An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants commercialized in the markets of la Paz and El Alto, Bolivia

Manuel J. Macía, Emilia García, Prem Jai Vidaurre

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An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants marketed in La Paz and El Alto cities in the Bolivian Andes, reported medicinal information for about 129 species, belonging to 55 vascular plant families and one uncertain lichen family. The most important family was Asteraceae with 22 species, followed by Fabaceae s.l. with 11, and Solanaceae with eight. More than 90 general medicinal indications were recorded to treat a wide range of illnesses and ailments. The highest number of species and applications were reported for digestive system disorders (stomach ailments and liver problems), musculoskeletal body system (rheumatism and the complex of contusions, luxations, sprains, and swellings), kidney and other urological problems, and gynecological disorders. Some medicinal species had magic connotations, e.g. for cleaning and protection against ailments, to bring good luck, or for Andean offerings to Pachamama, 'Mother Nature'. In some indications, the separation between medicinal and magic plants was very narrow. Most remedies were prepared from a single species, however some applications were always prepared with a mixture of plants, e.g. for abortion, and the complex of luxations and swellings. The part of the plant most frequently used was the aerial part (29.3%) and the leaves (20.7%). The remedies were mainly prepared as a decoction (47.5%) and an infusion (28.6%). Most of species were native from Bolivia, but an important 36.4% of them were introduced from different origins. There exists a high informant consensus for species and their medicinal indications. The present urban phytotherapy represents a medicinal alternative to treat main health problems and remains closer to the cultural and social context of this society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-350
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 28 Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all the informants, women sellers in La Paz and El Alto, who patient and generously responded all our queries. Many thanks also to Stephan Beck, Rosi Chávez de Michel, Roberto Kiesling, and Ramón Morales for identifications of some plant specimens, and to the staff of the Herbario Nacional de Bolivia (LPB) for their help during the research. To Ina Vandebroek and Alicia Ibañez for their helpful comments on the manuscript. This project was partially funded (to MJM) by Consejería de Educación, Comunidad de Madrid, Spain.


  • Aymara
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Folk medicine
  • Medical ethnobotany
  • Medicinal plants market
  • Quechua
  • Traditional knowledge
  • Urban phytotherapy


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