Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and people: From"ethno" - study of people and "botany" - study of plants. Ethnobotany is considered a branch of ethnobiology. Ethnobotany studies the complex relationships between (uses of) plants and cultures. The focus of ethnobotany is on how plants have been or are used, managed and perceived in human societies and includes plants used for food, medicine, divination, cosmetics, dyeing, textiles, for building, tools, currency, clothing, rituals, social life, and music.
History of Ethnobotany
Though the term "ethnobotany" was not coined until 1895 by the US botanist 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.
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 (mineral, vegetable or animal) 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 famous Captain Cook brought back information on plants from the South Pacific. At this time major botanical gardens were started, for instance the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
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.
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.
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 fungii (1998), and the team approach of Wilfred Robbins, JP Harrington, and Barbara Freire-Marreco, Tewa pueblo plants (1916).
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.
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,
- Alexiades, M.: Selected guidelines for ethnobotanical research: A field manual
- Cotton, C.: Ethnobotany
- Harrison, K. David. (2006) When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
- Martin, G.: Ethnobotany
- Terence McKenna "Food of the Gods", " True Hallucinations".
- Society for Economic Botany
- International Society of Ethnobiology
- Society of Ethnobiology
- General Information on Ethnobotany and Ethnomedicine
- Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
- Journal of Ethnobotany Research and Applications
- "Before Warm Springs Dam: History of Lake Sonoma Area" This California study has information about one of the first ethnobotanical mitigation projects undertaken in the USA.