The term "ethnobotany" was first coined in 1896 by the American botanist John Harshberger as the study of plants used by primitive and aboriginal people. Since then it has been defined as the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities of the surrounding plant diversity and the study of how the people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous plants. Ethnobotany has its roots in botany. Botany, in turn, originated in part from an interest in finding plants to help fight illness. Ethnobotany is the most important approach to study the natural resource management of indigenous people. The issues of economic compensation and protected
A.M. Abbasi et al., Medicinal Plant Biodiversity of Lesser Himalayas-Pakistan, 17
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-1575-6_2, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
areas raise the problem of the divergence between conservation managers and village communities in their perception, mode of presentation, and system of resource appropriation and allocation. Conservation managers' recognition of the knowledge and practices of indigenous people would help reduce tension and conflict between these two parties . Ethnobotany includes all types of relationships between people and plants. The definition of ethnobotany can be summed up in four words: people, plants, interactions, and uses.
"Ethnobotany is the study of how the people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous plants," while the ethnobotanist explores how plants are used as food, shelter, medicine, and clothing, for hunting, and in religious ceremonies. It is the science studying "the relationship between a given society and its environment and in particular the plant world" .
The Swede naturalist Carl Linnaeus actually invented ethnobotany as a student during his journey in 1732 to Lapland. On July 4, 1732, Linnaeus recorded in his diary some medical remedies used by the Sami people: "I here made the following observations relative to the remedies used by the Laplanders. Their Moxa, as the Japanese call it, but which they term Toule, is made of a fine fungus found on the birch. They apply a piece as large as a pea upon the afflicted part" . He published the Flora lapponica in 1737, which included a discussion of the ways in which specific plants were utilized by the Laplander (Sami) people.
Harshberger's definition and vision from 1896 still provide the core for the science of ethnobotany. A slight change in emphasis can be seen through a review of Cotton's current definition: "Ethnobotany is considered to encompass all studies which concern the mutual relationship between plants and traditional peoples" , The early definitions of ethnobotany restricted the field to the study of how aboriginal people used plants. Botanists, explorers, and other people who traveled the globe would see a plant and then identify, classify, and name it for the purposes of science. They would ask a local resident to give the name of the plant in the local language or to specify the local uses of the plant. This resulted in numerous monographs on the cultural group uses of plants. The particular focus of such monographs would vary depending upon the specific interest of the person undertaking the study. These early attempts of ethnobotany are considered the articulation of colonial economies, imaginations, and projects . They can also be seen as the basic data-gathering stage of the ethnobotanical discipline. At present, ethnobotany has shifted its focus from people's use of plants to the relationship between people and plants, which includes use, cognition, and ecology. Recent definitions of ethnobotany [4, 6-8] demonstrate a consensus on the move to include more than just use by focusing on the relationship between people and plants. However, there is not a consensus on whether the discipline should focus on all people or on traditional and indigenous peoples [4, 6]. It is evident that people who have lived in one locality for a long time have particularly rich sets of knowledge about and cognition of plants and local ecology. A more fundamental issue relative to knowledge, however, is found within the discussion of the relationship between knowledge as practice and knowledge as heritage.
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. 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 has continued and plants are still used as the basis for drug development, the dominant interest and resulting research funding have shifted to the laboratory. To document the secret uses of the plants, ethnobotany has become an important part of our world. Recent ethnobotanical surveys among tribal populations have brought new information to the forefront, which can be utilized to improve the economy of the tribes by organizing the systematic collection of forest products and locating cottage industries, especially of herbal drugs. In China, ethnobotany was introduced as a science in the late 1970s, but deep-rooted ethnobotanical knowledge in Chinese culture can be traced back to ancient times in Chinese history. This is evidenced by the vast literature on Chinese Materia Medica and Chinese works of agriculture and horticulture . In India and Pakistan, three traditional systems of medicine, namely, Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani, are distinguished. Ethnomedicine is an area of research that deals with medicines derived from plants, animals, or minerals and used in the treatment of various diseases and ailments based on indigenous pharmacopoeia, folklore, and herbal charm. Ethnobotany has an important role in the conservation of nature, culture, and, in particular, the biological diversity and the diversity of traditional human cultures in the world. In fact, conservation and biodiversity are linked with each other. Traditional knowledge systems are hundreds or even thousands of years old and involve not only the knowledge of plants for medicine and food but also strategies for the sustainable utilization of plant resources. In these respects, ethnobotany has played a vital role in describing traditional knowledge about medicinal uses of plants and will continue to do so in the future. To discover the practical potential of native plants, an ethnobotanist must be knowledgeable in the study of plants themselves and must also understand and be sensitive to the dynamics of how cultures work. Ethnobotanists have helped us to understand the frightening implications the loss of the rain forests would bring, not only the consequent lost knowledge about tropical plants, but also the damage brought about by the loss of native cultures in their entirety, as well as the damage to the Earth's ecological health. Out of necessity, ethnobotany is a multidisciplinary science. This multidisciplinary approach gives ethnobotanists more insight into the management of forest reserves in a period of tremendous environmental stress. Unfortunately, due to human factors that have influenced the ecological balance of these delicate ecosystems, we are presently faced with the possibility of losing our forests. Ethnobotany as an emerging science has a vital role in the improvement of plants and plant products. It certainly adds to conservation and can also be utilized for value addition.
The two fundamental strengths of applied ethnobotany are
To allow the knowledge, wisdom, and practices of local people to play fuller roles in identifying and finding solutions to issues of conservation and sustainable development.
Local people are fundamentally involved in all stages of research and practical follow-up, so there is a better chance of "buy-in" and more robust solutions .
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