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People, plants and health: a conceptual framework for assessing changes in medicinal plant consumption

Carsten Smith-Hall*, Helle Overgaard Larsen and Mariève Pouliot

Author Affiliations

Department of Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 23, Frederiksberg C, 1958, Denmark

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2012, 8:43  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-8-43

Published: 13 November 2012

Abstract

Background

A large number of people in both developing and developed countries rely on medicinal plant products to maintain their health or treat illnesses. Available evidence suggests that medicinal plant consumption will remain stable or increase in the short to medium term. Knowledge on what factors determine medicinal plant consumption is, however, scattered across many disciplines, impeding, for example, systematic consideration of plant-based traditional medicine in national health care systems. The aim of the paper is to develop a conceptual framework for understanding medicinal plant consumption dynamics. Consumption is employed in the economic sense: use of medicinal plants by consumers or in the production of other goods.

Methods

PubMed and Web of Knowledge (formerly Web of Science) were searched using a set of medicinal plant key terms (folk/peasant/rural/traditional/ethno/indigenous/CAM/herbal/botanical/phytotherapy); each search terms was combined with terms related to medicinal plant consumption dynamics (medicinal plants/health care/preference/trade/treatment seeking behavior/domestication/sustainability/conservation/urban/migration/climate change/policy/production systems). To eliminate studies not directly focused on medicinal plant consumption, searches were limited by a number of terms (chemistry/clinical/in vitro/antibacterial/dose/molecular/trial/efficacy/antimicrobial/alkaloid/bioactive/inhibit/antibody/purification/antioxidant/DNA/rat/aqueous). A total of 1940 references were identified; manual screening for relevance reduced this to 645 relevant documents. As the conceptual framework emerged inductively, additional targeted literature searches were undertaken on specific factors and link, bringing the final number of references to 737.

Results

The paper first defines the four main groups of medicinal plant users (1. Hunter-gatherers, 2. Farmers and pastoralists, 3. Urban and peri-urban people, 4. Entrepreneurs) and the three main types of benefits (consumer, producer, society-wide) derived from medicinal plants usage. Then a single unified conceptual framework for understanding the factors influencing medicinal plant consumption in the economic sense is proposed; the framework distinguishes four spatial levels of analysis (international, national, local, household) and identifies and describes 15 factors and their relationships.

Conclusions

The framework provides a basis for increasing our conceptual understanding of medicinal plant consumption dynamics, allows a positioning of existing studies, and can serve to guide future research in the area. This would inform the formation of future health and natural resource management policies.

Keywords:
Medicinal plants; Traditional medicine; Health; Global