The Healing Power of Rainforest Plants

The Tropical Plant Database


General Guidelines

You will find the following types of information in most plant database files: family, genus, and species; common names; parts used; properties and actions; main text on the plant; ethnobotanical worldwide uses of the plant; and phytochemical information. Some plant database files are still under construction and do not contain all types of information.

Properties & Actions:

Scientists, herbalists, and practitioners refer to the biological or pharmacological properties or actions of plants using specifically defined words like anti-inflammatory, diuretic, spasmolytic, and so on. The listing of properties and actions shown in the first table summarizes the documented actions and properties that have been attributed to the plant either through laboratory research, practitioner uses and observations, and various USDA databases in this industry standard terminology. This table summary makes no distinction on which part of the plant has been documented with a specific action. The leaf of a plant might be documented with a particular property and the bark or root of that same plant may be documented with completely different properties and actions. These properties and actions are then discussed in more detail in the text section on the plant database file so please refer to the table as just a summary.

Main Text on the Plants:

The main text provides referenced information about each plant. This information generally includes what the plant looks like; where and how it grows; the history of its uses by rainforest inhabitants and Indian tribes; current uses in different countries and in herbal medicine; methods of preparation; how various parts of the plants are used; and a summary of the results of scientific research conducted on the plant. This summarizes the research we've been able to compile from sources we deemed to be reliable up to the date it was written and may contain omissions or errors in fact, and/or become outdated. It outlines the documented history of uses but should no way be construed to make any medical claims about the ability or efficacy of any of these plants to treat, prevent or mitigate any disease or condition. Although a plant may have a long history of being used for a particular purpose, scientific evidence proving its efficacy for that purpose may be lacking.

Scientific Research:

An overview of scientific research and clinical data about each plant is provided in the text. Complete citations of any studies referenced in the text are footnoted below the text. In most database files, a programmed link to the available published reseach journal articles and clinical studies cataloged at the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Database has been provided for convenience and to keep the information timely and updated as new journal articles are published. Non-professionals should use care in evaluating these research studies and abstracts and get help from a qualified professional in their interpretation and meaning if necessary. For example, within the text of the database file as well as an abstracted study at PubMed you should see (and look for) the distinction as to whether the research was performed in vivo or in vitro. In vivo studies refer to research that has been performed on animals or humans to determine a drug's effects on mammals. In vitro studies refer to research that is conducted "in the test tube." A good example are studies which are performed on plants looking for an antibacterial activity. An in vitro study would simply place a bacteria in a test tube or a petrie dish and place the plant or some form of liquid extract of the plant in with the bacteria to determine whether or not it kills the bacteria directly. An in vivo study might inoculate an animal with a bacteria, and then administer the plant or extract to the animal to determine the ability of the actual dosage administered to efficaceously or medically treat the resulting bacterial infection in the animal.

Clearly, in vivo studies are much more effective in verifying a plant's uses and how it might affect a tested mechanism. Yet, as professionals know, this is just a point of reference as well. How a plant might affect a rat or mouse does not always relate to how it will affect humans because chemicals are not always processed, absorbed or provide the same results or interactions in humans as they do animals. Readers should also understand that scientific research is in no manner standardized, and different results can and will be demonstrated in published studies based on the methods and quality of research protocols employed by the researcher. Even some human in vivo studies can have questionable results based upon what study methods were used. If you are a lay person without any expertise to evaluate information of this nature, you should obtain assistance from qualified professionals for accurate interpretation and dissemination of this type of medical and scientific information.

Ethnobotany: Worldwide Uses Table:

Ethnic uses of plants can be very important, especially to the researchers. If a plant has been used in a specific way for a specific purpose for many years and in many different geographical areas, there is probably a reason for it. It is this ethnobotany that helps scientists target which plants to research first and what to study them for. In fact, the majority of our plant-based drugs or pharmaceuticals were discovered through this ethnobotanical research and documentation process.

The Ethnobotany table in the plant database files summarizes the documented ethnobotany or ethnic uses of the plant. This information includes the plant's properties and actions as well as specific conditions and illnesses for which the plant has been utilized by people around the world. It includes documented tribal or indigenous uses, as well as documented current uses in herbal medicine by herbal and natural health practitioners. This information summarizes how all parts of the plants are employed, without distinction. The information shown in the table should only be used as a reference, and the main body of the text will review it in more detail.

Again, you must be observant when reviewing the ethnobotany documentation provided. Although a plant may be documented to be anti-inflammatory, the ethnic use may well be as a topical inflammatory aid for something such as skin rashes rather than taken internally as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis or stomach inflammation. Or, many tribal remedies documented and employed by indigenous people call for a specific plant to be placed in bath water for a "bathing remedy" rather than taken internally. Other times, a disease or condition like herpes or malaria may be independently documented and listed in the Ethnobotany table; the text, however, may reveal that the specific plant has been employed as an aid to treat such symptoms as fever or lesions rather than being used as an antiviral or antimalarial aid to directly affect the illness or disease causing pathogen. For these reasons, it is important to read the main text on the plant and use the ethnobotany tables only as a general reference. Again, this information is simply a summary of historical uses for the plant. It is NOT any medical claim that it has been clinically proven to cure or mitigate or to be effective against any of these listed diseases or conditions in any way.

The information on the ethnic uses of the plants, as well as their current uses in herbal medicine, has been compiled from many publications, journals, and books by various authors, herbalists, botanists, and ethnobotanists including the Duke Ethnobotany Database.

Phytochemical Information

Most plant database pages show a phytochemical data table. Phyto means plant, so phytochemicals simply refers to the chemicals that are found in the plant. Many lay readers will never need or use this type of information. Phytochemical data, however, is sometimes very difficult to access, and many medical professionals, pharmacists, botanists, ethnobotanists, researchers, scientists, and alternative health professionals will value this compiled information. Often, the plant's documented uses or actions will be closely tied to specific chemicals found in the plant that have been tested and documented to have specific pharmacological and biological activities. In other words, it helps explain why the plant works for or is used for certain things. For example; a plant with an ethic use as a heart tonic or heart remedy may be a natural source of a plant chemical named coumarin. Coumarin is widely known in the medical profession as the source of the blood-thinning drug coumadin (marketed as WARFARIN) which tells the experienced professional; a) why the natural plant was probably used for this purpose and; b) alerts the professional that possible side effects or contraindications might exist if a person is already on blood thinning drugs or if a surgery was anticipated when blood thinning agents were contraindicated.

Again, the phytochemical data provided is a summary of some of the chemicals that have been documented to exist in the plant from various independent sources including the Duke Phytochemical Database. It does not include every known chemical in the plant, and no distinction has been made as to which chemicals are found in the different parts of the plant (leaves, fruit, bark, and so on). Therefore, the phytochemical data is not all-inclusive or complete. It is provided for a general reference for the more experienced reader or researcher.


If you are an individual looking for answers or products for a serious medical disease or condition, always seek the advice and help of qualified professionals. There are many health professionals available with practical education and experience with herbs, supplements, nutrition and dietary recommendations. Find one. The internet is a good place to begin your research, especially looking up and verifying recommended products, therapy and treatments; both conventional and complementary. However, don't start and end there. Get qualified help and advice from experienced health professionals. Many plants and herbs have active biological properties and should be treated with care, respect and knowledge.

This is an informational site only and no products are sold. The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained in the Tropical Plant Database is intended for education, entertainment and information purposes only. This information is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe or replace proper medical care. Please refer to our Conditions of Usefor using this plant database file and web site.