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.
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.
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.
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.
P.A. 2000. Will tribal knowledge survive the millennium?
Science 287: 44.
P.A. 2001. Ethnobotanical drug discovery: Uncertainty
or promise? Pharmaceutical News 8: 52-56
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.
A.B. 2001. Applied ethnobotany. People, wild plant
use and conservation. People and plants conservation
manual. Earthscan, London.
N. (ed) 1994. Eating on the wild side. University
of Arizona Press, Tucson.
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.
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.
G.J. 1995. Ethnobotany. A methods manual.
People and plants conservation manual. Chapman and Hall, London.
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.
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.
O. and Gentry A.H. 1993b. The useful plants of Tambopata,
Peru II. Additional hypothesis testing in quantitative ethnobotany.
Economic Botany 47: 33-43.
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.
R.E. and von Reis S. 1995 (eds). Ethnobotany, evolution
of a discipline. Chapman and Hall, London.
J. and Nabhan G.P. 2001. People, plants and protected
areas. A guide to in situ management. People and
plants conservation manual. Earthscan, London.
Health Organization 2002. WHO Traditional Medicine
Strategy 2002-2005. Geneva.
to the top