Living Pharmacy

Plant-based remedies are regularly hailed by the popular media and the conservation community to support the notion that the tropics’ diverse floral resources are an invaluable and largely untapped source of new pharmaceutical products. Such discussions frequently emphasize the importance of medicinal plants in the Brazilian Amazon—the largest contiguous reservoir of forest on Earth. Notably, although these discussions highlight the global consequences of biodiversity loss for pharmaceutical development, they rarely mention the local consequences of biological impoverishment for the health care of millions of Amazonians who depend on plant-based medicinals. More than 80% of the developing world continues to rely on traditional medicines, predominantly plants, for primary health care. In the Amazon, medicinal plants serve as the main form of health care for a majority of the populace. For large numbers of rural and urban poor people in this region, medicinal plants offer the only available treatments for both minor and serious ailments. Plant-based medicinals are now spread over the Yawarani community in different forested areas. Although Yawanawá people have always been involved in the conservation of these species, they have never been catalogued and they are now threated by different land uses (i.e.: logging in the neighboring areas and slash and burn practices for subsistence agriculture). This project will then contribute to the conservation and restoration of these threatened species. These plants are essential “highways” to Amazon wildlife too, as they are all native. On top of that, by restoring and preserving medicinal plants we will be safeguarding natural genetic diversity. More importantly, if traditional knowledge and use about these species is not learned by young generations it may be lost forever. The project aims at rescuing this knowledge over the next five years, at the same time of decreasing biodiversity loss and generating livelihood development.


In 1999 the Yawanawá people had two healing shamans (pajé, in Portuguese) and five people specialized in medicinal plants. Today, however, there is just few people who has the traditional knowledge about the different species. Although tropical medicinal plants are lauded by the international media and used by millions of Brazilians, information on the ecology and biodiversity of medicinal plants in the Brazilian Amazon has been surprisingly limited. The ethnobotanical initiatives on the Amazon includes a number of excellent botanical and biochemical studies of medicinal plants. However, with few exceptions, very little work has been done on the restoration of the ecology and biodiversity of Amazonian medicinals. It is urgent to start considering the implications of deforestation for individual medicinal species, as forest degradation will reduce access to some forest-based medicinals. More seriously, valuable ancient knowledge and nature’s gifts are being lost at an alarming rate. Our project will mainly address the urgent opportunity of valuing deep ecological and biodiversity consciousness and knowledge that focus on the physical and spiritual health of their people and environment. There are just few populations left in the Amazon that can utilize this traditional knowledge and the Yawanawá is one of them. In the past two years they have been gathering in order to formulate their life plan, facilitated by Forest Trends, and the restoration and conservation of medicinal plants is one of the main objectives of the group for the future years. This project aims at being a first step to address this gap. With such an aim we will use a different approach to understanding traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) than the westernized use-value and commodification. Instead of stemming from pharmaceutical frameworks and symptom-based classification symptoms that categorize plants only based on their usefulness to humans, we will adopt an overall ecological and spiritual approach that stabilizes an entire ecology—including humans in this interconnected web (see methods for details). Our project will then not only increase the understanding of the different plants species, but also the other organisms that are part of their biocomplex. These understandings need to take place before the shamans and healers die—because it risks never being restored.


  • Ethno botanic mapping of high value medicinal and aromatic plants are documented in their natural habitat within 1 year, at present there are no species documented. 
  • 1 Nursery and 2 forest gardens are established to provide the replication and restoration of 50 species of high value medicinal plants for healing and spiritual purposes, at present there is no nursery and forest gardens. 
  • Training of 3 healers in traditional ecological and spiritural knowledge, currently there is just 1. 
  • Yawarani Center for Traditional Learning starts to be used and ecological wisdom sharing begins between 2 healers and 15 youth in 1 year, at present the center is not being used for learning purposes.

The main beneficiaries of this initiative include: Medicinal plants; Wildlife; Elderly; Youth; Women; 22 households in Yawarani; Other communities in the Yawanawá land; Future generations.


Our project assumes that there are no isolated beings as they belong to a vast web of relationships. We believe that ecological stability during times of change is a way to honor the relationship between traditional people and their landscape and foster the passing on of this knowledge in a holistic way. Traditional healers have a deep knowledge of the inter-relationships of plant species and wildlife, how they work together, of plant and animal synergistic relationships, and of plant and human interconnections and energies. Based on concepts of deep-ecology our main actions will concentrate on understanding the deeper relationships of what maintains healthy biodiversity as a reflection of connection to health, wealth, and spirituality. By doing so, we believe that we will successfully achieve our long term goals. With such an aim, we will: (i) help the existing healer to use his knowledge for linking the physical and non-physical relationships with the flora and fauna, by understanding the depth of these webs; (ii) identify the medicinal tree and plant species which have over time become rare and endangered in their natural habitats; (iii) establish baseline data about different species; (iv) select participating members of the village and align expectations; (v) promote in situ and ex situ conservation of endangered and non-endangered species; (vi) monitor and document conservation and restoration activities; (vii) train and involve the youth in all activities by reconnecting them with their traditional identity and lifestyle; (viii) create a catalogue with a botanical inventory of the village.

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