The researchers, from the universities of Brandeis, Northwestern, Georgia (Athens), and Autonomous University of Barcelona, studied the Tsimane', an indigenous horticulturalist and foraging society in the lowlands of Bolivia who use local plants daily for medicine, firewood, construction and food. The Tsimane' rely on wild and domesticated plants for more than half of their household consumption, while purchased goods account for a tiny fraction of consumption.
"Like other remote rural populations around the world, the Tsimane' must rely on their ability to exploit natural resources to maintain the health of their children," said Victoria Reyes-García, PhD, coauthor and visiting researcher at Brandeis University. "However, many Tsimane' are pursuing new economic opportunities that undermine this aspect of their culture. It seems to be one of the many unintended consequences of globalization."
The study evaluated the health of 330 Tsimane' two-to-ten year-olds and interviewed their mothers and fathers to assess their ethnobotanical skills and knowledge. Researchers looked at three measures of child health: their immune function, as measured in C-reactive protein levels; skinfold thickness, to estimate fat stores, and height-for-age, to assess stunted growth.
Reyes-García explained that mothers who had knowledge of local plants well above the average were more likely to have children with better health, whereas mothers who