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An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea

Ronald Y Jorim1, Seva Korape1, Wauwa Legu1, Michael Koch2, Louis R Barrows2*, Teatulohi K Matainaho1 and Prem P Rai1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Papua New Guinea, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, PO Box 5623, Boroko, NCD, Papua New Guinea

2 Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Utah, 30 S. 2000 E, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2012, 8:47  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-8-47

Published: 18 December 2012



The Eastern Highlands area of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a rich tradition of medicinal plant use. However, rapid modernization is resulting in the loss of independent language traditions and consequently a loss of individuals knowledgeable in medicinal plant use. This report represents a program to document and preserve traditional knowledge concerning medicinal plant use in PNG. This report documents and compares traditional plant use in the Eastern Highlands districts of Unggai-Bena, Okapa, and Obura-Wonenara, and puts these new records in context of previously documented PNG medicinal plant use.


This manuscript is an annotated combination of Traditional Medicines survey reports generated by UPNG trainees using a survey questionnaire titled “Information sheet on traditional herbal reparations and medicinal plants of PNG”. The Traditional Medicines survey project is supported by WHO, US NIH and PNG governmental health care initiatives and funding.


Overall, after “poisoning” (synonymous with “magic”) the most commonly recorded ailments addressed by medicinal plant use were pain, gynecological disease, gastrointestinal maladies, anemia or malnutrition and malaria. However, the recorded indications for plant use varied widely amongst the different survey locations. Unlike many areas of PNG, mixing of ingredients was the most common mode of preparation recorded, except for two areas where the consumption of fresh plant material was more common. Throughout the Eastern Highlands oral administration was most common, with topical application second. Overall, leaves were most commonly used in the preparations of the healers interviewed, followed by bark and stems. Several new medicinal uses of plants were also documented.


Collaboration between the WHO, UPNG and the PNG Department of Health initiated Traditional Medicine survey program in order to preserve traditional knowledge concerning medicinal plant use in PNG. This effort promotes integration of effective and accessible traditional practices with Western protocols. The Traditional Medicine surveys are particularly important because, in the absence of the clinical validation, the documentation of the consistent use of a given plant for specific indication by a large number of herbalists, across a wide range of ethnic traditions, maybe considered as a positive criterion for the promulgation of said use amongst PNG’s recently formed traditional healer associations.

Papua New Guinea; Eastern Highlands; Medicinal Plants; Obura-Wonenara; Unggai-Bena; Okapa