Maternity and Medicinal Plants in Vanuatu. I. The Cycle of Reproduction

J Ethnopharmacol. 1992 Oct;37(3):179-96. doi: 10.1016/0378-8741(92)90033-n.


Ethnobotanical data collection to select pharmacologically active species was carried out within a clearly defined therapeutic context: those plants used during the course of a woman's reproductive life. Extensive bibliographical and field data collection and cross-examination of the information thus gathered have provided us with a clearer picture of the effectiveness of these plant species. Various concepts, behaviours and practices relating to menstruation, pregnancy, birth and birth control were examined in detail from an ethnopharmacological point of view. A list of selected species of particular interest is proposed for further study.

PIP: Ethnobotanical studies were carried out in Vanuatu from 1985 to 1987. Field ethnopharmacological research aimed at compiling a list of potentially active plants by interviewing a group of old and experienced women and midwives regarding menstruation, conception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum care, nursing, sterility, menopause, and birth control techniques. Plants are administered to speed delivery. Some plants are used throughout the archipelago; examples are burao (Hibiscus tiliaceus, Malvaceae) and an orchid (Dendrobium sp.) In order to have plenty of milk, mothers are kept on a diet of taro, sweet potato, and cooked papaya fruit supplemented with the young fronds of edible ferns, lightly boiled (Cyathea sp., Diplazium sp., Tectaria latifolia, Microlepia speluncae and Hypolepis sp.). New mothers are encouraged to drink a great deal of coconut water. Sometimes the sap of plants (such as Ipomoea sp., Merremia peltata, or Ficus adenosperma) is added to the coconut water. Contraceptive plants are rarely used as methods for spacing births; abstinence during breastfeeding is more prevalent. Plants are more commonly used for sterilization. Of the 1200-odd species of Vanuatu flora, 10% are used for purposes relating to human reproduction. After analyzing raw data based on the results obtained in the Vanuatu archipelago and a review of the relevant literature, a list of particularly interesting species was prepared. From this list, the following 5 species were selected for preliminary pharmacological screening: Asplenium nidus, Hemigraphis reptans, Dysoxylum gaudichaudianum, Omalanthus nutans, Pemphis acidula. The use of H. reptans was claimed to reverse sterility induced by A. nidus. D. gaudichaudianum and O. nutans were known among the informants as abortive agents. P. acidula, known to be used only in Vanuatu, was not mentioned in the literature surveyed.

MeSH terms

  • Family Planning Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility / therapy
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Melanesia
  • Menstruation Disturbances / therapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal / classification*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy*