Volume 25, Issue 5, September–October 2015, Pages 437–444

Open Access
Original Article

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.

Graphical abstract


  • João Guimarães Rosa;
  • Writer;
  • Cerrado;
  • Savannah;
  • 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.
Table 1. Popular names and their variations more frequently cited by J.G. Rosa, and respective pages: Urubuquaquá no Pinhém (UP), Sagarana (SAG), Grande Sertão: Veredas (GSV); Noites no Sertão (NS), Manuelzão and Miguilim (MAMI), Primeiras Estórias (PE) and Tutaméia (TUT).
Popular nameUP (1956)SAG (1946)GSV (1956)NS (1956)MAMI (1956)PE (1962)TUT (1967)
Abóbora104123, 195
Alecrim38,44,50,132,133120, 27537,16751,94
Algodão/algodoal203, 304, 318308158, 21869
Angelim158185, 253, 268237
Angelim-amargo149, 203
Angico*42, 200, 266, 37315, 281, 490237190
Angico-verdadeiro236, 321
Araticum*270200, 32297, 326, 412, 504190
Aroeira2721, 33, 153, 191, 244, 266, 27724151
Arrozal/arroz133, 138, 14286, 263, 295, 36469, 123, 188194
Assa-peixe*153, 230134, 168, 252163, 449158158
Assa-peixe branco153
Bálsamo (da horta)101
Bálsamo-de-cheiro eterno31, 149
Bálsamo de unguento34, 283
Bambu87, 119, 153, 167, 243, 252, 254, 26335186123
Bananeira224135, 185, 217, 317130, 36960
Barbatimão*200, 322, 37615149126181
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, 31143, 68, 256, 37722, 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, 31617, 19, 76, 89, 95, 111, 118, 126, 142, 147, 148, 201, 215, 238, 253, 255972, 179, 180, 191
Buritizal70, 73
Café/cafezal19, 175, 317, 32524, 33, 99, 263, 423, 43436, 84, 31082
Cajueiro165170, 406130104
Canela-de-ema*15123, 462952
Caraíba165, 154330, 409236
Carnaúba122, 15065, 81, 101
Cedro135, 138, 143893613018
Congonha*152, 187379190
Coqueiro140, 146, 152, 239, 245, 376145, 151, 15530
Coqueiro catolé169
Embira (corda)32161148
Embira de bananeira163
Faveira*65, 149, 15089, 203, 406160190
Feijão263, 295, 46569, 123, 188
Feijão bravo87, 436
Feijão mulatinho174
Feijão preto174
Fumo*273, 300158, 159, 184, 211, 243, 260, 366177, 256, 326, 412, 413135, 222
Gameleira31134, 209, 21084, 265, 449, 45051, 14068, 152, 160
Gameleira branca449
Goiaba/Goiabal88, 140, 2094344999, 181
Goiabeira213, 232310
Gravatá*31, 50, 154, 231246, 253208, 218, 265, 44970, 236, 243
Ipê*100, 111, 154, 165, 2369, 62190, 198
Jacarandá130, 255
Jacarandá anosos373
Jacarandá-cabiúna65, 142
Jatobá*165, 208177, 30612, 1993646
Jenipapeiro64, 15414540613730, 114, 118
Jequitibá*185, 32116784
Laranja60, 277267134, 135
Laranjal318275200, 212, 313
Limão136, 15836135
Limoeiro249356224, 25173
Lírios164, 271147324
Lobeira*492108, 148, 150, 160154
Mamão138104, 105356
Mandioca4, 203, 283123224, 254
Mandioca Brava4
Manga49246, 266
Mangueira168186225, 230153, 217166
Mangaba24, 3725921151, 190
Mangabeira pedidora-de-esmola322
Milho46569, 21428, 32, 172135, 138, 161, 203, 220, 227, 228, 284, 295, 304, 32351
Murici*203233177, 196, 322190
Oiricuri127, 46223818893
Paineira*39, 76, 24331, 66, 143
Palmeira49, 413, 449210150, 168, 180, 31632, 53, 101, 102, 192, 217123, 124169190
Pau-bate-caixa*42429, 150100, 101, 149265
Pau-d’arco233, 271, 31133, 376
Pau-d’óleo*84, 8931, 6568, 201, 376
Pau-terra159, 160, 161, 163319
Pequi*158, 265, 25629270277127
Pequizeiro199, 326159
Pimenta-de-macaco*257167137, 142, 271
Sassafrás22, 50432, 149, 266108, 124, 16151, 83
Sucupira6138108183, 205
Tingui*93, 152150, 2334457
Umburana296, 496146, 218, 235
Umburana Branca455
Plants with use specified by the author.
Table 2. Useful plants from the Cerrado cited by J.G. Rosa in 7 of his books.
Popular names/possible scientific names and familiesBook*: pageUses
Alcanfor, pé-de-perdiz/Croton antisyphiliticus Mart. (Euphorbiaceae)UP: 31,153; SAG: 243Remedy
Almecega, almesca/Protium heptaphyllum
(Aubl.) Marchand (Burseraceae)1
GSV: 177; NS: 167Resin
Angelim-umburana/Andira spp. (Fabaceae)NS: 36Aromatic oil for women's hair
Angico/Anadenanthera spp.
See table 1Remedy to heal wounds (bath with the bark)/tannery
Araticu, araticum/Annona spp.
See table 1fruit/candies
Arnica/Lychnophora spp. (Asteraceae)2GSV: 281; PE: 9; SAG: 243; TUT:50Remedy for pain and edema
Aroeira/Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi (Anacardiaceae)1GSV: 151Tannery
Assa-peixe/Vernonanthura polyanthes (Spreng.) Vega & Dematt. (Asteraceae)2See table 1Remedy for ocular inflammation
Barbatimão/Stryphnodendron spp. (Fabaceae)1,2See table 1Tannery/coal/wood/cork
Buriti/Mauritia flexuosa L.f. (Arecaceae)See table 1Liqueur/wine/candies/food/construction/handcrafts (networks, mat, ropes, baskets, bags, boxes).
Cabriúva/Myroxylon peruiferum L.f. (Fabaceae)NS 32Balsamic, odoriferous
Cagaiteira/Eugenia dysenterica (Mart.) DC. (Myrtaceae)MAMI: 152,177; UP: 187; NS: 47, 158; SAG: 191Tea/fruit
Cambará/Lantana camara L. (Verbenaceae)SAG: 56, 257–258Witchcraft
Candeia, guia-torto/Eremanthus spp. (Asteraceae)1GSV: 469; UP: 160; TUT: 51, 52Fuel
Canela-de-ema/Vellozia spp.
See table 1Fuel
Carne de vaca/Roupala montana Aubl. (Proteaceae)NS: 166–167Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Caroba-do-campo/Jacaranda caroba (Vell.) DC.
NS: 34; PE: 62Remedy
Carqueja/Baccharis crispa Spreng. (Asteraceae)1,2UP: 31Remedy
Congonha/Rudgea viburnoides (Cham.) Benth.
See table 1Tea
Faveira/Dimorphandra mollis Benth. (Fabaceae)See table 1Liqueur/wood for construction
Fumo/Nicotiana tabacum L. (Solanaceae)See table 1Remedy
Gabiroba/Campomanesia pubescens (Mart. ex DC.) O.Berg (Myrtaceae)SAG: 177, 196Fruit/perfum
Gameleira/FicusgomelleiraKunth(Moraceae)UP: 208Remedy (milk)
Goiabeira/Psidium guajava L. (Myrtaceae)UP: 213, 232 NS: 310Tea
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 1Perfum/fruits
Ingá/Inga vera Willd. (Fabaceae)GSV: 251; NS: 167; PE: 79; SAG: 43Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Ipê, caraíba/Handroanthus spp., Tabebuia spp. (Bignoniaceae)2See table 1Wood for construction
Jatobá/Hymenaea courbaril L., H. stigonocarpa Mart. ex Hayne (Fabaceae)2See table 1Remedy, resin
Jequitibá/Cariniana spp. (Lecythidaceae)1,2See table 1Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Joá/Ziziphus joazeiro Mart. (Rhamnaceae)MAMI: 68; SAG: 27,13, 252Fruits
João-da-costa/Peltastes peltatus (Vell.) Woodson (Apocynaceae)UP: 31Remedy
Jurema/Mimosa spp. (Fabaceae)GSV: 462Tea
Landim, olandim/Calophyllum brasiliense Cambess. (Calophyllaceae)NS: 166–167Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Língua-de-teiú/Casearia sylvestris Sw. (Salicaceae)1UP: 31Remedy
Lobeira/Solanum lycocarpum A.St.-Hil. (Solanaceae)See table 1Fruits/ornamental
Macaúba/Acrocomia aculeata (Jacq.) Lodd. ex Mart. (Arecaceae)GSV: 126, 256, 411Soap
Malva-do-campo/Kielmeyera rosea Mart. & Zucc. (Calophyllaceae)UP: 235; PE: 9; SAG: 175Ornamental
Mamão/Carica papaya L. (Caricaceae)UP 259Leaves clean/clear clothes
Mangabeira, mangabas/Hancornia speciosa Gomes
See table 1Fruits/candies
Marcela-do-campo/Achyrocline satureioides (Lam.)
DC. (Asteraceae)
GSV: 205; MAMI: 37Pillow/tea
Marmelada-de-cachorro/Cordiera sessilis
(Vell.) Kuntze (Rubiaceae)
NS: 167; UP: 151Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Murici/Byrsonima verbascifolia (L.) DC.
See table 1Fruit/fuel
Paineira/Ceiba speciosa (A.St.-Hil.) Ravenna (Malvaceae)See table 1Ornamental
Pau bate-caixa, bate-caixa/Palicourea rigida Kunth
See table 1Perfum
Pau-d’óleo/Copaifera langsdorffii Desf. (Fabaceae)1,2See table 1Wood for construction
Pau-pombo/Tapirira guianensis Aubl.
GSV: 90, 449; NS: 167Observed in river banks (potentially useful in the restoration of gallery forests)
Pau-doce/Vochysia tucanorum Mart. (Vochysiaceae)GSV: 423; MAMI: 157; NS: 160; SAG: 319Ornamental
Pau-ferro/Libidibia ferrea (Mart. ex Tul.) L.P.Queiroz (Fabaceae)NS: 40Construction
Pau-santo/Kielmeyera speciosa A.St.-Hil. (Calophyllaceae)NS: 160; UP: 101; SAG: 196, 319Ornamental
Pequizeiro, pequi/Caryocar brasiliense Cambess.
See table 1Liqueur/fruit
Peroba/Aspidosperma tomentosum Mart.
GSV: 89; UP: 214; SAG: 37; TUT: 190Wood for construction
Pimenta-de-macaco, pindaíba/Xylopia aromatica (Lam.) Mart. or Xylopia sericea A.St.-Hil. (Annonaceae)See table 1Remedy for chest pain/tea
Pitanga/Eugenia pitanga (O. Berg) Kiaersk.
GSV: 265; PE: 9; SAG: 154, 370Fruit
Tingui/Magonia pubescens A.St.-Hil. (Sapindaceae)See table 1Soap/fruit/fuel
Unha-de-vaca-roxa/Bauhinia spp. (Fabaceae)2UP: 31Remedy
Velame-branco/Mandevilla velame (A.St.-Hil.) Pichon (Apocynaceae)2PE: 9Ornamental
See other popular names in the list (Supplementary material).
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.
Paths taken by Guimarães Rosa through the “sertão”.
Fig. 1.
Paths taken by Guimarães Rosa through the “sertão”.
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.

Authors’ contributions

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.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

The following are the supplementary data to this article:


    • Abreu et al., 2013
    • V.G. Abreu, G.M. Correa, T.M. Silva, H.S. Fontoura, D.C. Cara, D. Piló-Veloso, A.F. Alcântara
    • Anti-inflammatory effects in muscle injury by transdermal application of gel with Lychnophora pinaster aerial parts using phonophoresis in rats
    • BMC Complem. Altern. Med., 20 (2013) http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-13-270
    • Brandão et al., 2011
    • M.G.L. Brandão, C.F.F. Grael, C.W. Fagg
    • European naturalists and medicinal plants of Brazil
    • O. Grillo, G. Venora (Eds.), Biological Diversity and Sustainable Resources Use, vol. 101–120, Intech, Croatia (2011) 158pp.
    • Carvalho, 2003
    • A.C.D. Carvalho
    • Feiticeiros, burlões e mistificadores: criminalidade e mudança nas práticas populares de saúde em São Paulo, 1950 a 1980
    • Editora UNESP, São Paulo (2003)
    • Fagg et al., 2014
    • C.W. Fagg, E.N. Lughadha, W. Milliken, D.N. Hind, M.G.L. Brandão
    • Useful Brazilian plants listed in the manuscripts and publications of the Scottish medic and naturalist George Gardner (1810–1849)
    • J. Ethnopharmacol., 161 (2014), pp. 18–29
    • Medeiros, 2008
    • M.F.T. Medeiros
    • Historical Ethnobotany: an approach through historical documents and their implications now days
    • U.P. Albuquerque, N. Hanzaki (Eds.), Recent Development and Case Studies in Ethnobotany, Brazilian Society of Ethnobiology and Ethnoecology, Recife (2008), pp. 127–142
    • Medeiros et al., 2013
    • P.M. Medeiros, A.H. Ladio, U.P. Albuquerque
    • Patterns of medicinal plant use by inhabitants of Brazilian urban and rural areas: a macroscale investigation based on available literature
    • J. Ethnopharmacol., 150 (2013), pp. 729–746
    • |
    • Meyer, 2008
    • M. Meyer
    • Ser-tão Natureza. A natureza em Guimarães Rosa
    • Editora da UFMG, Belo Horizonte (2008)
    • Oliveira et al., 2011
    • L.M. Oliveira, C.M. Bevilaqua, I.T. Macedo, S.M. Morais, M.V. Monteiro, C.C. Campello, W.L. Ribeiro, E.K. Batista
    • Effect of six tropical tanniferous plant extracts on larval exsheathment of Haemonchus contortus
    • Rev. Bras. Parasitol., 20 (2011), pp. 155–160
    • Rosa, 1986
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Grande sertão: veredas
    • (36th ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (1986)
    • Rosa, 1984a
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Manuelzão e Miguilim
    • (9th ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (1984)
    • Rosa, 2001a
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Noites do sertão
    • (9th ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (2001)
    • Rosa, 2001b
    • J.G. Rosa
    • No Urubuquaquá, no Pinhém
    • (9th ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (2001)
    • Rosa, 1988
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Primeiras Estórias
    • (47ª impressão)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (1988)
    • Rosa, 1984b
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Sagarana
    • (31st ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (1984)
    • Rosa, 1985
    • J.G. Rosa
    • Tutaméia (Terceiras Estórias)
    • (6th ed.)Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro (1985)
    • Silva-Júnior, 2005
    • M.C. Silva-Júnior
    • 100 Árvores do Cerrado: Guia de Campo
    • Rede de Sementes do Cerrado, Brasília (2005)
    • Silva-Júnior and Pereira, 2009
    • M.C. Silva-Júnior, B.A.S. Pereira
    • Mais 100 Árvores do Cerrado – Matas de Galeria: Guia de Campo
    • Rede de Sementes do Cerrado, Brasília (2009)
    • Temponi et al., 2012
    • V.S. Temponi, J.B. Silva, M.S. Alves, A. Ribeiro, R.G.P.J. Jesus, C.H. Yamamoto, M.A. Pinto, V.G. Del-Vechio, O.V. Vieira-Sousa
    • Antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of ethanol extract from Vernonia polyanthes leaves in rodends
    • Int. J. Mol. Sci., 13 (2012), pp. 3887–3899
    •  | 
Corresponding author.