A Guide to Ethnobotany

Approximately 100 years old, the study of ethnobotony is a relative newcomer on the recognized academic scene. Its roots are old, however. This science of the relationship between plants and people actually started in ancient Greece when the physicians of the time began to look at herbal medicine. U.S. botanist Harshberger actually coined to term “ethnobotany” in 1895. Known also as “aborignial botony”, the frist recognized modern work of ethnobotony was published by Sarajevo resident Leopold Glueck at the end of the 19th century.

To become a ethnobotonist requires study in the field of botany and anthropology or related courses. A good knowledge of linguistics is also needed to deal with different cultures, terms and syntax. Much of the current work centers on medicinal uses of plants, however, the field also includes how plants are used as food, shelter, clothing, cosmetics, tools and other fields.

Degrees in Ethnobotony are just being developed. Most training is still via seminars and field trips. The University of Hawaii offers a Masters in Ethnobotony as does Arizona State University. The University of Kent in Canterbury, England offers an M.Sc in the subject, one of the latest on the market. Many universities offer seminars and field trips for study. Additional information may be found on Bostonteachnet.org/ethnobots/; cimtperu.com and Sacredearth.com/ethnobotony.

For those who seriously wish to pursue an education and/or vocation in this field, it is recommended to become a member of the Society for Economic Botony. Registration at their website is easy and inexpensive. They offer the latest information on schools, programs and job opportunities.