Ethnobotany: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ethnobotany (from "ethnology" - study of culture[1] and "botany" - study of plants) is the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants.

Ethnobotanists aim to document, describe and explain complex relationships between cultures and (uses of) plants: focusing, primarily, on how plants are used, managed and perceived across human societies (e.g. as foods; as medicines; in divination; in cosmetics; in dyeing; as textiles; in construction; as tools; as currency; as clothing; in literature; in rituals; and in social life.)[2]


History of ethnobotany

Plants have been widely used by American Indian healers, such as this Ojibwa man.

Though the term "ethnobotany" was not coined until 1895 by the US botanist John William Harshberger, the history of the field begins long before that. In AD 77, the Greek surgeon Dioscorides published "De Materia Medica", which was a catalog of about 600 plants in the Mediterranean. It also included information on how the Greeks used the plants, especially for medicinal purposes. This illustrated herbal contained information on how and when each plant was gathered, whether or not it was poisonous, its actual use, and whether or not it was edible (it even provided recipes). Dioscorides stressed the economic potential of plants. For generations, scholars learned from this herbal, but did not actually venture into the field until after the Middle Ages.

In 1542 Leonhart Fuchs, a Renaissance artist, led the way back into the field. His "De Historia Stirpium" cataloged 400 plants native to Germany and Austria.

John Ray (1686–1704) provided the first definition of "species" in his "Historia Plantarum": a species is a set of individuals who give rise through reproduction to new individuals similar to themselves.

In 1753 Carl Linnaeus wrote "Species Plantarum", which included information on about 5,900 plants. Linnaeus is famous for inventing the binomial method of nomenclature, in which all species get a two part name (genus, species).

The 19th century saw the peak of botanical exploration. Alexander von Humboldt collected data from the new world, and the James Cook's voyages brought back collections and information on plants from the South Pacific. At this time major botanical gardens were started, for instance the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.[citation needed]

Edward Palmer collected artifacts and botanical specimens from peoples in the North American West (Great Basin) and Mexico from the 1860s to the 1890s.

Once enough data existed, the field of "aboriginal botany" was founded. Aboriginal botany is the study of all forms of the vegetable world which aboriginal peoples use for food, medicine, textiles, ornaments, etc.[citation needed]

The first individual to study the emic perspective of the plant world was a German physician working in Sarajevo at the end of 19th Century: Leopold Glueck. His published work on traditional medical uses of plants done by rural people in Bosnia (1896) has to be considered the first modern ethnobotanical work.[citation needed]

The term "ethnobotany" was first used by a botanist named John W. Harshberger in 1895 while he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Although the term was not used until 1895, practical interests in ethnobotany go back to the beginning of civilization when people relied on plants as a way of survival.[citation needed]

Other scholars analysed uses of plants under an indigenous/local perspective in the 20th century: e.g. Matilda Coxe Stevenson, Zuni plants (1915); Frank Cushing, Zuni foods (1920); Keewaydinoquay Peschel, Anishinaabe fungi (1998), and the team approach of Wilfred Robbins, JP Harrington, and Barbara Freire-Marreco, Tewa pueblo plants (1916).

In the beginning, ethonobotanical specimens and studies were not very reliable and sometimes not helpful. This is because the botanists and the anthropologists did not collaborate their work. The botanists focused on identifying species and how the plants were used instead of concentrating upon plants fit into people's lives. On the other hand, anthropologists were interested in the cultural role of plants and not the scientific aspect. Therefore, early ethnobotanical data does not really include both sides. In the early twentieth century, botanists and anthropologists finally collaborated and the collection of reliable, detailed data began.

Modern ethnobotany

Beginning in the 20th century, the field of ethnobotany experienced a shift from the raw compilation of data to a greater methodological and conceptual reorientation. This is also the beginning of academic ethnobotany. The founding father of this discipline is Richard Evans Schultes.

Today the field of ethnobotany requires a variety of skills: botanical training for the identification and preservation of plant specimens; anthropological training to understand the cultural concepts around the perception of plants; linguistic training, at least enough to transcribe local terms and understand native morphology, syntax, and semantics.

Considerable information on the traditional uses of plants is still intact with the tribals[3]. But the native healers are often reluctant to accurately share their knowledge to outsiders. Schultes actually apprenticed himself to an Amazonian shaman, which involves a long term commitment and genuine relationship. In Wind in the Blood: Mayan Healing & Chinese Medicine by Garcia et al. the visiting acupuncturists were able to access levels of Mayan medicine that anthropologists could not because they had something to share in exchange. Cherokee medicine priest David Winston describes how his uncle would invent nonsense to satisfy visiting anthropologists. [4]

see Video recording in ethnobotanical research

Scientific journals covering ethnobotanical research

The Latin American and Caribbean Bulletin of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (Abbreviated BLACPMA) or Boletin latinoamericano y del caribe de plantas medicinales y aromaticas (ISSN-0717 7917) is a bimonthly scientific publication directed to diverse professionals and technicians linked to the field of medicinal and aromatic plants. It accepts papers related with the Bulletin's areas of interest, which are agronomy, anthropology and ethnobotany, industrial applications, botany, quality and normalization, ecology and biodiversity, economy and markets, pharmacology, phytochemistry, legislation, information and diffusion of events, courses, prizes, regulations, news, market questions, reports, bibliography, or any other material type that is important to publish.

See also the following peer-reviewed journals:

See also


  1. ^ The Random House Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged Edition, Jess Stein ed. in chief, Random House, New York 1966 p. 489
  2. ^ Acharya, Deepak and Shrivastava Anshu (2008): Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices, Aavishkar Publishers Distributor, Jaipur- India. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7. pp 440.
  3. ^ Sood, S.K., Nath, R. and Kalia, D.C. 2001. Ethnobotany of Cold Desert Tribes of Lahoul-Spiti (N.W. Himalaya). Deep Publications, New Delhi.
  4. ^ Wind in the Blood: Mayan Healing & Chinese Medicine by Hernan Garcia, Antonio Sierra, Hilberto Balam, and Jeff Connant

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

The study of people and their interaction with plants is broadly defined as ethnobotany. The essay further down this page gratefully accepts fact-checking in order to supply the citations, quotations, links and references.


Man's/Wife's best friend (Vegetative Republic)

This essay traces the development of modern Cannabis sativa, starting in the orient millennia ago, as an example of ethnobotany, of great importance to the modern world.

Primate family tree

A chart furnished by Frans de Wals in his groundbreaking Bonobo: the forgotten ape (1996) indicates that the orangutan diverged from the common ancestor about 14 million years ago, the gorilla 10 million, the human vs. chimp and bonobo 6 million years ago. (Chimp and bonobo divided about 3 million years ago.)

Primate-predator development

Orangutans, gorillas and bonobos are believed to be almost entirely vegetarian, while studies by Goodall and others over the last three decades show that chimpanzees may eat as much as 20% of their diet from meat sources, mainly monkeys and termites. It is said that humans first began domesticating fire in Africa 1.8 million years ago in order to cook-- and preserve a few days longer-- the meat of large animal carcasses which had been hunted down by groups of men and dogs. This permitted larger population groups to consume meat while reducing waste, as a carcass could be finished off before spoiling. As this technology spread around the world, women went out woodgathering for the cooking fires, and a tree ring, or line beyond which there still was some wood to gather, would begin receding from each human habitation. Eventually each clan or village would exhaust the fuel in its immediate neighborhood and move on to new quarters (slash and burn). In this way desertification began on a hitherto unknown scale, speeding up further about ten thousand years ago with the development of animal husbandry, or captive herds of meat animals.

Large animal extinction and birth of animal husbandry

Just recently, in December 2008, news arrived of studies showing that a large comet or asteroid struck the earth, possibly in North America near the Great Lakes, about 13,000 years ago as attested by the finding of huge numbers of nanodiamonds in the corresponding geological layer. Missing from higher layers are any remainders of mastodons, woolly mammoths, etc. Perhaps it can be surmised that into the resulting vacant environmental niche in the northern hemisphere somewhat smaller mammals, such as the ancestor of today's oxen or beefcattle, expanded. This enabled northern human populations to expand because these animals were somewhat easier to catch and slaughter. By about 10,000 years ago the fateful change occurred, whereby instead of hunting down animals on an occasional basis, humans, especially in Eur-Asia, learned to lure and feed them, leading to capture and enclosure and a corresponding interest in raising feed grains for the resulting herds, i.e. the famous and beloved agricultural revolution. This greatly accelerated the slash-and-burn process, leading to other developments such as group competition for resources to feed expanding human and animal populations and a corresponding arms race and tendency toward a warlord or despotic social system.

The cooking revolution

Now the women had more work to do than ever, cooking not only meat for bigger families and villages but also the grains for which humans had acquired a taste. Species such as wheat evolved quickly under dietary use and became the "staff of life". Slash and burn agriculture now required extensive areas to be cleared for planting.

In due order it was discovered that a few woody-stem plant species, particularly the annual herb Cannabis, were able to produce biomass fast enough to keep up with the cookstove depredations, and when the women dragged stalks of cannabis to the house, shaking seeds loose along the way, "plantations" of cannabis grew up, especially in southern Asia, providing stove fuel and other useful products and contributing to the growth of immense human populations such as those in China and India. Cold-climate dwellers found the cannabis stalks useful in housing construction; especially "thatchers" learned to use them for roofing.

Genetic convergence of human and cannabis species

As a bonus, over the course of time cannabis growing on human-waste dungpiles developed into strains which were sensitive-- and responsive-- to hormone residues in the human fertilizer. In this way the species "learned" to produce answering-hormones which could attach to what are known today as "cannabinoid receptors" in the human brain, and when stalks and leaves containing these substances were burned in the family stove, and smoke inhaled by mom and the kids, profound religiobotanic concepts were protomeditated resulting in today's beautifully bound canon (or cannabin) of Holy Scriptures full of admonitions like "In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread" (i.e. it gets hot and smoky in mom's kitchen).

Within the lifespan of humans living today, a technology grew up breeding strains of (vegetable)Cannabis alias Dagga with the desired characteristic of producing large amounts of the above cited response-hormones, just as humans bred strains of (animal) Canis alias Dog (to the point that today you can get a dog any size from two pounds to 300).Treedesigner 02:14, 3 January 2008 (UTC)

Cranberries... [edit] --Remi 01:40, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

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