The Not-So Rosy Periwinkle: Political Dimensions of Medicinal Plant Research

Janice Harper

Abstract


As pharmaceutical companies and conservation groups increasingly recognize the biomedical and economic potential
of indigenous medicines from tropical rainforests, romanticized stereotypes of rainforest medicines as inherently
beneficial abound. These ideas fail to take into consideration
the question of why those living in the rainforest
need medicines, and whether or not “traditional” medicines
are a “choice” to those who do not have access to pharmaceutical medicines. This paper presents a theoretical
analysis of how the study and practice of commodifying
indigenous medicines has tended to exclude the structural
factors shaping their use in indigenous communities, drawing on 14 months’ ethnographic research on access
to medicines near the Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar. I suggest that researchers and practitioners of conservation and development consider the ways in which “modernizing” tropical rainforest communities
shapes patterns of health and illness unevenly, thereby contributing to changing medical “traditions.”

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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