Saturday, 25 July 2015

Management of medicinally useful plants by European migrants in South America

Volume 172, 22 August 2015, Pages 347–355


Ethnopharmacological relevance

Using the example of Polish migrants living in the subtropics of Argentina, we attempt to expand knowledge about migrant strategies for retaining their agency in medicinal plant procurement.

Aim of the study

Is to state which environments play a pivotal role as a source of medicinal plants for the study community, and if a gradient of relevance exists in the exploitation of medicinally useful species between the most proximate and the most distant habitats. We particularly aim to answer the following questions: (1) if Polish migrants have changed their patterns of obtaining medicinal plants during the migratory process; and (2) if the choice of strategies for medicinal plants depends on: (a) the degree of floristic and environmental similarity between the home and host country; (b) the perception and usefulness of certain environments as a source of medicinal plants; (c) the degree of contact with the local population in the host country, and/or (d) the degree of contact between migrants and their homeland.

Material and methods

The analysis is grounded in data from different types of interviews and a homegarden inventory addressed to 72 study participants. Voucher specimens of species mentioned were gathered and identified. Two indices were used as proxy measures: (1) the number of species obtained from each habitat, and (2) the number of citations for both modes and places of obtaining medicinal plants.


Due to different flora found in Argentina, Polish migrants could reconstruct only bits and pieces of their native pharmacopoeia. They could not acquire medicinal plants either from relatives in Poland or via importation. Therefore they had to develop new strategies for securing medicinal resources. During the migratory process, Poles in Misiones changed forms and places of obtaining medicinal plants. Cultivated species from homegardens play the most important role, while in the native country homegarden species were used sparsely. The second most important environment for medicinal plant procurement is the forest, whose exploitation was increased by contact with local mestizos and indigenous groups.


This study clearly shows that traditional knowledge can be adaptive and resilient. New species have been selected and incorporated from mestizos, and indigenous people, and at the same time the use of some legacy plants has been preserved. The importance of home gardens as a venue for medicinal plants is another facet of this adaptive process. Traditional knowledge is resilient too, because despite the many changes that have occurred, Polish people have maintained phytotherapy as their preferred form of treating ailments, and managed to retain certain species brought from Europe as the most relevant.

Graphical abstract

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  • Medical ethnobotany;
  • Migrants' phytotherapy;
  • Medicinal plants procurement;
  • Polish diaspora;
  • Atlantic Forest

Corresponding author.