“Horchata” drink in Southern Ecuador: medicinal plants and people’s wellbeing


The “horchata” is a herbal mixture infusion consumed in Southern Ecuador. It remains unknown how vendors group the plant species to sell them at traditional markets. This research documented the following: 1) a list of medicinal plant species sold for the drink; 2) the culturally important medicinal plant species; 3) the agreement among vendors regarding the medicinal plants species and their therapeutic use; and 4) the groups of medicinal plants sold for the preparation of “horchata.”

Medicinal plant species sold for the “horchata” at traditional markets

According to the results of the taxonomical identification, the medicinal plants used to prepare the “horchata” drink belong to 71 species, grouped in 58 genera and 33 plant families (Table 2). The current study registers the largest number of medicinal plant species known so far for any herbal mixture drink in Ecuador, contrasting to 28 species reported by Arguello and Aguilar [27] for the Loja province, 60 species mentioned by Cerón [17] at 12 traditional markets in Cuenca and Loja cities, and 28 species recorded by Villamagua Vergara [21] for highlands indigenous communities in the Loja province. In the case of Peru, Bussmann et al. [18] registered 42 species for the preparation of “emoliente” drinks that are sold by “emolienteros”.


The “horchata” is a heritage drink in Loja province. The 71 medicinal plants species registered for this drink is the largest number reported to date, and they have a total of 32 therapeutic uses. The combined results of the FL and FIC indices, the cluster analysis, and the field observations reveal an agreement among vendors on 16 medicinal plant species and their therapeutic use. This core group of plants requires bioactivity and bioassays analyses to determine biomedicine benefits that would be based on their pharmacological properties.

Ecuador’s challenge is to build bridges between traditional cultivation and wild harvest with urban consumption patterns. This will happen in the future by creating alternative production philosophies with equal rights and opportunities. This is the case of “horchateras” as women who use, protect, conserve, restore and promote ecosystems of medicinal plant species in homegardens and nature. This assertion coincides with Voeks [72], Dembélé et al. [73], and Hunde et al. [74], who affirm that women discern the cultural value that medicinal plants have, as their family role empowers them to become reservoirs of important wisdom. The ancestral practices of women are linked to the sustainable management of useful plants and minimization of natural impact, because their subsistence is grounded on rational consumption and an environmentally friendly way of life.

Full research article https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-017-0145-z


  • Montserrat RiosEmail author,
  • Fani Tinitana,
  • Pablo Jarrín-V,
  • Natalia Donoso and
  • Juan Carlos Romero-Benavides
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine201713:18

©  The Author(s). 2017

Received: 2 December 2016

Accepted: 16 February 2017

Published: 9 March 2017