Comparative ethnobotany and in-the-field antibacterial testing of medicinal plants used by the Bulu and inland Kaulong of Papua New Guinea

Thomas A. K. Prescott*, Robert Kiapranis, Sutherland K. Maciver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Ethnopharmacological relevance: The island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea is an area of great floristic and cultural diversity that has received little attention from ethnobotanists. Here we present the results of a comparative medicinal ethnobotanical survey of the Bulu and inland Kaulong; two distinct people groups inhabiting lowland rainforest on different sides of the island. A high proportion of species are used in the treatment of bacterial infections and plants with antibacterial activity were identified in the field using a specially developed antibacterial assay kit. Follow up testing with human pathogens was used to evaluate active plant material in more detail.

Materials and methods: Rapid appraisal techniques were used to survey both people groups with all data corroborated by three or more separate sources. Plants from both groups were tested in-the-field with a portable antibacterial test kit based on the agar diffusion assay, using a pressure cooker to sterilise glassware and media. Follow up laboratory based tests were carried out using standardised agar dilution protocols for drug resistant and drug sensitive strains of Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Results: We find surprisingly little overlap in the plant species used by the two people groups with only 1 out of 70 species used for the same purpose. There is also a difference in emphasis in the conditions treated with 53% of Kaulong medicinal plants dedicated to treating tropical ulcers compared with only 8% of in the Bulu group. In-the-field testing identified Garcinia dulcis bark (a Kaulong tropical ulcer treatment) to have antibacterial activity and follow up tests against a drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus (a pathogen implicated in tropical ulcer pathogenesis) revealed the crude bark extract to be potently active with an MIC of just 1 mg/ml.

Conclusions: The results demonstrate extreme differences in medicinal plant use between two people groups living a mere 100 km apart and suggests the two medicinal plant systems have developed in isolation from one another. In-the-field antibacterial testing of plant extracts was found to be a valuable technique that enabled early identification of active plant material. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-503
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of ethnopharmacology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Garcinia dulcis
  • Field assay
  • Tropical ulcer
  • Ethnobotany
  • New Britain
  • Staphylococcus aureus


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