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Bathe the baby to make it strong and healthy: Plant use and child care among Saramaccan Maroons in Suriname

Ruysschaert, Sofie, van Andel, Tinde, Van de Putte, Kobeke, Van Damme, Patrick
Journal of ethnopharmacology 2009 v.121 no.1 pp. 148-170
children, human health, traditional medicine, herbal medicines, health beliefs, mothers, medicinal plants, ethnobotany, surveys, disease prevention, Suriname
Ethnopharmacological relevance: Young children are vulnerable to a range of illnesses and evil forces. Ethnobotanical folk remedies often play a major role in combating these afflictions. Here we show that plant use is highly valued and practiced within the Saramaccan Maroon Society in Suriname to maintain the general health and well-being of children. Aim of the study: To assess the plant use importance in child care, we (1) quantified diversity and current status of herbal pharmacopoeia used in child care and (2) elucidated the reasons why care takers (mostly mothers) use these plants. Methodology: We collected botanical vouchers of plants used in child care, carried out an ethnobotanical household survey with 105 women and interviewed 19 key informants. Results: A total of 178 plant species were used in child care for different purposes. Preventive practices were preferred over curing remedies and plants were most frequently used to keep young children strong and healthy. Child care had a strong magical connotation. Bathing proved to be the most important type of application, often combined with drinking small amounts of the bath water. Conclusions: Plants play an important role in child care, but more research is needed on how Maroon plant use reflects actual health problems in young children in the Surinamese interior.