Medicine from the rainforest

Scientists are investigating the healing powers of Congolese flora.

A root extract that helps fight malaria; a mixture of herbs that relieves gastro-intestinal problems; and powder made from the bark of a tree that alleviates arthritic pains. The planet's rain forests are a valuable source of medicine. This is also  true for the 800,000 square kilometres of the Congo's Cuvette Centrale, the largest single block of rain forest on the African continent. But this forest pharmacy is being faced by threats on two fronts: from clearance, which is reducing the natural habitat of the many thousands of plants, and from the adoption of western ways of life, which is threatening the indigenous population's traditional knowledge.

Faced with these developments, German and Congolese scientists have decided to take a closer look at the botanic diversity of the Congo Basin. Since 2001, they have been systematically collecting and cataloguing the medicinally efficacious plant life of the Cuvette Centrale. Back in the lab in Kinshasa, these plants are tested in order to determine their phytochemically active ingredients. The researchers test for alcaloids, flavonoids, saponines and other secondary compounds displaying pharmacological activity. While conducting the biological research they also investigate and document the local population's traditional knowledge ensuring that centuries-old skills and insights are preserved for future generations.

In accordance with the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity, scientists aim to benefit the local population by directly applying  their research results. This approach not only opens up new sources of income for the indigenous population, it also raises awareness of the economic value of the rain forest, thus helping to preserve the Congo's unique biodiversity.

Further information on the project:

Facts and Figures

Institutes participating:

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig


Dr. Barbara Fruth
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Tel.: +49 (0)341-3550 252

Partners in Africa:

Université de Kinshasa (UNIKIN), Département de Biologie, Laboratoire de Botanique Systématique et d'Ecologie Végétale, Département de l'Environnement, Taxonomie et Phytosociologie, Département de l'Environnement, Toxicologie; Institut National de la Recherche Biomédicale (INRB); Ministère de la Santé, Kinshasa; Institut National des Etudes et des Recherches Agronomiques (INERA); GTZ, Kinshasa; German Embassy Kinshasa; Institut Congolais de la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN); Université de Kisangani (UNIKIS), Département de l'Ecologie et Conservation de la Nature, Département d'Ecologie et Gestion des Ressources Végétales; Programme National de Promotion de la Médicine Traditionelle et des Plantes Médicinales (PNMT/PM); Ministère de la Santé, Kinshasa

Partners in Germany:

Schwabe Pharmaceuticals, phytochemical research, Karlsruhe; Department of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Mainz

Partners in Belgium:

Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Laboratoire de Botanique Systématique et de Phytosociologie, Brussels; National Botanic Garden of Belgium, Vascular Plant Research


Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Total sponsorship:

2001 – 2010: approx. €1.4 million

Media contact:

Research for Biodiversity Editorial Office
Phone: +49 (0)30 700 186 677
Fax:  +49 (0)30 700 186 810

Deutsche Version dieser Seite

Media contact:

Research for Biodiversity Editorial Office 
+49 (0) 30 700 186 677  +49 (0) 30 700 186 810 E-Mail