Grant Abstract: Ethnopharmacology of plants used by Haitians in New York City forwomen’s health

Grant Number: 1F31AT011471-01A1
PI Name: Vardeman
Project Title: Ethnopharmacology of plants used by Haitians in New York City forwomen’s health

Abstract: Approximately 55% of the world’s population lives in cities, and the United Nations estimates that this number will rise to 68% by 2050. Urban ethnobotany, the study of people’s traditional knowledge and use of plants in cities, is increasingly important as people adapt their cultural traditions to changing environments. In New York City (NYC), there have been several urban ethnobotany investigations with Caribbean immigrant groups. However, there has yet to be an ethnobotanical survey that documents and botanically authenticates the medicinal plants used in the Haitian community. Previous research in collaboration with women from the Caribbean in NYC has identified plant species sold in Caribbean shops that have documented use for the treatment of vaginal infections, including sexually transmitted infections and intravaginal cleansing, grouped here as gynecological conditions. Several popular Caribbean plants, such as Jatropha curcas, Argemone mexicana, and Bixa orellana, have recorded medicinal uses in Haitian ethnomedicine as well. These species, while well- studied for their antibacterial properties, have not yet been analyzed for their effects on pathogenic bacteria in the vagina or the protective vaginal microbiota. Ideally, plants used to treat these conditions would have bioactivity against harmful bacteria with minimal disruption to the beneficial vaginal microflora. Natural product research that considers interactions with pathogenic and beneficial bacteria, as well as the compounds responsible, is on the forefront of addressing efficacy of medicinal plants for women’s health. I hypothesize that traditional preparations of the identified species will vary in inhibition of the growth of pathogenic (Gardnerella vaginalis) and beneficial (Lactobacillus) vaginal bacterial due to differences in specialized metabolites. Furthermore, I hypothesize that there will be similarities in plants and women’s health practices between the Haitian and other Caribbean communities in NYC, due to the shared flora in the Caribbean. The selected plant species will be analyzed for their effects on disease-causing bacteria, Gardnerella vaginalis as well as on prominent beneficial Lactobacillus species found in the vagina. Plant extracts will also be compared to determine variation in the composition of bioactive phytochemicals across preparations of different tissues, using LC-MS- qToF and subsequent multivariate statistical analysis. An ethnobotanical survey with the Haitian community will be used to further identify additional plant species used to treat gynecological conditions by Caribbean women for continued laboratory studies. This data will enable cross-cultural comparisons with other Caribbean communities in NYC, and will also assess how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced NYC Haitian women in their use of medicinal plants for women’s health. Antibacterial natural products from plants that leave the vaginal microflora intact may provide low-cost and culturally-appropriate solutions for ongoing treatment of gynecological conditions. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: Project narrative This project will provide scientifically validated information on plants used for gynecological conditions by Caribbean women in New York City as well as other women globally who use these plants. Cross-cultural comparisons of women’s health practices within the larger Caribbean community in NYC will offer scientific feedback to these communities about their cultural healing traditions while contributing to the international dialogue on intercultural health. The results of this study will also be relayed to doctors and medical students to promote cultural competency through the Car-Lo E2 program at the New York Botanical Garden as well as a bilingal monograph that will be given back to the Caribbean community in NYC.

Back to Grants Page