Spiritual Flora of Brazil’s African Diaspora

Ethnobotanical Conversations in the Black Atlantic


  • Robert Voeks California State University--Fullerton




Columbian exchange, ethnobotany, plant transfer, African diaspora, Candomblé, Brazil


Candomblé was introduced to Brazil by enslaved and free West Africans in the early nineteenth century. One dimension of the religion is a profound association between a pantheon of deities (the orixás) and a pharmacopoeia of magico-medicinal plants. This article explores the means by which the black diaspora was able to organize an African-inspired spiritual ethno-flora in the Americas. I argue that a cornucopia of esculent and medicinal plants had diffused back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean centuries before the arrival of most African slaves. Thus, while the primary rainforests of Africa and the Americas would have had little in common biologically, the increasing presence of exotic edible and medicinal cultivars and weeds contributed over time to their botanical similarity. This transatlantic ethnobotanical conversation greatly facilitated the ability of Brazil’s African diaspora to reconfigure their plant-based spiritual traditions in what was otherwise an alien floristic landscape.

Author Biography

Robert Voeks, California State University--Fullerton

Professor Geography at California State University--Fullerton.


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How to Cite

Voeks, R. (2013). Spiritual Flora of Brazil’s African Diaspora: Ethnobotanical Conversations in the Black Atlantic. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 6(4), 501–522. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v6i4.501