- Open Access funded by Sociedade Brasileira de Farmacognosia
- Under a Creative Commons license
This study shows the results of a wide but non-exhaustive review on plants cited in the literacy work of the writer-naturalist João Guimarães Rosa (J.G. Rosa). Information about popular names and use of plants were recovered through a review in seven works of the author. The assignment of the scientific names was based in other previous ethnobotanical studies performed in similar areas of Cerrado in Minas Gerais state. For each species, data about their presence in the Brazilian Official Pharmacopoeia, or use for preparing commercial products were checked. A total of 964 popular names for plants were recovered, 59 of them being more frequently cited. From the total citations, 57 native species have their use described by the author but curiously, only thirteen are referred to as medicinal. It is assumed that the literature from J.G. Rosa is very rich in data about the utility of the plants from the Cerrado; however, the present work shows that his interest was rather the literary (poetic) creation, and we demystify that supposition.
- João Guimarães Rosa;
- Useful plants
Despite this richness and relevance, Brazil's native vegetation is continuously suffering destruction in consequence of different economic cycles, which started with the exploration of Brazil wood in early 1500s (Mittermeier et al., 2005). As a consequence, the knowledge about the useful native plants, mainly that from Amerindian origin, is currently threatened. Medicinal plants are widely used in both rural and urban areas of Brazil but the intense miscegenation of cultures over the last centuries has popularized the use of exotic and imported plants in medicine (Medeiros et al., 2013). Most plants are used according to folk tradition, mostly brought to the country by Europeans and Africans, this therefore privileging foreign over indigenous medicine. Information about the use of plants can be found in classic literature, such as Cervantes (López-Muñoz et al., 2006) or the Bible (Rennó, 1970), and such historical reviews represent an important instrument for recovering data about traditional, ancient knowledge (Brandão et al., 2011, Medeiros, 2008 and Heinrich et al., 2006). Over the last years, our research group has been focusing on the study of materials from European naturalists that traveled throughout Brazil in the 19th century. A massive amount of data about Brazilian native species have been collected and put available in a databank (dataplamt.org.br). This type of work is important because this information is primary, that is, they were taken at a time when the native vegetation was still preserved and the use of plants was made almost exclusively from species of the Brazilian biodiversity. In this study, we show the results of a non-exhaustive review on the plants described in the books of the Brazilian writer-naturalist João Guimarães Rosa (J.G. Rosa).
J.G. Rosa was a novelist and short story writer. He was born in June 27, 1908 in Cordisburgo, a very small town in the north-central part of Minas Gerais state, Brazil, a place that inspired much of his literary work. He belonged to a traditional farming family of cattle ranchers. Since his childhood, J.G. Rosa had preferred to play with natural toys, and enjoyed organizing museums of insects and leaves, this habit originally being stimulated by readings about the topic. He was interested in studying plants and constructed maps and schemes for classifying them. He attended high school in Belo Horizonte, the state's capital city, where he also studied medicine. After receiving his degree in 1930, he worked as a physician in rural areas of Minas Gerais. At this time, he had already begun to write and publish short stories. In 1934, he applied for the Brazilian Foreign Service and became a career diplomat, and served in Germany, France and Colombia, Rosa is one of the most important Brazilian authors, and can be considered a writer-naturalist, since his work is based on a very accurate observation of the wild life. J.G. Rosa knew how to combine his medical knowledge with his role as a poet-naturalist. He discoursed about many aspects of the Cerrado in his books and was concerned with the predatory exploitation that was already occurring in the decade of 1950 (Chaves, 2013).
Materials and methods
Data about plants cited in the work of J.G. Rosa were obtained from an extensive, but no-exhaustive review, of the following publications: Sagarana (31st ed., 1984, hereafter cited as SAG); Manuelzão and Miguilim ( Big Manuel and Little Manuel, 9th ed., 1984, MAMI); Noites no Sertão ( Nights in the Backlands, 9th ed., 2001, NS); No Urubuquaquá no Pinhém ( In Unrubuquaquá, in Pinhém, 9th ed., 2001, UP); Grande Sertão: Veredas ( The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, 36th ed., 1986, GSV); Primeiras Estórias ( First stories, 47th ed., 1988, PE) and Tutaméia (6th ed., 1985, TUT). These books were first published in 1946 (SAG), 1956 (MAMI, NS, UP and GSV), 1962 (PE) and 1967 (TUT).
Each book was carefully studied and informations on popular names and uses of plants were recovered. All the names assigned for plants were collected and organized in a list, presented as supplementary material. It is important to note that many names of plants were also written with variations. For example: we can find in the books the name “abóbora” and other derivatives like “abóbora-d’água” and “abóbora-moranga”. Another example is the “angelim”,“angelim-amargo”, “angelim-macho” or “angelim-umburana”. It is impossible to determine whether these variations of names were assigned for the same “abóbora” or “angelim”, respectively, or represent different species of plants. The verification of which name was assigned for a plant was difficult, because the author gave different names for animals, insects and landscape too.
From the global list of popular names, Table 1 was constructed with the more frequently cited names (five times or more in the whole work). The native plants that had some kind of use described by the author, were marked with (*) and included in Table 2. This table also contains the other native species less frequently cited, but with some kind of use described. For plants in Table 2, scientific names were assigned by crossing the popular names with data from ethnobotanical studies conducted in areas of Cerrado from Minas Gerais and Goiás states (Lima et al., 2012, Silva-Júnior, 2005, Rodrigues and Carvalho, 2007, Silva-Júnior and Pereira, 2009, Vila-Verde et al., 2003 and Rizzo et al., 1999). The names were also compared with data from field books of two European naturalists that traveled in areas of Cerrado in 19th century (Fagg et al., 2014 and Brandão et al., 2012). For many plants, assigning scientific names was not difficult because they are well known and have current popular use. Examples of these plants include carqueja, easily assigned as Baccharis crispa and pequi, as Caryocar brasiliense. Other scientific names were assigned based on the comments made by the author, for example the arnica. His description included that this plant had the form of a chandelier, a typical characteristic of Lychnophora species, Asteraceae. According to a study performed by Meyer (2008), the author used in his field notes several plant characteristics (overall aspect, colors and odor) to record their popular names. For other plants, it was more difficult to assign scientific names, especially when the same popular name refers to two or more species. This is the case of laranjeira-do-campo, which can refer to both Styrax camporum, Styracaceae, and Esenbeckia febrifuga, Rutaceae. There is no doubt that studying the vegetation and performing field surveys with local inhabitants for analyzing living specimens in the areas visited by the author would be the most appropriate way to assign scientific names to the plants cited in this books, however, this task would represent an effort beyond the purposes of this work, and was not performed at this moment. Correct spelling, application and authorship of scientific names of native species were checked in the online database Lista de Espécies da Flora do Brasil (http://floradobrasil.jbrj.gov.br) and Tropicos (http://www.tropicos.org/Home.aspx) was consulted for the exotic species. Specialists were further consulted for the confirmation of doubtful names.
Popular name UP (1956) SAG (1946) GSV (1956) NS (1956) MAMI (1956) PE (1962) TUT (1967) Abóbora 104 123, 195 Abóbora-d’água 280 145 Abóbora-moranga 246 Alecrim 38,44,50,132,133 120, 275 37,167 51,94 Alecrim-tristão 152 Algodão/algodoal 203, 304, 318 308 158, 218 69 Algodão-bibol 537 Algodão-mussulim 537 Algodão-rasga-letras 537 Angelim 158 185, 253, 268 237 Angelim-amargo 149, 203 Angelim-macho 149 Angelim-rosa 254 Angelim-umburana 36 Angico* 42, 200, 266, 373 15, 281, 490 237 190 Angico-surucucú 150 Angico-verdadeiro 236, 321 Angico-vero 154 Araçá 32 35 181 Araçá-branco 179 Araçá-das-almas 150 Araçá-de-pomba 150 181 Araticum* 270 200, 322 97, 326, 412, 504 190 Araticum-da-beira-do-rio 150 Araticum-do-sertão 149 Aroeira 27 21, 33, 153, 191, 244, 266, 277 24 151 Aroeira-brava 151 Aroeira-campestre 151 Arrozal/arroz 133, 138, 142 86, 263, 295, 364 69, 123, 188 194 Arroz-de-cutia 154 Assa-peixe* 153, 230 134, 168, 252 163, 449 158 158 Assa-peixe branco 153 Bálsamo 243 281 Bálsamo (da horta) 101 Bálsamo-de-cheiro eterno 31, 149 Bálsamo de unguento 34, 283 Bambu 87, 119, 153, 167, 243, 252, 254, 263 35 186 123 Banana 256 188 199 Banana-brava 51 Banana-ouro 278 Bananeira 224 135, 185, 217, 317 130, 369 60 Bananeira-do-campo 160 Barbatimão* 200, 322, 376 15 149 126 181 Buriti* 32, 36, 53, 70, 101, 108, 109, 111, 112, 115, 118, 119, 121, 128, 130, 139, 141, 145, 146, 147, 148, 150, 151, 159, 160, 161, 163, 165, 174, 182, 186, 187, 192, 206, 214, 218, 219, 220, 225, 226, 227, 236, 242, 260, 283, 296, 302, 311 43, 68, 256, 377 22, 35, 44, 57, 65, 66, 85, 97, 101, 135, 166, 253, 268, 269, 270, 271, 273, 274, 277, 279, 285, 310, 326, 331, 333, 335, 353, 372, 383, 445, 449, 457, 482, 483, 492, 504, 529, 73, 117, 125, 127, 134, 140, 146, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 157, 158, 166, 167, 168, 169, 171, 180, 181, 188, 189, 190, 208, 209, 222, 223, 226, 230, 236, 257, 265, 268, 285, 299, 302, 316 17, 19, 76, 89, 95, 111, 118, 126, 142, 147, 148, 201, 215, 238, 253, 255 9 72, 179, 180, 191 Buriti-bravo 165 Buritizal 70, 73 Café/cafezal 19, 175, 317, 325 24, 33, 99, 263, 423, 434 36, 84, 310 82 Caju 265 Cajueiro 165 170, 406 130 104 Cajueiro-anão 412 Canela-de-ema* 151 23, 462 9 52 Caraíba 165, 154 330, 409 236 Caraíba-de-flor-roxa 268 Caraíba-urucuiã 269 Carnaúba 122, 150 65, 81, 101 Carnaubais 271 Cedro 135, 138, 143 89 36 130 18 Cedro-fèmea 150 Cedro-í 150 Cedro-nã 150 Congonha* 152, 187 379 190 Congonha-de-goiás 152 Coqueiro 140, 146, 152, 239, 245, 376 145, 151, 155 30 Coqueiro catolé 169 Embira (corda) 321 61 148 Embira-barriguda-do-sertão 149 Embira de bananeira 163 Faveira* 65, 149, 150 89, 203, 406 160 190 Faveleira 151 Feijão 263, 295, 465 69, 123, 188 Feijão bravo 87, 436 Feijão-da-seca 364 Feijão mulatinho 174 Feijão preto 174 Feijoal 246 Fumo* 273, 300 158, 159, 184, 211, 243, 260, 366 177, 256, 326, 412, 413 135, 222 Gameleira 31 134, 209, 210 84, 265, 449, 450 51, 140 68, 152, 160 Gameleira branca 449 Goiaba/Goiabal 88, 140, 209 434 49 99, 181 Goiabeira 213, 232 310 Gravatá* 31, 50, 154, 231 246, 253 208, 218, 265, 449 70, 236, 243 Ingá 43 167 79 Ingazeiro 210 251 Ipê* 100, 111, 154, 165, 236 9, 62 190, 198 Jacarandá 130, 255 Jacarandá anosos 373 Jacarandá-cabiúna 65, 142 Jacarandá-de-espinho 52 Jacarandá-mimosim 149 Jacarandá-muxiba 149 Jacarandá-tã 70 Jacarandá-violeta 73 Jatobá* 165, 208 177, 306 12, 199 36 46 Jatobá-do-campo 159 Jenipapeiro 64, 154 145 406 137 30, 114, 118 Jequitibá* 185, 321 167 84 Jequitibá-rosa 255 Jequitibá-vermelho 257 Laranja 60, 277 267 134, 135 Laranja-da-china 247 Laranja-da-terra 368 138 Laranjal 318 275 200, 212, 313 Laranjeira 403 188 Laranjeira-do-campo 47 Limão 136, 158 36 135 Limoeiro 249 356 224, 251 73 Lírios 164, 271 147 324 Lírios-do-brejo 271 Lobeira* 492 108, 148, 150, 160 154 Mamão 138 104, 105 356 Mamão-macho 249 Mamoeiro 517 249 359 Mamoeiro-bravo 154 Mandioca 4, 203, 283 123 224, 254 Mandioca Brava 4 Mandiocal 203 317 51 Manga 49 246, 266 Mangueira 168 186 225, 230 153, 217 166 Mangaba 24, 37 259 211 51, 190 Mangabal 36 Mangabeira* 25 Mangabeiral 446 Mangabeirinha 37 Mangabeiro 377 Mangabeira pedidora-de-esmola 322 Milho 465 69, 214 28, 32, 172 135, 138, 161, 203, 220, 227, 228, 284, 295, 304, 323 51 Murici* 203 233 177, 196, 322 190 Oiricuri 127, 462 238 188 93 Paineira* 39, 76, 243 31, 66, 143 Palmeira 49, 413, 449 210 150, 168, 180, 316 32, 53, 101, 102, 192, 217 123, 124 169 190 Palmeira-leque 265 Palmeira-pindoba 458 Palmeiral 413 Palmeirim 150 Pau-bate-caixa* 424 29, 150 100, 101, 149 265 Pau-d’arco 233, 271, 311 33, 376 Pau-d’óleo* 84, 89 31, 65 68, 201, 376 Pau-terra 159, 160, 161, 163 319 Pequi* 158, 265, 256 29 270 277 127 Pequizeiro 199, 326 159 Pimenta-de-macaco* 257 167 137, 142, 271 Sassafrás 22, 504 32, 149, 266 108, 124, 161 51, 83 Sassafrás-da-serra 150 Sassafrás-serrano 51 Sassafrazal 268 Sucupira 61 38 108 183, 205 Tingui* 93, 152 150, 233 44 57 Umburana 296, 496 146, 218, 235 Umburana Branca 455
- Plants with use specified by the author.
Popular names/possible scientific names and families Book*: page Uses Alcanfor, pé-de-perdiz/Croton antisyphiliticus Mart. (Euphorbiaceae) UP: 31,153; SAG: 243 Remedy Almecega, almesca/Protium heptaphyllum
(Aubl.) Marchand (Burseraceae)1
GSV: 177; NS: 167 Resin Angelim-umburana/Andira spp. (Fabaceae) NS: 36 Aromatic oil for women's hair Angico/Anadenanthera spp.
See table 1 Remedy to heal wounds (bath with the bark)/tannery Araticu, araticum/Annona spp.
See table 1 fruit/candies Arnica/Lychnophora spp. (Asteraceae)2 GSV: 281; PE: 9; SAG: 243; TUT:50 Remedy for pain and edema Aroeira/Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi (Anacardiaceae)1 GSV: 151 Tannery Assa-peixe/Vernonanthura polyanthes (Spreng.) Vega & Dematt. (Asteraceae)2 See table 1 Remedy for ocular inflammation Barbatimão/Stryphnodendron spp. (Fabaceae)1,2 See table 1 Tannery/coal/wood/cork Buriti/Mauritia flexuosa L.f. (Arecaceae) See table 1 Liqueur/wine/candies/food/construction/handcrafts (networks, mat, ropes, baskets, bags, boxes). Cabriúva/Myroxylon peruiferum L.f. (Fabaceae) NS 32 Balsamic, odoriferous Cagaiteira/Eugenia dysenterica (Mart.) DC. (Myrtaceae) MAMI: 152,177; UP: 187; NS: 47, 158; SAG: 191 Tea/fruit Cambará/Lantana camara L. (Verbenaceae) SAG: 56, 257–258 Witchcraft Candeia, guia-torto/Eremanthus spp. (Asteraceae)1 GSV: 469; UP: 160; TUT: 51, 52 Fuel Canela-de-ema/Vellozia spp.
See table 1 Fuel Carne de vaca/Roupala montana Aubl. (Proteaceae) NS: 166–167 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Caroba-do-campo/Jacaranda caroba (Vell.) DC.
NS: 34; PE: 62 Remedy Carqueja/Baccharis crispa Spreng. (Asteraceae)1,2 UP: 31 Remedy Congonha/Rudgea viburnoides (Cham.) Benth.
See table 1 Tea Faveira/Dimorphandra mollis Benth. (Fabaceae) See table 1 Liqueur/wood for construction Fumo/Nicotiana tabacum L. (Solanaceae) See table 1 Remedy Gabiroba/Campomanesia pubescens (Mart. ex DC.) O.Berg (Myrtaceae) SAG: 177, 196 Fruit/perfum Gameleira/FicusgomelleiraKunth(Moraceae) UP: 208 Remedy (milk) Goiabeira/Psidium guajava L. (Myrtaceae) UP: 213, 232 NS: 310 Tea Gonçalo Alves/Astronium fraxinifolium Schott (Anacardiaceae) NS: 32,167; UP: 149, Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Gravatá/Aechmea bromeliifolia (Rudge) Baker (Bromeliaceae) See table 1 Perfum/fruits Ingá/Inga vera Willd. (Fabaceae) GSV: 251; NS: 167; PE: 79; SAG: 43 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Ipê, caraíba/Handroanthus spp., Tabebuia spp. (Bignoniaceae)2 See table 1 Wood for construction Jatobá/Hymenaea courbaril L., H. stigonocarpa Mart. ex Hayne (Fabaceae)2 See table 1 Remedy, resin Jequitibá/Cariniana spp. (Lecythidaceae)1,2 See table 1 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Joá/Ziziphus joazeiro Mart. (Rhamnaceae) MAMI: 68; SAG: 27,13, 252 Fruits João-da-costa/Peltastes peltatus (Vell.) Woodson (Apocynaceae) UP: 31 Remedy Jurema/Mimosa spp. (Fabaceae) GSV: 462 Tea Landim, olandim/Calophyllum brasiliense Cambess. (Calophyllaceae) NS: 166–167 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Língua-de-teiú/Casearia sylvestris Sw. (Salicaceae)1 UP: 31 Remedy Lobeira/Solanum lycocarpum A.St.-Hil. (Solanaceae) See table 1 Fruits/ornamental Macaúba/Acrocomia aculeata (Jacq.) Lodd. ex Mart. (Arecaceae) GSV: 126, 256, 411 Soap Malva-do-campo/Kielmeyera rosea Mart. & Zucc. (Calophyllaceae) UP: 235; PE: 9; SAG: 175 Ornamental Mamão/Carica papaya L. (Caricaceae) UP 259 Leaves clean/clear clothes Mangabeira, mangabas/Hancornia speciosa Gomes
See table 1 Fruits/candies Marcela-do-campo/Achyrocline satureioides (Lam.)
GSV: 205; MAMI: 37 Pillow/tea Marmelada-de-cachorro/Cordiera sessilis
(Vell.) Kuntze (Rubiaceae)
NS: 167; UP: 151 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Murici/Byrsonima verbascifolia (L.) DC.
See table 1 Fruit/fuel Paineira/Ceiba speciosa (A.St.-Hil.) Ravenna (Malvaceae) See table 1 Ornamental Pau bate-caixa, bate-caixa/Palicourea rigida Kunth
See table 1 Perfum Pau-d’óleo/Copaifera langsdorffii Desf. (Fabaceae)1,2 See table 1 Wood for construction Pau-pombo/Tapirira guianensis Aubl.
GSV: 90, 449; NS: 167 Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests) Pau-doce/Vochysia tucanorum Mart. (Vochysiaceae) GSV: 423; MAMI: 157; NS: 160; SAG: 319 Ornamental Pau-ferro/Libidibia ferrea (Mart. ex Tul.) L.P.Queiroz (Fabaceae) NS: 40 Construction Pau-santo/Kielmeyera speciosa A.St.-Hil. (Calophyllaceae) NS: 160; UP: 101; SAG: 196, 319 Ornamental Pequizeiro, pequi/Caryocar brasiliense Cambess.
See table 1 Liqueur/fruit Peroba/Aspidosperma tomentosum Mart.
GSV: 89; UP: 214; SAG: 37; TUT: 190 Wood for construction Pimenta-de-macaco, pindaíba/Xylopia aromatica (Lam.) Mart. or Xylopia sericea A.St.-Hil. (Annonaceae) See table 1 Remedy for chest pain/tea Pitanga/Eugenia pitanga (O. Berg) Kiaersk.
GSV: 265; PE: 9; SAG: 154, 370 Fruit Tingui/Magonia pubescens A.St.-Hil. (Sapindaceae) See table 1 Soap/fruit/fuel Unha-de-vaca-roxa/Bauhinia spp. (Fabaceae)2 UP: 31 Remedy Velame-branco/Mandevilla velame (A.St.-Hil.) Pichon (Apocynaceae)2 PE: 9 Ornamental
- GSV, Grande Sertão: Veredas, MAMI, Manuelzão e Miguilim, NS, Noites do Sertão, UP, No Urubuquaquá, no Pinhém, PE, Primeiras Estórias, SAG, Sagarana, TUT, Tutaméia.
- Species included in the Brazilian Official Pharmacopoeia 1st Edition (1926) (Brandão et al., 2009).
- Species used for medicine preparation by Pharmaceutical Laboratories of Minas Gerais (Brandão et al., 2010).
Table 2 also provides the reference for each book and page where the information was obtained. It also indicates the descriptions of the various categories of use (medicinal, food, construction, fuel, technology and ornamental), among other observations (Brito and Senna-Valle, 2012). We checked the relevance of each plant as medicinal by their citation in (1) monographs from the 1st edition of the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia (Brandão et al., 2009) and (2) information on the use of plants for the preparation of commercial products by Pharmaceutical Laboratories from Minas Gerais (Brandão et al., 2010).
Results and discussion
The Cerrado offers a vast biological diversity and represents one of the most plentiful natural resources for potentially useful species, including medicinal plants. European naturalists who visited Brazil during the 19th century, such as Auguste de Saint-Hilaire and George Gardner, also recorded in their works the use of hundreds of useful species from the Cerrado, which they called, just like J.G. Rosa did, sertão (backlands) ( Fagg et al., 2014 and Brandão et al., 2012). J.G. Rosa traveled throughout many areas of the Cerrado in Minas Gerais, and his impressions are widely described in his work. Fig. 1 shows the areas he visited around the state, currently known as “J.G. Rosa circuit” (Bezerra and Heidemann, 2006). J.G. Rosa has observed the aspects of biodiversity and culture of these places with astonishing accuracy, and made poetry with several of them. The author created a unique, innovative language inspired in the folk speech of the Brazilian backlands, by using literacy resources such as rhymes, metaphors and magical events.
- Source: FONTE: http://www.circuitoguimaraesrosa.com.br/novo/?page_id=260
In this review, 964 popular names for plants were recovered from the seven studied books of J.G. Rosa, and this elevated number confirms his interest in such register. Several different names were assigned for “capim” (grasses, 86), “cipó” (vine, 17), “erva” (herbs, 15), “fava” (fave, 4) and “paus” (sticks, wood, 27). Fifty-nine names of plants, including their variations, were cited five times or more and were included in Table 1. This table shows that the book with highest number of citations for plants is UP (158 citations), followed by GSV (153) and NS (123). SAG, MAMI, PE and TUT have 114, 55, 47 and 36 citations of plants, respectively. This large number of different popular names registered by the author within the short distances he covered in his travels reflects his interest in such information, and the strong bonds of the inhabitants with the Cerrado biodiversity.
Among these more frequently cited plants from Table 1, 22 (marked as* in Table 1) have their uses detailed by the author. These and 35 other plants were included in Table 2. Twelve species are described as food or for beverage preparation (sweets, wines and liqueurs) among them araticum (Annona spp.), buriti (Mauritia flexuosa), cagaiteira (Eugenia dysenterica), faveira (Dimorphandra mollis), gabiroba (Campomanesia pubescens), gravatá (Aechmea bromeliifolia), juá (Ziziphus joazeiro), lobeira (Solanum lycocarpum), mangabeira (Hancornia speciosa), pequi (Caryocar brasiliense), and pitanga (Eugenia pitanga) and tingui (Magonia pubescens). Many species from the Cerrado have recently gained acceptance and importance in industry, and some of them are marketed in Brazil in the form of juices, sweets, ice cream and candies. Tropical ecosystems are very rich in edible fruits and several of them were registered by the naturalists, especially Saint-Hilaire, who named them “wild fruits” ( Brandão et al., 2012). Saint-Hilaire specified that the fruits from the Cerrado were certainly better than the European, but it was necessary to submit them to cultural tracts. In fact, the possibility of introducing such products in the form of nutraceuticals and food supplements could improve their use and include them in international markets ( Desmarchelier, 2010 and Saklani and Kutty, 2008). However, one factor that prevents the use of these species is the lack of detailed agronomic studies, which could increase productivity, post harvest quality and contribute to its market availability.
Six other plants are described as useful in the manufacture of various products, such as marcela-do-campo (Achyrocline satureioides) in pillows; macaúba Acrocomia aculeata and tingui (Magonia pubescens) for the preparation of soap, aroeira (Schinus terebinthifolius) and barbatimão (Stryphnodendron spp.) in the tannery. Five species were presented as fuel, five as ornamental and four as useful for construction. Seven species were cited in the text as trees that grow in river banks (“beira de rio”) and this information is highlighted by us because it might be useful to implement projects of gallery forest restoration. For buriti (Mauritia flexuosa), which was cited several times, the author provides information regarding its confirmed and potential uses. This plant also attracted the attention of Saint-Hilaire and Gardner who described the same possibilities for its use ( Fagg et al., 2014 and Brandão et al., 2012). The same uses for the species of Table 2 were also observed in more recent ethnobotanical studies ( Silva-Júnior, 2005, Borba and Macedo, 2006, Rodrigues and Carvalho, 2007 and Silva-Júnior and Pereira, 2009).
Thirteen species were cited as remedies but only four has specific therapeutic indications. For all of them, the properties could be explained by the phytochemical content. Barks of angico (Anadenanthera spp.), for example, were described as useful in bath to heal wounds and were also cited by the author as useful in tannery, besides barbatimão and aroeira – this plant is largely known as rich in tannins, astringent substances that promote cicatrization ( Oliveira et al., 2011 and Feuereisen et al., 2014). The author also mentions that arnica was used to treat pain and edema. Although arnica is the official name of an European plant that does not naturally occurs in Brazil (Arnica montana), other native species are known as arnica in this country, and based on the description of J.G. Rosa, this name can be assigned to a species of Lychnophora (Asteraceae). Similarly to A. montana, recent studies have shown that species in this genus are also rich in volatile sesquiterpene lactones, a compound with topical antiiflammatory activity ( Abreu et al., 2013). Vernonanthura polyanthes is popularly known by the vernacular name “assa-peixe”, and this species is very rich in resins and volatile oils with antimicrobial and antiinflamatory properties ( Silva et al., 2012 and Temponi et al., 2012), which can explain its use to treat eye inflammations. Pimenta-de-macaco is the popular name given for two different species of Xylopia (X. aromatica and X. sericea) and the author described its use to treat chest pains. Recent research has indicated that Xylopia species are rich in volatile substances that cause hyperemia, and can alleviate such pain ( Oliveira et al., 2014).
It is generally assumed that the literature from J.G. Rosa is very rich in data about the medical utility of the plants from the Cerrado, but we provide consistent evidence that this assumption is equivocal. J.G. Rosa grew in a small town in the very countryside of Brazil, and had since his childhood strong interest in natural sciences (Chaves, 2013). From 1931 to 1933, he was a “hinterland medical doctor” in small towns in Minas Gerais, and he certainly had contact with the medicinal plants used by the population. It is possible that these experiences have influenced him to do such an extensive inventory about the plants (Table 1). However, one point needs clarification and must be discussed: why J.G. Rosa did mention so few observations about the therapeutic properties of the plants in his works (only four plants)? Some hypotheses can be formulated about this matter: (i) contrary to what is generally assumed, J.G. Rosa did not have enough knowledge about the medical utilities of the plants, and this kind of information was not relevant for his artistic purposes. His interest was to know the names of the plants, regardless of their use, only for the purposes of a poetic creation. He wrote many interesting observations for some useful plants, like mangabeira that “asks for alms” (SAG 322), arnica “in pale chandeliers” (PE 9), barbatimão with “round little leaves just like coins” (NS 150); (ii) he had knowledge about the utility of the plants but still, their medicinal aspect was not relevant for his creative purposes. It is important to note that the literacy output of J.G. Rosa spanned the decade of 1950–1960 (except Sagarana, which was published in 1946). At this time, there was a growing establishment of large foreign pharmaceutical companies in Brazil, and the massive introduction of synthetic and industrialized products. This fact promoted strong changes on the methods applied in conventional medicine, the medicinal plants being considered as ineffective and a marginal method of treatment (Carvalho, 2003 and Telles, 2007). During the previous period, most medicines were prepared out of native species, and in many cases, their use had been formalized by the inclusion in the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia (Brandão et al., 2009). Nine plants from Table 2 figure in the Pharmacopoeia: almecega (Protium heptaphyllum), angico (Anadenanthera spp.), barbatimão (Stryphnodendron spp.), camará (Lantana camara), caroba-do-campo (Jacaranda caroba), carqueja (Baccharis crispa), jequitibá (Cariniana spp.), lingua-de-teiú (Casearia sylvestris) and pau-d’óleo (Copaifera langsdorffii). At that time, Brazilian pharmaceutical companies also produced remedies using native medicinal plants, based on traditional formulas. Among them, angico (Anadenanthera spp.) and assa-peixe (Vernonanthura polyanthes) have their medical use described by the author ( Table 2). (iii) He had vast knowledge about the potential of the plants, and avoided to spread it, for the sake of their conservation. He was a writer-naturalist, but with a very different perception of nature compared to the European naturalists, who had a rather utilitarian vision of the Brazilian richness (Brandão et al., 2011). It is also interesting to point out that J.G. Rosa was a diplomat and lived for many years in Europe, and he was probably aware of the international economic interest on Brazilian plants. At the time of J.G. Rosa the legislation regulating the access and use of our biodiversity and traditional knowledge was inexistent, and our hypothesis is that the author deliberately omitted this valuable information, in order to preserve our natural and immaterial heritage from the interests of foreign and aggressive pharmaceutical companies.
References for uses of exotic or other native unidentified plants were also found in the works of J.G. Rosa: basil for aromatization of clean clothes (NS 32), lettuce roots for sleeping (SAG 219, NS 310), balsam plaster (MAMI 101), poison milk of milkweed (GSV 44) and folha-miuda (GSV 412, NS 167), erva-café (UP 216) and erva-de-folha-miúda is poisonous for cattle (UP199), fennel (GSV 205) and urumbeba (GSV 357) to treat liver disorders; orange flower tea as soothing (MAMI 188), folha-santa (MAMI 102), frei-jorge (GSV 357, UP 149) and losna (NS 101) as remedy, erva-do-diabo tea (VS 267, UP 153). The scarce number of exotic species cited in his works might be an evidence that the areas of Cerrado where he traveled through were still preserved. Many studies have shown that in areas of Atlantic Forest and Pampas, for example, there is a predominance of the use of exotic plants (Medeiros et al., 2013). Unfortunately, currently the areas described by J.G. Rosa are suffering an aggressive replacement of their native vegetation by monoculture of Eucalyptus. In other Cerrado areas, grain production and cattle have gradually occupied the land that was previously covered by native vegetation ( Bertran, 2011 and Martinelli et al., 2010). Efforts are urgently needed to preserve the biodiversity of this Biome, including the ones directed to literature and poetry, as J.G. Rosa did.
This work confirms the broad description of Cerrado plants in the literary work of the writer-naturalist and shows, contrary to common sense, the absence of a utilitarian view of the plants.
TGLBC has done the review in the books; LMR and MGLB have organized the plants and the manuscript; JP-S has revised the botanic names and the occurrence of the plants.
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
This review contains the results of T.G.L.B. Chaves’ Ph.D. Thesis funded by CAPES/ Brazil (FFLCH-USP). The authors also thank FAPEMIG and CNPq for fellowships and financial support, Dr. Juliana Rando (Universidade Federal do Oeste da Bahia) and Dr. Michel Barros for their expertise in Legume names, and Dr. Benoit Loeuille (Universidade de São Paulo) for his advise in Asteraceae.
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