Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Botanical Medicines from the Amazon and Machu Picchu
Botanical Medicines from the Amazon and Machu Picchu

Every year during the past decade, the American Botanical Council (ABC) has co-sponsored an herbal medicine/environmental continuing education tour to the Peruvian Amazon, with an extension to the fabled lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, designated in 1983 by UNESCO as a cultural and world heritage site. The tour includes other Incan sites in the snow-capped Andes, e.g., the historic Urubamba valley and the Incan ancient capital city of Cusco, the longest continually-inhabited spot in the Western hemisphere. ABC’s partners in the tours are now the ACEER (Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research) Foundation, WestChester University (WCU) in Pennsylvania, and the Texas Pharmacy Foundation.

Sue Mustalish photographing unique blossoms sprouting in a circular pattern. Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

Don Antonio discussing medicinal and historical aspects of jungle plants. Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

Machu Picchu. Photo ©2005 Mark Blumenthal.

The tour starts in the Amazonian town of Puerto Maldonado at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers, two main tributaries of the Upper Amazon. The tour group visits the market in Puerto Maldonado where various local herbs, medicinal plants, fruits, and vegetables are sold. Then we travel by boat down river to the Reserva Amazonica Lodge on the banks of the Madre de Dios. Here we spend 3 days, conducting workshops and rainforest tours dealing with herbal medicine, traditional foods, medicines of the Amazon, and the compelling environmental issues facing the Amazon. Next we visit Inkaterra Ecological Reserve, a 25,000 acre preserve adjacent to Reserva Amazonica, which includes the new Inkaterra Canopy Walkway. The Walkway is a series of hanging bridges, towers, and platforms located 100 feet above the forest floor. Woven through the crowns of rainforest trees, the Walkway provides an unparalleled opportunity to view the plants and animals living in this unique ecosystem.

Dr. Helen Elscot on the stairsteps of Huayna Picchu. Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

Stink bugs congregating on a leaf. Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

Thorn Apple Datura stramonium Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

We also explore the new educational facility at ACEER’s headquarters a few miles upriver from Reserva Amazonica, with visits to the ACEER’s Jardín de Plantas Medicinales, the Children’s Rainforest Garden, the Useful Plants Trail, and the Experimental Reforestation plot. On our last day in this region, we spend the morning exploring the aquatic ecosystems at Sandoval Lake (swimming permitted), an exceptional “oxbow lake” formed generations ago by the shifting waters of the Madre de Dios.

The group then moves to the Andes Mountains, with a tour of Cusco and other famous Inca sites, including the Sacred Urubamba Valley. And then the peak experience—a day-and-a-half at Machu Picchu! The Machu Picchu portion includes lectures on Andean flora, an extensive tour of the mountain-top ruins, and for those in good physical condition, a climb to Huayna Picchu, the spire-shaped mountain often seen in the backdrop of many photos of Machu Picchu. Incredibly, there are ruins atop this mountain, with an incredible panoramic view of the citadel of Machu Picchu below and the snow-capped Andean peaks all around.

Fuchsia boliviana. Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.

Fern near the orchid reserve at Reserva Amazonica Photo ©2005 Helen Elscot.

Cashew Anacardium occidentale Photo ©2005 Mark Blumenthal.

Originally dubbed “Pharmacy from the Rainforest,” these eco-tours were initially designed to provide onsite continuing education for pharmacists. Since those first trips in the mid-1990s, continuing education credits have been expanded during various tours to include physicians and other healthcare professionals. Continuing education credits for pharmacists are accredited by the Texas Pharmacy Foundation. WCU is accredited by ACCME (Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education) to award continuing medical education credits to physicians. WCU will also award non-credit certification of contact hours for other professionals seeking continuing education credits. Those interested in undergraduate or graduate credit for the workshop can earn them through WCU (additional tuition fees apply).

Papaya. Carica papaya Photo ©2005 Andrea Ottesen.

Genipa americana, used by the indigenous people for body painting. Photo ©2005 Andrea Ottesen.


Denizen of Machu Picchu. Photo ©2005 Mark Blumenthal.

One of the most distinctive and compelling aspects of the tour is the opportunity to learn from ethnobotanist and renowned author James A. Duke, PhD. During his extensive career as economic botanist and ethnobotanical researcher (formerly with the US Department of Agriculture from whence he retired after 30 years of service), Jim has visited Peru over 50 times. He is one of the most knowledgeable people alive on the classification and uses of hundreds of Amazonian rainforest plants as well as the plants in the Andean highlands of Peru. To supplement this article, Jim wrote a book review of Diccionario Enciclopédico de Plantas Útiles del Perú, an encyclopedic dictionary covering a plethora of Peruvian plants (see page 39). Jim is truly a national and natural treasure!


Divine Goddess Masdevallia veitchiana Photo ©2005 Kiki Roesch.


Heliconia spp. Photo ©2005 Mark Blumenthal

James A. Duke, PhD, on Inkaterra Canopy Walkway. Photo ©2005 Andrea Ottesen.

In addition to workshops by Jim Duke and this writer, another instructor is Sue Mustalish, RN, a certified holistic nurse and clinical herbalist, and our old friend, Don Antonio Montero Pisco, an Amazonian Shaman and ayahuascero. The workshops include the following topics: History of Herbs in Medicine and Pharmacy; Medicinal Plants of the Amazon; Botanicals for Maternal and Child Health; Plants of Economic and Health Value; Amazonian Shamanic Traditions; Andean Shamanic Traditions; Herbal Medicine Forms and Uses; and Overview of the US Herbal Marketplace.

I have had the opportunity to participate and present workshops in all but one of these tours (as well as similar ABC tours to Belize, Costa Rica, Kenya, and South Africa), and they are truly one of the highlights of my annual travels. ABC cordially invites our vast family of members, friends, and other stakeholders to accompany us this year from October 17-26 as we visit and study the herbs of the Amazon and the Andes. More details on the itinerary of this year’s tour are available via ABC’s Web site at Also, a special series of HerbalGram feature articles covering a previous tour to Peru can be accessed at Space for this year’s tour is limited. Complete registration materials are available from Marguerite Gould, ACEER Foundation (phone: 610-738-0477 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting FREE 610-738-0477end_of_the_skype_highlighting; e-mail: