What is Ethnobotany?

Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make of use of indigenous plants. Ethnobotanists explore how plants are used for such things as food, shelter, medicine, clothing, hunting, and religious ceremonies.

Medicinal plants are extracted
at Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Photo by Mark Tuschmanii, 1996.

Ethnobotany has its roots in botany, the study of plants. Botany, in turn, originated in part from an interest in finding plants to help fight illness. In fact, medicine and botany have always had close ties. Many of today’s drugs have been derived from plant sources. Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal and toxic products from natural plant sources. At one time, pharmacologists researching drugs were required to understand the natural plant world, and physicians were schooled in plant-derived remedies. However, as modern medicine and drug research advanced, chemically-synthesized drugs replaced plants as the source of most medicinal agents in industrialized countries. Although research in plant sources continued and plants were still used as the basis for some drug development, the dominant interest (and resulting research funding) shifted to the laboratory.[More]