The Significance of Medicinal Plants in Ecuador

Walking into a local drug store, we are surrounded by an abundance of medicines including those that are available without a prescription. But have you ever taken the time to think of how medicines are produced or created? Well with a little research you will be surprised to see that more than 40% of all prescription medicines originate from natural plant sources, and without these plants most medicines would all but disappear from the shelves.

You may be curious to understand how plants became such a valuable source of medicinal products. Was it by accident? To a degree much of it was. Taking a look back into history, we realize that the discovery of plants for medicinal purposes was by trial and error as ancient peoples by chance started using specific plants for certain aches and pains. Over the centuries, the knowledge of these plants grew within the different cultures and were inevitably passed down through the generations.

With these vital contributions of information, botanists and chemists around the world have continued relentlessly examining the plant kingdom in search of new medicines that could possibly cure some of the deadliest diseases known to man- AIDS and cancer. Statistics show that there are more than 250,000 different plant species around the world. However only two percent have been screened for potential medicinal use.

Unfortunately, man may never discover the many hidden truths that exist in these native plant habitats every twenty minutes one species of plant life is being lost. With more than 3,500 human lives are being added each twenty minutes, experts estimated a loss of 240 acres per hour which is attributed directly to the massive growth in the human population. To date only eight percent of the world’s natural forests are protected thus causing further loss and destruction to the plant kingdom. This of course is not the only cause of loss of native plant species. Illegal trade, over harvesting, and a lack of replanting is also leaving exacerbating losses across the globe, including in Ecuador.

Ecuador which is known to contain over 500 different species of medicinal plants is also being hard hit by losses to its domestic plant life and ecosystem. In Ecuador, 228 of the most common plants are endangered with 125 of that amount used as part of the most popular and commercially successful essential oils and pulverized extract products. Some examples of these essential Ecuadorian plants include: Cat’s Claw, Cinnamon, Zaragotana, Dragon Blood, Laurel, Walnut, Balsam, Inchi and Cascarilla.