Households in eleven geographically and ethnically distinct areas in Loreto, Peru, were interviewed about their knowledge and use of plants, for the treatment of malaria and leishmaniasis. The survey resulted in 988 use records representing 118 plant-taxa for malaria and 289 use-records representing 85 plant-taxa for leishmaniasis. In both cases the 10 most frequently reported taxa accounted for about half of all the use-records. Plant material was collected and extracts were screened for in vitro inhibition of Plasmodium and Leishmania parasites. In the case of Plasmodium, extracts of 11 of the 13 most frequently reported plants showed significant growth inhibitory activity, while only a few plant extracts inhibited the growth of Leishmania parasites.
The global extent and consequences of diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis are alarming. With a rising number of clinical cases malaria is, at present, among the world’s most devastating infectious diseases, infecting hundreds of millions of people and causing up to 3 million deaths annually. The increasing resistance of malaria causing Plasmodium parasites towards the drugs of first choice adds to the severity of the problem.