, , , , , , , , , ,

In my previous post ‘Earth to Humans: “Get Off Your Merry-Go-Round Ride to Extinction‘, there was some incredulousness as to the use of plants/herbs for control of unwanted pregnancy by indigenous cultures. In order to clear up this question, I emailed Professor Peña and got an immediate response back:

Thanks Mike. There is a very significant – and most likely suppressed, ignored, or flippantly dismissed source of scientific literature. Very few Americans are prepared to learn much from indigenous (read: backward) peoples. The first citation is my favorite and I was first alerted to it by Vandana Shiva since much of this literature has so far focused on India but I know of other examples from Africa, the Middle East, and native North and South America. It is a fairly standard and widely accepted fact among ethnobotany experts. I’ve attached one pdf for your perusal:

Ajesh et al (2012) Herbal abortifacients used by Mannan tribes of Kerala, India

That said, share these citations with your reader. (if you do not have access) I can track down my pdf copies and email them to you, but it’ll have to wait till I get back to my campus computer; I don’t think I have any of those sources at home.

Best regards, and keep sharing as much of my work as you see fit; nice blog by the way! If you all need anything else, please let me know…

For citations, go to:


(Jain, A, et al. Folk herbal remedies used in birth control and sexual diseases by tribals of southern Rahasthan, India)

Available on-line: Mitra and Mukherjee  (2009) Some abortifacient plants used by the tribal people of West Bengal, India

I [also] wanted to explain what I know about Zapotec women’s use of plants and herbs for various treatments because some of the abortifacients have other applications. 

The Zapotecs use several tall weedy shrubs to small trees, prototypically Solanum lanceolatum, sosa and/or berenjena. yàg-guièdz-zân [`tree/shrub´ + `disease´ + `child birth´],  are included here.  The fruits are yellow to orange when mature; the name refers to the use of the plant as medicine to treat post-partum weakness and pain; for example, a woman in labor is referred to as mén̲w-zân(`person´ + `childbirth´), disease is guièdz; the woman is bathed in an infusion of the leaves, beginning 15 days after the birth.

It also works as an abortifacient if you drink as tea: three tablespoons three times (se friega `it scours´ the uterus). It is also used to treat wounds and cáncer, i.e., a badly infected wound. In that case, boil, use the whole plant; mix with gordolobo (Gnaphalium spp., Asteraceae) and hierba de cáncer (blàg-chòg, prototypically Tournefortia spp., Boraginaceae) or with canfor; also for swelling (guì); wash with the infusion; it is “hot” (nzæ̌æ); two widely recognized varieties are “smooth” yàg-guièdz-zân-zhǐil and “spiny” yàg-guièdz-zân-guièts. The smooth variety is the best medicine; a very large and very spiny variety grows in neighboring communities, but is not named and is not used as medicine. I hope that is not too much detail, but you did ask.

Devon G. Peña, Ph.D.
2013 NACCS Scholar
American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology, and Program on the Environment
University of Washington
EMAIL| dpena@uw.edu
UW OFFICE| 206-543-1507
MOBILE| 206-228-4876
NGO WEBSITE| The Acequia Institute
BLOGS| Environmental and Food Justice and History and Politics of Mexican Immigration

“Memory is a moral obligation, all the time.”
– J. Derrida

Native cultures appear to have much more knowledge than ‘techno-fix carbon man’ gives them credit for.