Documenting Cameroon's medicinal and cultural orchid trade
In many countries and cultures, orchids are harvested and traded for their medicinal properties. This includes large trades for Traditional Chinese Medicine and South Asian Ayervedic Medicine.
However, very little is known about the medicinal trade in orchids--including across most of the African continent.
A recent study has highlighted the medicinal and cultural importance of wild orchids in Cameroon. Focused on the humid tropical forests of the Mount Cameroon Region, the authors interviewed 50 herbalists and orchid experts to explore their ethnobotanical uses.
They reported a wide range of medicinal and cultural uses, ranging from cures for stomach-ulcers to snake-repellant to treatments for epilepsy. Many orchid species are also associated with magic and folklore--including as love charms, to protect against sorcery, and to bring luck.
Cameroon's wild orchid trade involves at least 23 native orchid species across 13 genera, including Angraecum, Ansellia, Bulbophyllum, Liparis, Habenaria, Graphorkis and Polystachya.
Little is known about the conservation impacts of this harvest. However, at least one of the most highly-used species--Ansellia africana--is likely under threat.
The use of Ansellia africana has been documented across several traditional pharmacopeias, and has biologically active compounds of global interest for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Although widely distributed across neotropical and subtropical Africa, Ansellia africana is designated on the IUCN Red List as 'Vulnerable', with decreasing and fragmented populations--including due to unsuitable harvest. However, the exact distribution and population dynamics of this species have not been researched in most countries, including Cameroon.
This research reveals the large, diverse and largely unresearched trade in medicinal and culturally-important orchids. It also highlights the potential significance of medicinal orchids for populations globally, and the need to protect and sustainably manage orchid resources.
Bhattacharyya, P., Van Staden, J., 2016. Ansellia africana (Leopard orchid): a medicinal orchid species with untapped reserves of important biomolecules—a mini review. South African Journal of Botany 106:181-185.
Fonge, B.A., Essomo, S.E., Bechem, T.E., Tabot, P.T., Arrey, B.D., Afanga, Y., Assoua, E.M., 2019. Market trends and ethnobotany of orchids of Mount Cameroon. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 15:29.