Medicinal plants

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American medicinal plants, particularly those of Mexico, attracted attention immediately after the discovery and it was with these plants that scientific studies of the New World began. For European medicine, which was still at a medieval stage, the discovery of the purgative properties of Ipomaea jalapa, the Michoacan root, was evidently sufficient reason to justify Dr Francisco Hernández' (1517- 1587) expedition to New Spain. Numerous plants were included in the European pharmacopoeia and some of them, despite their synthetic substitutes, are still of worldwide importance; for example, the genera Cinchona, Dioscorea, Ipecacuanha and Smilax. The first three of these have been cultivated but a large proportion of their supply for consumption is gathered. Most medicinal substances are obtained from the wild plants and, in many cases, it is not certain if they have the properties attributed to them. Bordering on the medicinal area are the hallucinogenic plants, distributed among numerous higher plant families; for instance, the Cactaceae (Lophophora, Tricholerus), the Leguminosae (Adenunthera, Erythrina), the Myristicaceae (Virola) or fungi (Psylocibe).

TABLE 1 Cultivated plants originating in the New World, and their probable distribution at the time of the discovery

Family and species Common names Distribution
CEREALS AND OTHER GRAINS
Amaranthaceae    
Amaranthus caudatus Love-lies-bleeding, cat-tail, Inca wheat, tumbleweed achis, achita, ataco, coima, kiwicha, sangorache Ecuador, Argentina
Amaranthus cruentus Chian, alegria United States (New Mexico), Guatemala
Amaranthus hypochondriacus Prince's feather, huautli, alegria United States (New Mexico), Guatemala
Gramineae    
Zea mays Maize Canada, Argentina
Bromus mango Brome(grass), wild rye Chile
Elymus sp. Teca Chile
Compositae    
Iva annua - United States
Chenopodiaceae    
Chenopodium pallidicaule Canihua, qañiwa, cañahua Peru, Bolivia
Chenopodium quinoa Quinoa, quinua, suba Colombia, Chile
Chenopodium sp. (att. buschianum) - United States
Martyniaceae    
Proboscidea parviflora New Mexico devil's claw United States
SPICES AND CONDIMENTS
Apocynaceae    
Fernaldia pandurata Loroco El Salvador
Bombacaceae    
Quararibea funebris Cacaoxochitl Mexico
Cyperaceae    
Cyperus sp. Flatsedge, pripreoca Amazon region
Compositae    
Eupatorium ayapana Ayapana Amazon region
Porophyllum ruderale Poreleaf, quiliquiña Bolivia
Spitanthes oleracea    
(Spilanthes acmella var. oleracea) Pará cress, berro Peru
Tagetes graveolens Huacatay Peru Bolivia
Tagetes mandoni Huacatay, suico Peru Bolivia
Myrtaceae    
Pimenta dioica Allspice, pimento, Mexico, Guatemala, Antilles
(Pimenta officinalis) Jamaica pepper  
Orchidaceae    
Vanilla planifolia Vanilla Mexico
Chenopodiaceae    
Chenopodium ambrosioides Wormseed, Mexican tea, epazote Mexico, Peru
Solanaceae    
Capsicum annuum Pepper, chili, pimento, bird pepper United States, northern South America
Capsicum baccatum   South America
Capsicum chinese   Northern South America
Capsicum frutescens   Mesoamerica
Capsicum pubescens   Ecuador, Bolivia
Umbelliferae    
Eryngium foetidum Mountain coriander, eryngo Mesoamerica, Antilles
STIMULANTS
Agavaceae    
Agave cocui Cocuy Venezuela
Agave mapisiga - Mexico
Agave salmiana Pulque, aguamiel Mesoamerica
Aquifoliaceae    
Ilex paraguariensis Mate, Brazilian tea, Paraguay tea Paraguay, Argentina
Erythroxilaceae    
Erythroxylum coca Coca, ipadú Northern and central South America
Erythroxylum novo-granatense Peruvian cocaine Western South America
Sterculiaceae    
Theobroma angustifolium Monkey chocolate Mesoamerica
Theobroma cacao Cocoa, cacao Mesoamerica
Sapindaceae    
Paullinia cupana Guarana Brazil
Paullinia yoco Yoco Colombia, Ecuador
FIBRES
Agavaceae    
Agave angustifolia var. letonae Salvador henquen, maguey,letona agave El Salvador
Agave cantala Cantala, Manila maguey, Bombay aloe Mexico
Agave fourcroydes Henequen, henequen agave Mexico
Agave sisalana Sisal, Bahama hemp, true sisal,

sisal agave, green agave

Mexico
Furcraea andina Furcrea, chuchao, cabuya Ecuador, Peru
Furcraea cabuya Cabuya, pita, furcrea Costa Rica, Colombia
Furcraea foetida    
(Furcraea gigantea) Piteira furcrea, giant lily, Mauritius Hemp Colombia, Venezuela
Furcraea humboldtiana Cocuiza, Humboldt furcrea Colombia, Venezuela
Furcraea macrophylla Fique, fique furcrea Colombia
Bromeliaceae    
Aechmea magdalenae Pita floja Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador
Ananas erectifolius Carua Brazil
Neoglaziovia variegate Caroa, carua Brazil
Cyclanthaceae    
Carludovica palmata Toquilla, Panama hat palm Guatemala, Peru, Brazil
Malvaceae    
Gossypium barbadense Sea island cotton, West Indian cotton Northern South America, Guatemala, Belize, Antilles
Gossypium hirsutum Upland cotton, hairy cotton Mesoamerica, Antilles
Palmae    
Attalea funifera Bahia piassava, piassalba, coquilla, piasava, piasaba Brazil

continue


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