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Ethnobotany An Adventure into the Origin of Herbal Medicine

When I was a graduate student, my professors emphasized using primary literature over secondary literature. They wanted to make sure that we consulted and understood the thoughts and ideas of the original scholar as opposed to those who had studied with the scholar to "go back to the font" as one of my professors always liked to repeat.

In herbal medicine, returning to the font involves an exploration of the origins of the medicine the plants from which the medicine is derived and the culture and region from which the plant is obtained. This exploration, known as ethnobotany, is by its very nature multidisciplinary. Ethnobotanists are not only trained in botany and biology but also have to have some level of expertise in archeology, anthropology, chemistry, ecology, history, linguistics, sociology, pharmacology, religion, and/or mythology. They not only study the plants in their place of origin, but also work with shamans and healers within the native culture, examining that culture's concept of disease.

Although indigenous medicine can be found in every culture, one area of the world that has received much attention is South America due to its extraordinary diversity of plant species. The South American jungles and rain forests contain an incredible amount of diverse plant species, many still undiscovered, many unique and potentially useful as medicinal sources. In HerbalGram 66, Wade Davis presented a photographic history of Richard Evans Schultes, the father of ethnobotany. Schultes spent 13 years in the Amazon (1941-54) and returned to Harvard University with 24,000 plant specimens which are still being studied today. He also encouraged his students to learn the plants for themselves by sending them to the rainforest to learn from the "Indian professors."

The American Botanical Council, along with the Texas Pharmacy Association, the ACEER Foundation, and Westchester University of PA, would like to offer you the experience of discovering for yourself the culture and land of the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Enclosed with this issue of HerbClip is a flyer detailing the Botanical Medicines from the Amazon and Machu Picchu tour to be held from October 17-26, 2005. This tour will provide you with a chance to encounter firsthand the origins of herbal medicine from the Amazon, to meet the indigenous people who use this medicine, and to explore the land from which many herbal medicines are obtained.

Lori Glenn, Coordinator