Short notes on Ethnobotany foe exploration of plant wealth

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Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants. Ethnobotanists aim to document, describe and explain complex relationships between cultures and (uses of) plants: focusing, primarily, on how plants are used, managed and perceived across human societies (e.g., as foods; as medicines; in divination; in cosmetics; in dyeing; as textiles; in construction; as tools; as currency; as clothing; in literature; in rituals; and in social life.)

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.

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Although research in plant sources continued and plants were still used as the basis for some drug development, the dominant interest (and resultirtg research funding) shifted to the laboratory.

The 1990’s have seen a growing shift in interest once more; plants are reemerging as a significant source of new pharmaceuticals. Industries are now interested in exploring parts of the world where plant medicine remains the predominant form of dealing with illness.

South America, for example, has an extraordinary diversity of plant species and has been regarded as a treasure grove of medicinal plants. The jungles and rain forests of South America contain an incredibly diverse number of plant species, many still unexplored, many unique and potentially useful as medicinal sources.

Scientists have also realized the study of the native cultures which inhabit these regions can provide enormously valuable clues in the search for improved health. To uncover the secrets of the rain forest, specialists are needed, well-trained and willing to spend long, hard time in the field. This is where the ethnobotanist comes in.

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To discover the practical potential of native plants, an ethnobotanist must be knowledgeable not only in the study of plants themselves, but must understand and be sensitive to the dynamics of how cultures work. Ethnobotanists have helped us to understand the frightening implications which loss of the rain forests would bring not only in terms of consequent loss of knowledge about tropical plants, but the consequent damage brought on by the loss of native cultures in their entirety, as well as the damage to the earth’s ecological health.

By necessity, ethnobotany is multidisciplinary. This multidisciplinary approach gives ethnobotanists more insight into the management of tropical forest reserves in a period of tremendous environmental stress. Unfortunately, due to human factors which have influenced the ecological balance of these delicate ecosystems, we are presently faced with the possibility of losing our rain forests.

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