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The past and present uses of rhatany (Krameria, Krameriaceae)

Simpson, B.B.
Economic botany 1991 v.45 no.3 pp. 397-409
Krameria, ethnobotany, medicinal plants, dye plants, dyes, medicinal properties, history, plant extracts, carcinogens, carcinogenesis, tannins, lignans, drugs
Rhatany, the name given to several species of Krameria, figured prominently in European and Euro-American medicine between 1820 and 1920. Uses for rhatany were numerous but generally centered around the astringent properties of the tanniniferous root extracts. Evidence suggests that the adoption ofKrameria as a medicinal plant resulted from the advocacy of its use by Hipólito Ruiz following his return to Europe from Perú in 1797. Native American uses known at the time of Ruiz’s writing were different from those espoused in Europe by the Spanish botanist. Traditional Pre-Colombian uses ofKrameria species by native peoples of North and South America are difficult to assess because records of use appear to have been influenced by the uses devised later by Europeans. There is little doubt of native uses of the roots for chewing sticks and as a source of dye. During the last 25 years, there has been an attempt to link the use ofKrameria teas with high incidences of esophageal cancer. However, examination of the data resulting from experiments to test the cancer-causing properties ofKrameria extracts does not indicate that rhatany teas are highly carcinogenic. Recent studies of the tannins and lignans present in root and leaf extracts suggest their possible future uses in anti-bacterial and ultraviolet light blocking preparations.