CANBERRA - There is a long and important history in Papua New Guinea of recording traditional information about the medicinal use of plants.
In more recent decades, this has been augmented by chemical investigations of such plants and their possible efficacy in treating illness.
In what follows, I give a few examples of this research, noting that this is only a very small sample of a much larger number of studies and publications.
Prior to 1940, the research was done mainly by a few anthropologists, such as Beatrice Blackwood during her work in Bougainville and Morobe.
Some examples of her work can be found in:
Blackwood, B. 1935. Treatment of the sick in the Solomon Islands, Folklore, 46(2), pp 148-161.
Blackwood, B. 1940. Use of plants among the Kukukuku of Southeast-Central New Guinea, Proceedings of the 6th Pacific Science Congress, 4, pp 111-126).
After World War II, wider ranging programs began, such as:
Barnard, C. and Webb, L.J. 1951. The Australian Phytochemical Survey, The Papuan and New Guinea Scientific Society, Annual Report 1951, pp 13-21.
Webb, L.J. 1952. An appeal for plant drugs from New Guinea. South Pacific, 6, pp 358-9).
Floyd, A.G. 1954. Final report on ethnobotanical expedition, West Nakanai, New Britain, July-August 1954, Unpublished report. Lae, Division of Botany, Department of Forests.
Webb, L.J. 1955. A preliminary phytochemical survey of Papua New Guinea. Pacific Science, 9, pp 430-441.
Barrau, J. 1966. Guidelines for a study of medicinal plants used in folk medicine in tropical Oceania: Preliminary report to the South Pacific Commission. Noumea, South Pacific Commission, 34 pp.
Detailed accounts from particular locations were also carried out, for example:
Glasse, S. 1963. A Note on Fore Medicine and Sorcery, with an Ethnobotanical Checklist, Unpublished report, mimeo. Port Moresby, Department of Public Health, 36 pp.
Stopp, K. 1963. Medicinal plants of the Mt Hagen people (Mbowamb) in New Guinea. Economic Botany, 17(1), pp 16-22.
Panoff, F. 1970. Maenge remedies and conception of disease. Ethnology, 9(1), pp 68-84.
Sterly, J. 1970. Heilpflanzen der Einwohner Melanesiens (Bietrage zur Ethnobotanik des Sudwestlichen Pazifik). Hamburger Reihe zur Kultur- und Sprachwissenschaft 6. Hamburg/München, Verlag K. Renner, 391 pp.
In the 1970s, staff and students from the University of Papua New Guinea carried out many extensive surveys recording medicinal plan user around the country, for example:
Holdsworth, D.K. and Heers, G. 1971. Some medicinal and poisonous plants from the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay District. Records of the Papua and New Guinea Public Museum and Art Gallery, 1(2), pp 37-40.
Holdsworth, D.K. and Longley, R.P. 1972. Some medicinal and poisonous plants from the Southern Highlands District of Papua. Proceedings of the Papua New Guinea Scientific Society, 24, pp 21-24.
Holdsworth, D.K. and N'Drawii, C.S. 1973. Medicinal and poisonous plants from Manus Island. Science in New Guinea, 1(3 & 4), pp 11-16.
A preliminary national listing was produced in 1977:
Holdsworth, D.K. 1977. Medicinal plants of Papua New Guinea, South Pacific Commission Technical Paper No. 175. Noumea, New Caledonia, South Pacific Commission, vi, 123 pp.
Matainaho, T. 1984. Traditional medicine (medicinal plants): is there a scientific basis? In Morton, J.R., Aisi, M.G., Brough, E. and Salter-Duke, B. ed. Waigani Seminar 84. The Role of Science and Technology in the Development of Papua New Guinea: The Policy Dimensions. Background Papers Vol.1. Port Moresby, Faculty of Science, University of Papua New Guinea, pp 29-33.
Jilek, W.G. ed. 1985. Traditional Medicine and Primary Health Care in Papua New Guinea. Waigani, University of Papua New Guinea Press, 161 pp.
Whaites, R. 1985. Problems and Prospects of Integrating Herbal Medicine with the Health Care System of Papua New Guinea. In Jilek, W.G. ed. Traditional Medicine and Primary Health Care in Papua New Guinea. Waigani, University of Papua New Guinea Press, pp 105-111.
In the 1990s, some international (Swiss and USA) teams as well as UPNG carried out phytochemical work on PNG medicinal plants:
Rücker, G., Paulini, G., Sakulas, H., Lawong, B., and Goeltenboth, F. 1991. Medicinal Plants from Papua New Guinea: Graniline-Esters and Germacranolides from Blumea arfakiana. Planta Medica, 57(3), pp 278-281.
Erdelmeier, C.A.J., Regenass, U., Rali, T., and Sticher, O. 1992. Medicinal Plants From Papua New Guinea .3. Indole Alkaloids With Invitro Antiproliferative Activity From the Ammoniacal Extract of Nauclea orientalis. Planta Medica, 58(1), pp 43-48.
Rali, T. 1992. Screening of some Papua New Guinea medicinal plants for antibacterial activity. Science in New Guinea, 18(2), pp 63-64.
Orjala, J.E. 1993. Phytochemical and biological investigation of Piper aduncum, a traditional remedy from Papua New Guinea, Thesis No. 10116, Zurich, Eidgen. Techn. Hochsch. (ETH) [Swiss Federal Institute of Technology].
Rao, K.S., Burrows, I., Kuduk, M., Yi, Y.D., Chung, M.H., Suh, N.J., and Chang, I.-M. 1993. Preliminary screening of antibacterial and antitumor activities of Papua New Guinean native medicinal plants. International Journal of Pharmacognosy, 31(1), pp 3-6.
Nick, A., Rali, T., and Sticher, O. 1995. Biological screening of traditional medicinal plants from Papua New Guinea. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 49(3), pp 147-156.
There were also other local PNG initiatives:
Gebia, O. and Varpit, K. 1994 (reprinted 2012). Guide for Medical Orderlies: Medicinal Plants of Papua New Guinea: Plants used for External Treatments (Buk bilong Dokta Boi long Bus), Wau Ecology Institute Pamphlet No. 2. Wau, Wau Ecology Institute, 24 pp.
Timi, D. 1994. Medicinal Plant Survey of Papua New Guinea. In Morrison, J., Geraghty, P., and Crowl, L. eds. Fauna, Flora, Food and Medicine. Science of Pacific Island Peoples. Suva, Institute of Pacific Studies, pp 185-188.
Horiguchi, K. and Sakulas, H. 1996. A medicinal plant database for Papua New Guinea, Paper given at: Committee on Data for Science and Technology of the International Council of Scientific Unions 15th International CODATA Conference, Scientific Data in the Age of Networking their use for Global Prosperity and Better Human Life.
Winduo, S.E. 1998. Knocking on ancestors' door : discourse formation in healing ritual utterances and narratives of Nagum Boikens in Papua New Guinea, PhD thesis, University of Minnesota, ix + 257 pp. Workers at the University of Technology (Unitech) have produced many papers analysing PNG plants, for example:
Khan, M.R., Kihara, M., and Omoloso, AD 2001. Anti-microbial activity of Bidens pilosa, Bischofia javanica, Elmerillia papuana and Sigesbekia orientalis. Fitoterapia, 72(6), pp 662-5.
Since 2000, there has been much work from UPNG involving international collaboration and also collaboration between the Department of Forests, Lae Herbarium and overseas universities, for example:
Ambihaipahar, U. and Rai, P.P. 2005. Traditional Medicine in Papua New Guinea (2001-2010): Achievements, Plans and Projections. In: Rai, P.P. ed. Traditional Medicine in Papua New Guinea: Proceedings of the National Workshop on Policy and Practices, 28-30th July 2004, Port Moresby. Port Moresby, Department of Health, Papua New Guinea, pp 8-13.
Rai, P.P. and Saulei, S. eds. 2004. Establishment of a Database on Indigenous Traditional Medicine in Papua New Guinea, Reframing Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Research methodologies and Indigenous Pedagogies, June 23-25, 2004, Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS), School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea.
Rai, P.V. 2004. Traditional Medicine Database and Its Potential Role In Primary Health Care In PNG. Medical Sciences Bulletin, 2, pp 20-22.
Barrows, L., Matainaho, T.K., Ireland, C.M., Miller, S., Carter, G.T., Bugni, T., Rai, P., Gideon, O., Manoka, B., Piskaut, P., Banka, R., Kiapranis, R., Noro, J.N., Pond, C.D., Andjelic, C.D., Koch, M., Harper, M.K., Powan, E., Pole, A.R., and Jensen, J.B. 2007. Making the most of Papua New Guinea's biodiversity: Establishment of an Integrated Set of Programs that Link Botanical Survey with Pharmacological Assessment in ‘The Land of the Unexpected’, Paper abstract, 48th Annual Meeting of The Society for Economic Botany Chicago, Illinois June 4-7, 2007.
Rai, P.P. ed. 2005. Traditional Medicine in Papua New Guinea: Proceedings of the National Workshop on Policy and Practices, 28-30th July 2004, Port Moresby. Port Moresby, Department of Health, Papua New Guinea.
Winduo, S. 2006. Indigenous Knowledge of Medicinal Plants in Papua New Guinea. Canterbury, NZ, Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies 19 pp.
Barrows, L.R., Matainaho, T.K., Ireland, C.M., Miller, S., Carter, G.T., Rai, P.P., Gideon, O., Manoka, B., Piskaut, P., Banka, R., Kiapranis, R., Noro, J.N., Pond, C.D., Koch, M., Harper, M.K., Jensen, J.B., Weiblen, G., and Schmidtt, L. 2009. Elements of Successful Scientific Collaboration: The ‘PNG ICBG’. In Rai, P.P. ed. Addressing National and Global Issues through Scientific Research and Development. Port Moresby, University of Papua New Guinea, pp 4-13.
Harakuwe, A.H., Sakulas, H.W., and Wau, J.S. 2009. PNG Medicinal Plants Research Database. Environment Papua New Guinea, 2(1), pp 25-30.
Kigodi, P.G.K. 2008. Can PNG develop and produce some of its own medicines? Pacific Journal of Medical Sciences 5, pp 100-105.
Rai, P.P. 2008. Development of traditional medicine based on scientific research. Pacific Journal of Medical Sciences 5, pp 61-64.
Rai, P.P. ed. 2009. Medicinal Plants in Papua New Guinea: information on 126 commonly used medicinal plants in Papua New Guinea. Manila, World Health Organisation, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, 321 pp.
Rai, P.P. and Saulei, S. 2009. Establishment of a Database on Traditional Medicine in Papua New Guinea. In Winduo, S.E. ed. Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural knowledge and practices in Papua New Guinea. Port Moresby, Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS), University of Papua New Guinea, pp 79-88.
Salopuka, G. and Rai, P.P. 2008. Standardization of herbal medicines of Papua New Guinea with a particular focus on Alstonia scholaris Linn. R. Br. Pacific Journal of Medical Sciences 5, pp 96-99.
Rai, P.P., Matainaho, T., and Barrows, L.R. 2015. Medicinal plants used by traditional medicine practitioners for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and related conditions in Papua New Guinea. Planta Medica, 81(11), pp 858-859
Rai, P. 2017. National database on indigenous traditional medicine: A valuable resource for research on medicinal plants in Papua New Guinea (Powerpoint Presentation), 3rd Global Summit on Herbals & Traditional Medicine. October 18-20, 2017 Osaka, Japan.
L.Moses, R., Fang, R., Dally, J., Briggs, M., T.Lundy, F., Kiapranis, R., Moseley, R., and A.K.Prescott, T. 2020. Evaluation of Cypholophus macrocephalus sap as a treatment for infected cutaneous ulcers in Papua New Guinea. Fitoterapia, 143, 104554 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2020.104554