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Aim and Scope of Ethnobotany

Ethnobotany as a discipline – Ethnobotany has developed in the recent past into an important scientific discipline. The central issues in ethnobotanical studies involve the interaction between plants and people and foremost among these are the management of plant diversity by indigenous communities and the traditional use of medicinal plants. The vast body of indigenous knowledge concerning biodiversity is vanishing with the destruction of ecosystems and traditional cultures throughout the world. This destruction has led to an increased awareness of the necessity of ethnobotanical research.

Ethnobotanical projects – As a consequence several comprehensive ethnobotanical projects have been funded, e.g., PROSEA (Plant Resources of South East Asia), PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa), TRAMIL (Programa de investigación aplicada a la medicina popular del Caribe), People and Plants Initiative (a joint project of WWF, UNESCO, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew). Indigenous knowledge of plant use and ecosystem management is considered an important component of the world’s cultural heritage. However, it also plays a crucial role in various applied fields such as biodiversity conservation and primary health care. Since conservation is directly linked to social values and behaviour, local knowledge on plant resource management has played an increasingly important role in biodiversity conservation projects. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 60 - 90% of the developing countries’ population still relies on traditional herbal medicine for primary health care. Additionally, for many people in developing countries wild collected “greens” are an essential source of vitamin and mineral additives for healthy nutrition. Furthermore, effective allopathic drugs (e.g., artemisinin for treatment of malaria, vincristin against leukaemia) have been developed on the basis of indigenous plant knowledge. These successful ethnobotanical studies confirm that important sources of knowledge are hidden in highly endangered traditions of indigenous societies.


Multidisciplinarity – Ethnobotany stands at the interface of several disciplines and relies on knowledge and research methods of botany, ecology and anthropology. It deals with investigations on indigenous people’s plant use and management of natural resources as well as their perception and classification of nature. Methodologies applied in ethnobotany have enhanced greatly over the past decades. Various analytical tools and statistical analyses derived from ecology, linguistics and cognitive psychology have augmented traditional qualitative approaches, leading to more sophisticated ways of collecting data and more profound interpretations of research results.



Used Literature

Balick M.J. 1990. Ethnobotany and the identification of therapeutic agents from the rainforest. In Chadwick D.J. and Marsh J. (eds), Bioactive compounds from plants. Ciba Foundation Symposium No. 154, Wiley, Chichester, UK.

Cox P.A. 1994. The ethnobotanical approach to drug discovery: strengths and limitations. In Prance G. and Marsh J. (eds), Ethnobotany and the search for new drugs. Ciba Foundation Symposium 185. Academic Press, London: 25-41.

Cox P.A. 2000. Will tribal knowledge survive the millennium? Science 287: 44.

Cox P.A. 2001. Ethnobotanical drug discovery: Uncertainty or promise? Pharmaceutical News 8: 52-56

Cunningham A.B. 1993. African medicinal plants: setting priorities at the interface between conservation and primary healthcare. People and plants working paper 1, March: 1-50.

Cunningham A.B. 2001. Applied ethnobotany. People, wild plant use and conservation. People and plants conservation manual. Earthscan, London.

Etkin N. (ed) 1994. Eating on the wild side. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Hart K.H. and Cox P.A. 2001. A cladistic approach to comparative Ethnobotany: Dye plants of the Southwestern United States. Journal of Ethnobiology 20: 303-325.

Johns T. 1999. Plant constituents and the nutrition and health of indigenous peoples. In Nazarea V.D. (ed), Ethnoecology: Situated Knowledge/Located Lives. University of Arizona Press, Tucson: 157-174.

Martin G.J. 1995. Ethnobotany. A methods manual. People and plants conservation manual. Chapman and Hall, London.

Mascia M.B., Brosius J.P., Dobson T.A., Forbes B.C., Horowitz L., McKean M.A., and Turner N.J. 2003. Conservation and the social sciences. Conservation Biology 17: 649-650.

Phillips O. and Gentry A.H. 1993a. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru I. Statistical hypothesis tests with a new quantitative technique. Economic Botany 47: 15-32.

Phillips O. and Gentry A.H. 1993b. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru II. Additional hypothesis testing in quantitative ethnobotany. Economic Botany 47: 33-43.

Prance G.T., Balée W., Boom B.M., and Carneiro R.L. 1995. Quantitative ethnobotany and the case for conservation in Amazonia. In Schultes R.E. and Von Reis S. (eds), Ethnobotany, evolution of a discipline. Chapman and Hall, London: 157-174.

Schultes R.E. and von Reis S. 1995 (eds). Ethnobotany, evolution of a discipline. Chapman and Hall, London.

Tuxill J. and Nabhan G.P. 2001. People, plants and protected areas. A guide to in situ management. People and plants conservation manual. Earthscan, London.

World Health Organization 2002. WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005. Geneva.

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9/06/10