivar State as an alternative to pharmaceuticals14.

The Amazon has not been botanically explored as have the savannas, scrublands, the surrounding lowland and upland forest and even mountains, most of which are now considered to be intensively studied and therefore taxonomically known14. As part of a project aimed at improving the antimalarial therapeutics in Venezuela, we organized a ethnobotanical survey on traditional medicinal plants used in the treatment of malaria in Bolívar State, Venezuela. During 5 years this study was conducted in Bolívar state, in a tropical humid forest area at Domingo Sifontes municipality. This southeastern area (65000km2) of the state is the most densely populated region and is situated at 07°15'N latitude and 61° 26'W longitude15. Data were obtained using standard ethnobotanical collecting techniques19. The information was collected from Kariña, Akawayo, North Arawak Amerindians and miner population. Three regions were explored: Tumeremo (capital of the Domingo Sifontes municipality), El Dorado and Las Claritas. The most knowledgeable members of each community were identified and interviewed. The basic question underlying the interviews was "do you use any plants to treat or to cure malaria"? Specimens of the plants used were then collected in the field with the informants, and details of their modes of preparation, administration and use were recorded, as well as local names and any other relevant data. Information was double-checked with more than one interviewee. The standard herbarium specimens were collected for subsequent identification of the species.

Parts of the plants screened by antimalarial activity were those that people recommended (roots, leaves, etc). The pieces were air-dried in the dark when possible, but in the sun when the humidity was too high.

Eighteen plants species of 13 families used in the treatment of malaria at Domingo Sifontes Municipality were identified. Details of the use of some of these plants together with comparative data are presented in Table 1.

The plants recorded in this survey, were used in the treatment of the disease and not as prophylactics. The majority were used as decoctions and were generally administered three times daily until malaria was cured. Some plants were used both internally and externally (as baths), and in a few cases they were applied as compresses to the swollen spleen.

The antimalarial activity has been linked to a range of compounds including anthroquinones, berberine, flavonoids, limonoids, naphthquinones, sesquiterpenes, quassinoids, indol and quinoline alkaloids and many of the genera represented by the plants collected in this work have been shown to contain these compounds21.

The most frequently used plant parts were: leaves (70%); roots (15%); fruits (10%); and stalks (2%). The enormous frequency of the leaves in traditional compounds is related to their abundant availability and easy collection.

The knowledge of plants used in the treatment of malaria in the Domingo Sifontes municipality, combined with the high level of correlation found with the uses of these plants (or related species) in diverse parts of Latin America, indicates the inheritance of our ancestors' knowledge in the whole continent. It represents sometimes the only available alternative malaria treatment in remote communities of the municipality and its surroundings.



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Correspondence to
Dr. Alexis Rodríguez-Acosta
Apartado 47423
Caracas 1041, Venezuela

Recebido para publicação em 7/4/2003
Aceito em 12/1/2004



This paper is dedicated In memoriam of Dr. Alejandro Caraballo who died while this work was being finishing.

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