Medicinal plants in cultures of Afro-descendant communities in Brazil, Europe and Africa

ABSTRACT Ethnomedicine focuses on empirical and traditional knowledge of healing practices of different human groups, including the use of plants as medicine. We aimed to determine whether there is consensus regarding the use of plants in traditional medicine of Afro-descendant communities in Brazil, Europe and Africa. Data were obtained through interviews, walks-in-the-woods, participant observations and bibliographic searches. We analyzed similarities among data sets to determine whether there is convergence in the use of traditional medicinal plants among these communities considering that they share influence from African culture and a common spoken language (Portuguese). Similarities among communities were assessed through cluster analysis using presence or absence data for the variables. We recorded 405 medicinal plants, most of which were spontaneously occurring, although some were cultivated. The most represented botanical families were Asteraceae and Lamiaceae. Similarity in medicinal plants among communities was found to be tenuous due to the biogeographical and spatial characteristics of the biomes, and to historical and cultural peculiarities of each locality, resulting in different sets of medicinal plants. This study contributes to understanding the role of the historical legacies of the African diaspora and of European (Portuguese) expansion in the adaptation and maintenance of new elements in local floras.