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In Latin American countries, herbal medicine is deeply rooted and is practiced extensively by a broad cross-section of the larger society. Often it is an economically inevitable alternative to expensive Western medicine.
Andean societies have used plants for physical therapy and psychosomatic ailments for millenia. The use of hallucinogens, in particular the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) is a vital component in Andean healing practices, and has been practiced for at least 2,000 years. Traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from one generation to the next by traditional healers, shamans, or curanderos, and has survived the rigors of the Spanish conquest, the Inquisition, and extensive mestizaje or racial intermixing.
Southern Ecuador, famous for the "valley of longevity" around Vilcabamba, is among the areas with the highest biodiversity worldwide. A total of 215 species of medicinal plants are now on record. This illustrated field guide will hopefully help to keep the traditional knowledge in this area alive.