What is Ethnobotany?

student in forest, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Ethnobotany is the study of plants and how native cultures use plants or trees for nutritional/medicinal needs, shelter, and other useful methods of living. There are thousands of botanical species that can be found in Central America that have been used medicinally and in other ways by Costa Rican natives for hundreds of years. Explore and enjoy learning about the botanical wonders of the tropics and all that they offer to surrounding ecosystems and native societies.

Aloe Plant (Aloe vera)

aloe plant, Photo Credits: Layla CrabtreeAloe vera is an interesting succulent plant with a lovely rosette foundation. Aloe has large fleshy leaves that rise upward with spines along the edges. The fleshy leaves contain an abundance of moisture and a gel-like substance. Aloe is very drought tolerant because of its ability to hold in moisture. Although botanists believe this plant to be originally from South Africa, aloe vera can be found in the hot tropical climate of Central America.  

Aloe vera can be used topically to treat a variety of skin conditions such as scrapes, burns, insect bites, fungal infections, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Today, aloe’s skin soothing properties have become widely known across the world and most commonly used to soothe sunburns. It’s no surprise that aloe has become a common natural ingredient in many commercial beauty and skin care products such as lotions, shampoos, conditioners, astringents, cosmetics, sunburn soothing gel, and ointments. Some research suggests that when applied to swollen joints or sprains, aloe can reduce the inflammation. The gel of the aloe can be extracted, made into a juice with other fruits or berries, and ingested. The juice is helpful in treating digestive conditions such as heartburn, ulcers, and gastritis. Aloe vera is primarily part of the Asphodelaceae family.

Bananas (Musa acuminata)

bananas, Photo Credits: Jan BowmanOne of the most popular fruits from the tropical rainforests, bananas, originate from Southeastern Asia and India. Today, bananas are found abundantly and are cultivated in plantations as one of the most profitable exports of Costa Rica. The first commercial banana plantation establishment in Costa Rica was during the late 1800’s. In 1880, the first exported banana shipments reached North America by boat and entered through the state of New York.

Bananas have exceptionally complicated botanical structures. Although, commonly referred to as a tree, bananas come from a large herbaceous plant! In fact, It’s the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world, standing 7 meters tall with leaves 2.5 meters long and a half meter wide. The leaves have sheath petioles that overlap each other along the upright pseudostem giving the appearance of a trunk or stem. This type of stem is known as a “false-stem” or “pseudostem.” If the pseudostem were cut in horizontally, the center would reveal concentric rings similar to the center of an onion. The banana plant has an underground stem known as a “corm” that will produce several new plant shoots. Apart from wild banana plants, banana fruits are seedless hybrids. Banana plantations use and alter the corms to create new plants when needed. After planting season, the first plants will yield fruit only once. These are the mother plants that will give rise to daughter plants. The daughter plants only yield fruit once as well. The third generation, however, is ever-bearing and will yield fruits for decades. The edible male flowers are pale yellow and form between reddish-purple bracts below the yellowish female flowers which develop crescent-shaped edible fruits without pollination. Botanically, the crescent-shaped fruit bunches are berries that ripen from green to yellow. The banana bunches are often referred to as “hands” and individual bananas as “fingers.” Additionally, arboreal mammals, nectar-feeding bats, and hummingbirds are attracted to these flowers and fruits.

Bananas are not just a deliciously sweet tasting fruit; nutritional bananas are naturally high in:

  • Vitamin B & C-Provides energy and supports a healthy immune system.
  • Potassium-Sustains hydration, promotes a healthy metabolism, and electrolyte replenishing.
  • Magnesium-Regulates blood sugars, supports healthy immune and nervous system, maintains healthy muscles and strong bone structures.
  • Fiber-Naturally cleansing for the digestive system.
  • Carbohydrates-A natural source of energy for the body.

Some of the bio-chemical and medicinal values found naturally occurring in various parts of bananas include:

  • Banana Peel-Contains antibacterial properties, antifungal properties, serotonin, and dopamine. Banana peel and fruit can be boiled into a tea and ingested to help promote restful sleep and treat bronchitis.
  •  Banana Fruit-Contains micronutrients and healthy carbohydrates; Costa Rican natives have used the fruits to create beverages, desserts, and vinegars.
  • Plant Sap-Can be used externally to treat a number skin conditions and internally to treat dysentery, hysteria, and epilepsy. Additionally, it can be used as a diuretic.
  • Male Flowers-Are edible and used by Costa Rican natives as a starchy additive in a variety of cooked dishes.
  • Leaves-Used by Costa Rican natives to create a thatch and used externally to treat certain skin conditions.

If purchased from the store, be sure the bananas are from Costa Rica.

Bijagua (Calathea lutea)

bijagua, Photo Credits: Layla CrabtreeA part of the Marantaceae family, this lovely herbaceous plant in often mistaken for a Heliconia plant. Bijagua plants are native to the tropical regions of Central America and often found in lowlands of Costa Rica.

Bijagua plants have large upward pointing leaf blades that are green on top and waxy white underneath. The leaves stand out among other plants in the forest and are easily spotted. Three to five groups of flower stalks stand 20 cm tall and have reddish-brown overlapping bracts. The bracts hold water similar to Heliconia and some ginger plants. Small pale-yellow flowers protrude from the watery bracts attracting euglossine bees, hummingbirds, and a variety of fruit eating birds. Roots of the plant can be used to treat nausea and diarrhea.

Cashew (Anacardium occidentale)

Part of the Anacardiaceae family, cashews are poplar nuts that are widely known and favorably consumed for their unique nutty flavor. However, the cashew’s botanical information and origins are not as commonly known. Cashews are thought to have originated from Brazil and Venezuela and then later introduced to Asia and Africa near the 16th century. Today, cashew trees have become naturalized in the low to mid-elevations of Costa Rica and thrive best near the Pacific Slope.

Cashew nuts come from the fruit of a small tree that grows in the tropics. Therefore, botanically speaking, the nut is not a nut at all. It’s a seed! The cashew is a single seeded fruit known as a “drupe.” The cashew seed and other parts of a cashew shrub contain naturally occurring toxins that are removed when the seeds are processed by heat exposure. Even cashew containers found on store shelves that are labeled “Raw” have been processed by heat to neutralize the toxins. Cashews are shrubby trees with hardy, obovate (teardrop-shaped), simple leaves that are alternate in arrangement.  The shrub has small pink and white striped five-petaled flowers that cluster at the end of the branches. Flowers have a noticeably spicy cinnamon aroma. After pollination, these flowers begin the formation of fruits. Fruits vary in color ranging from yellowish-orange to red. Flower and fruit production occur during the dry season and occasionally during the early wet season in Costa Rica. The brilliant reddish fruit that forms above the seed is known as the cashew “apple.” The cashew apple is the only part of the tree that is non-toxic and edible without processing. Although, only the natives of Costa Rica are willing to chance this! The cashew apple is high in vitamins and natural sugars. Cashew seeds are highly nutritious because they contain high levels of proteins and unsaturated fats. One of cashew’s most beneficial medicinal contributions is alleviating diarrhea.

The tan-gray seed casing contains anacardic acid which is known to have antibiotic activity. However, the seed casing should never be cracked open by bare hands or without the proper protective gear. The inside of the seed casing contains cardol, a caustic oil that can cause blistering of the skin and burn eyes when contact is made. The effects can last for a couple of weeks. This is the cashew’s only defense against being consumed as it lacks the ability to relocate. This highly-evolved ability to produce a chemical such as cardol is simply one example of how many plants and trees protect themselves from harm or consumption by other species. Interestingly, there are a few species that seem to be unaffected by the caustic oil such as parrots, tapir, and some bats. Additionally, the cardol oil has been used industrially to make varnishes, inks, paints, linoleum, brake lining fluids, and termite deterrent for timber.

cashew, photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Cacao “Chocolate” Tree (Theobroma cacao)

Did somebody say chocolate? That’s right! Cacao tree fruits are where the materials are sourced for making deliciously addictive chocolate. But, did you know that cacao trees have nutritional and medicinal value? Cacao has been around for thousands of years. Its genus name, “Theobroma,” roughly translates to “food of the gods” and it was frequently depicted as such by the Aztecs and Mayans for its rich flavor and aroma. Archeological records reveal that around the mid-1800s the Mayan’s used cacao as currency due to its valuable attributes. Cacao trees are a part of the Sterculiaceae family. Native to the tropics, cacao trees come from the northern regions of South America. Over time, cacao trees have become naturalized along the low-wetlands along the Caribbean coast, southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and extend into Mexico. In the mid-to-late ‘60s, Costa Rica was the top exporter of cacao in Central America. However, due to fungal outbreaks such as “black pod disease” (Phytophthora ssp.) and “watery pod-rot” (Moniliophthora roreri), most cacao plantations have ceased cultivation.  

Cacao trees range in height from 6 to 10 meters on average. Leaves have smooth edges, are simple, alternate arrangement, obovate-shaped, and have pinnate venation. Although the leaves are green, young cacao trees have red tinted leaves. Cacao trees flower and fruit throughout the year and peak during the early rainy season. Exotic five-petaled pale yellow flowers with maroon staminodes extending from the flower’s center. These flowers are cauliflorous (grow from the trunk) on the tree. Each petal has basal pouches where anthers mature. These unique flowers are pollinated by small biting insects called midges (Ceratopogonidae). After pollination, cauliflorous fruits or “pods” begin to mature from green to yellow/reddish-brown within 6 months’ time. Fruits are longitudinally ribbed, have an expanded midsection, and a similar size and length of a football. Inside each fruit contains 3-5 dozen seeds coated by a sweet, edible, and fruity pulp. Cacao’s seed dispersal is by bats, arboreal mammals, and humans.

The seeds are used to make raw chocolate and are often referred to as cacao “beans.” First, the seeds are harvested and dried for several days. The dried raw seeds can be used whole, crushed into what is known as raw cacao nibs, or ground into a fine raw powder. Raw cacao has the most nutritional and medicinal value. Some of the medicinal and nutritional benefits of raw cacao are:

  • Rich in Antioxidants Contains the Highest Antioxidant Value in Comparison to Any Other Raw Food in the World! (anti-aging & combats damaging free radicals in the body)
  • Magnesium (curve food cravings & enhance mood)
  • High Sulfur Content (naturally stimulates hair and nail growth)
  • Vitamins and Minerals (Vitamins B & E, copper, iron, zinc, potassium, sulfur, and magnesium)
  • Contains Healthy Fatty Acids (monounsaturated)
  • Amino Acids
    Tryptophan (increases serotonin levels in the brain which supports stable mood and promotes restful sleep)
    Phenylalanine (stimulates other chemical productions in the brain such as Tyrosine which regulates the functions of neurotransmitters that promote a healthy nervous system and over-all mood)
  • Natural Caffeine (22 mg per ounce)
  •  Further processing is required to make cocoa powder and chocolates. Highly commercialized chocolates contain the least amount of nutritional value due to vast amounts of processing with many additives and processed sugars included. Additionally, part of a heating process that is used to melt and form chocolate destroys most of the micronutrients naturally occurring in cacao.

Cacao butter is produced by extracting and isolating the cacao fat. Cacao butter is used as an emollient for skin care applications such as chap-sticks, lotions, creams, and helps reduce the appearance of scars. Cold-pressed cacao butter can be used as a non-dairy butter for cooking or baking.

cacao plant, Photo Credits: Jan Bowman

Cecropia Tree (Cecropia spp.) 

Costa Rica has five species of Cecropia trees, and they can be found in secondary forests, disturbed areas of primary forests, cloud forests, and along roadsides. There are many ant species that colonize this tree and benefits from the nutritious tree sap. In return, the ants provide protection from pest or other harmful invaders to the tree. This relationship is known as a symbiotic relationship.

Botanically, this tall tree stands around 20 meters tall and has a segmented trunk. Leaves are palmate and deeply-lobed with a rough textured underside. Depending on species, Cecropia flowers can be pink or white. Flowers are large and have a trumpet shape earning the common name of “trumpet trees.”

Traditionally, natives to the tropics have used Cecropia tree leaves to make infusions to treat asthma, sore-throats, colds, and flus. Additionally, the infusions have been used in sponge baths and applied externally to reduce fevers, swellings, treat sprains, arthritis, and other inflammation conditions.

crecopia tree, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Coconut Tree (Cocos nucifera)

It’s not the tropics without coconut trees! No seriously… they are everywhere in Costa Rica. This is beneficial because coconuts are extremely nutritious and hydrating. Hydration is an important factor considering Costa Rica is centered at the equatorial region of the planet.

Though coconuts are usually referred to as nuts, botanically they are a type of fruit known as a “drupe.” This drupe is also the seed of the tree and can take up to a year to produce fully mature fruit. Fallen coconuts located near the ocean or other bodies of water will likely to be carried off by the waves to a new location where they will germinate into new coconut trees. There are two varieties of coconut trees found in Costa Rica: dwarf trees and tall trees.  The dwarf trees have yellowish-fruits, and the tall tree variety has green fruits. The green fruits are noticeably sweeter and are commonly seen along the Pacific Coast.

In just the past few years, the medicinal benefits and uses for coconut oil and milk has become a major topic for natural alternative solutions. However, recently it has become known that every part of the coconut tree is useful or medicinally valuable. Here is a short list of the benefits found in different parts of the coconut tree:

  • Coconut oil – The extracted coconut oils are great emollient for skin and hair while retaining moisture, has natural UV protection, great for oil pulling (alternative oral hygiene routine) and natural toothpaste, contains anti-parasitic properties, aids in digestion, used to make a margarine, and can be used as a multipurpose household polish.
  • Coconut water – Coconut water is a nutritious and energizing drink with a high content of naturally occurring electrolytes, potassium, and vitamin C; can be used as an eye wash to soothe eye infections or soreness.
  • Coconut meat – The white meat inside the coconut fruit can be consumed raw or added to dishes; it contains proteins, healthy fats, and micronutrients. Additionally, can blended with coconut water to create a creamy non-dairy coconut milk. Can be dried and shredded added to homemade snacks or desserts.
  • Coconut shell – The shell can be made into bowls, cooking utensils, or used as charcoal; contains anti-fungal properties.
  • Coconut husk – The fibrous husk is used to make ropes, nets, stuffing material, brooms, brushes, floor mats, and kindling for fires.
  • Flowers – Costa Rican elders drink a cold tea made by the flowers to alleviate kidney related illnesses. The nectar is used to make beverages, syrups, candy, and coco sugar.
  • Leaves – woven into hats, baskets, and used as for a thatch (roof covering/ceiling).
  • Trunk – Coconut wood is used for building homes, shelter, furniture, and other construction needs. The palm crown can be cooked as a vegetable.
  • Roots – used in the past by Costa Rican natives to make toothbrushes and the roots were boiled to make a mouthwash rinse.

From canopy to roots, the medicinal benefits of coconut trees are merely endless!

coconut tree, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Eucalyptus Tree (Eucalyptus deglupta)

eucalyptus tree, Photo Credits: Layla CrabtreeOne of the most noticeable features of a eucalyptus tree is the colorfully painted-looking bark. The tree appears as if a few artists got together with different colored clay and smeared it up and down along the bark. There is simply no other tree quite like Eucalyptus and it completely stands out among all other trees in the forest.

Although this tree is highly invasive, Eucalyptus also carries highly medicinal value. Eucalyptus contains a powerful chemical compound terpenoid known as menthol. Menthol has a strong aroma that has soothing effects on asthma symptoms and other breathing conditions that accompany illnesses. Menthol occurs strongest in the leaves of the tree. The leaves can be used to create a poultice and rubbed on the chest to open air ways. However, using the Eucalyptus essential oils in a diffuser would work just as well by releasing the oils into the air. The powerful essential oils of Eucalyptus are additionally useful by the same method to reduce the symptoms of sinus infections and other respiratory infections. When diluted with water, Eucalyptus oil may be used externally to treat skin infections or rubbed on the chest to open airways if needed. It should be noted the Eucalyptus should never be ingested. 

Common Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Common ginger is the variety found at grocery stores in the spice isle or fresh in the produce department. This unique tropical plant is becoming popular for its medicinal and nutritional value. Common ginger thrives well in the hotter and humid regions of Costa Rica. Although its origins are uncertain, common ginger is thought to have originated from the Pacific Islands, India, or South of China.

The part of the plant that is harvested and commonly used is the rhizome. Often incorrectly called roots, rhizomes are underground modified stems capable of producing roots, shoots, and nodes to produce more ginger plants. Leaves run alternately along the stem. Like all plants in the Zingiberaceae family, common ginger is an exceptionally slow growing plant to cultivate. Although, if the right conditions are met, ginger will produce a lovely fragrant cone-shaped flower in its third year.

Medicinally, common ginger is abundantly beneficial in treating a variety of illness and conditions. Because of this, common ginger is known as the universal medicine plant and pairs well with other medicinal plants. Common ginger is most popularly used by Costa Rican natives for naturally and safely treating digestive issue such as nausea, motion sickness, diarrhea, and indigestion. This particular type of ginger is high in antioxidants. Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antiviral properties and can be boiled into a tea and taken internally to fight of colds, flus, and benefit the immune system. Ginger is used and added to tea combinations, water, juices, desserts, and cooked dishes around the world. Additionally, ginger is the main ingredient of ginger-ale soda and ginger beer.

common ginger rhizome, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Pinecone Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet)

Upon first sight, it’s no surprise from where this vibrant and shapely ginger plant gets its name. Its soft spiral shape closely resembles a large pine cone. Although its exact origin is unknown, botanists believe that pinecone ginger originated in Malaysia and Indonesia. Pinecone ginger, also known as “bitter ginger,” is commonly found today in the drier regions of Costa Rica and other parts of Central America.

This lovely perennial plant has pale yellow flowers that protrude from a watery filled flower stalk and are favored by a variety of hummingbirds which aid in their pollination. Approximately a dozen blade-shaped leaves with parallel venation surrounds the flower stalk. Beneath the earth’s surface, like most gingers, the rhizomes (underground stem) expand and creep to form other ginger plants.  

Traditionally, Costa Ricans have used the slimy juice pressed from mature flowerheads as two-in-one shampoo and conditioner. Flowers and leaves were used to enhance the flavor of cooked meats and fish. The underground rhizomes are used as medicines today for treating upset stomachs and toothaches. Like nearly all gingers, Pinecone ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, in the past, field workers would wrap their lunch in pinecone leaves as an eco-crafted lunchbox!

pinecone ginger, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Red Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

It’s easy to spot vibrant red gingers walking through the rainforests of Costa Rica. Red ginger plants originated from the South Pacific Islands and are commonly found in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica.

Red ginger stands about 2 meters in height with lovely sheathing leaves that run alternately along the stem. The very top of the stem blooms in alluringly red spiraling bracts that attract pollinating hummingbirds. Inside the red bracts are tiny nectar filled flowers accessible to only hummingbirds. Some species of ants guard the ginger from other invading insects and in return are rewarded with nectar only accessible to the ants. The mutually beneficial relationships among the hummingbirds, gingers, and ants are examples of co-evolution at its finest!

The rhizomes of the ginger plant are used as a spice. Red ginger, like most gingers, has high amount of anti-inflammatory properties and can be used externally to treat arthritis, sprains, and other inflammatory conditions.

red ginger, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

hibiscus, photo credits: Layla CrabtreeHibiscus is a flowering bushy shrub that is a part of the Malvaceae family. Hibiscus shrub can be found in bloom all year round in Costa Rica and range in various colors, such as pink, red, peach, yellow, white, and other variations. This lovely shrub can be seen along roadsides, landscapes, and cultivated in tropical gardens. Although the origins of hibiscus are uncertain, botanists believe Hibiscus is from the tropical regions of Asia. Hibiscus is well established in Costa Rica with over 200 species and thousands of hybrids.

Hibiscus will reach an average height of 4 meters tall. Its leaves are alternately arranged along the stem with coarse toothed edges. The flowers are 5 petaled and arranged in the shape of a star. From the center of each flower is a column containing styles and stamens which protrudes outward.

Costa Ricans sometimes use the leaves and flowers for salads or to make medicine. The edible flowers are also used to decorate dishes and desserts. The leaves and flowers (especially the red varieties) are used in teas to alleviate menstrual pain, excessive flow, and prevent postpartum hemorrhaging. The tea infusion can be used externally as a bath soak or a compress (especially to control bleeding). Decoctions of the flowers and leaves are used to treat asthma, coughs, colds, and flus.

Papaya (Carica papaya)

Papayas are native to Central America and thrive well in the lower elevations of Costa Rica. Although commonly referred to as trees, papayas are herbaceous perennial plants that are part of the Caricaceae family.

Papaya plants have a strong fibrosis stem that resembles a small tree trunk. The stem stands upright with conspicuous scars from fallen leaves and fruit. This fascinating plant stands about 4 to 6 meters tall and has extended leaf petioles up to a meter in length. The leaves are largely palmate and deeply-lobed. Cauliflorous (grow from the trunk) flowers are yellowish white and produce cauliflorous green melon-like fruit. When fully ripe, fruits turn yellowish-orange. The fruit is made up of 80% water and 10% natural sugars. Only the female plants produce fruit; however, male plants can change their sex if required to produce fruit. Papayas flower and fruit all year long.

Naturally occurring digestive enzymes found in papaya fruit help breakdown proteins and fats. The type of enzymes found in papaya are proteolytic enzymes called “papain.” Papaya is also packed full of vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber, and electrolytes.

Natives to Costa Rica have used papaya leaves in the past to wrap and tenderize meats while cooking. Additionally, natives believe that when aloe vera juice is mixed with papaya, the properties of the fruit are enhanced. Papaya can be consumed raw and has a distinct flavor that pairs well with pineapple.

papaya plant,  Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree papaya plant with papayas, Photo Credits: Bryce Stedman papaya plant with papayas, Photo Credits: Don Waterhawk

Pineapple (Ananas comosus)

This fruiting bromeliad is part of the Bromeliaceae family. Originally from Brazil, pineapples are cultivated at lower elevations in plantations and are no longer found in the wild. Pineapples are another highly valuable commodity for Costa Rica.

Believe it or not, pineapples do not grow from trees as so many believe. Pineapples form from the ground in the center of a rosette-shaped bromeliad. Pineapple leaves are rigid and up to a meter long. The plant is about 10 cm tall and has a bract stalk with nearly 200 reddish-purple flowers. Without pollination, these flowers form what is known as an “aggregate” or “multiple fruit” made up of coalesced berries. Put more simply, these flowers swell up into individual fruits creating one entire fruit. As the fruits mature, a rosette of leaves resembling the foundation of the plant develops into what is known as the “crown.” To create other pineapple plants, the crown is topped off and planted right into the ground.

Pineapple is a delicious tropical fruit packed full of A, B, and C vitamins. Similar to papaya fruit, pineapple has a naturally occurring digestive enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain not only assists in breaking down proteins and fats, this proteolytic enzyme helps alleviate pain and inflammation. Additionally, bromelain is the reason why pineapple is sometimes paired with meats to tenderize while cooking. Pineapple can be eaten raw, juiced, or added to dishes and desserts. If purchased from the store, be sure the pineapples are from Costa Rica.

pineapple, Photo Credits: Daniella & Don Waterhawk

Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica)

Sensitive plant can be found just about everywhere in Costa Rica along the sidewalks, roadsides, pastures, lawns, and flourish partially well in lower elevations. Sensitive plant is part of the Mimosoideae family.

This small and low-creeping plant, to the untrained eye appears to be just another roadside weed. However, with further examination this plant clearly has a unique and keen adaptation used for survival. Sensitive plant receives its name because of its sensitivity and response to touch. If touched or disturbed in anyway, the plant has a triggered response to slowly fold its tiny leaflets upward. This trigger signals a release of water from the pulvinus (base of the leaf) causing a drop of pressure and leaves to close. That’s right, the leaflets fold-up instantly right before your eyes! This rapid plant-modification-movement deceives its consumer into believing the plant is dried-up, dead, and no-longer a desirable snack. The leaflets reopen a few minutes later, filling back up with water as soon as it is safe and clear to soak up the sun again. Its survival rate is so impressive that throughout most tropic regions, sensitive plant is considered invasive; however, it is native to Costa Rica. Sensitive plant has pink puff-ball looking flowers due to long thin petals that form a sphere shape.

Among Costa Rican natives, sensitive plant has the reputation of containing pain- relieving properties, can be used as a sedative, or as a sleep aid. When interviewing naturalist trail guide Jorgé Marin, a native to Costa Rica, he explained that sensitive plant has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal wounds. Those with the knowledge would benefit due to its abundance.

sensitive plant,  Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Shrub Verbena (Lanatana camara)

Shrub verbena is a lovely herbaceous flowering plant found along roadsides, pastures, and other places within Costa Rica. This vibrantly red, orange, and yellow colored plant attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Shrub verbena’s leaves are opposite in arrangement with coarsely-toothed edges and is covered in tiny hairs known as “trichomes.”

At one time, shrub verbena was used by Costa Rican ancestors; however, today the plant is known to be rather toxic and is no longer used as a medicinal plant. This plant was included to document its history as a traditional medicinal for Costa Rican natives.

shrub verbena, Photo Credits: Layla Crabtree

Works Cited

List of works cited

Bernhardt, Ed. Medicinal Plants of Costa Rica. A Zona Tropical Publication, 2008. Print.

Kricher, John. A Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animals, Plants, & Ecosystems of the New World Tropics. Second Edition. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press, 1997. Print.

Mauseth, James D. Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology. Sixth Edition. Burlington, Massachusetts. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016. Print.

Zuchowski, Willow. Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A Guide to Native and Exotic Flora. A Zona Tropical Publication, 2005. Print.

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