Here on the blog I write about my art process, as well as topics that mirror the core of my work - combination of herbalism, ancestral connection and eco-feminism.
I'm interested in exploring how the environment is impacted by humans and how a disconnection from nature has changed society as a whole.
Not just because we ourselves have been nourished by the plants that are a part of our diet. But more so because our ancestors had knowledge and tradition within the plants that they ate.
Ethnobotany becomes more fascinating when we think about how historically, plants were worked with as medicine – not just food.
I would go so far as to guarantee that multiple people in the last 1000 years of our own personal ancestries survived because they had herbal medicine that saved their life in one way or another.
Ethnobotany explores the relationships between people of a specific culture and plants. Ethnobotanists study this relationship both including and beyond food. They also look at a culture’s medicinal, spiritual, and every day practical interactions with plants (1).
Many individuals in present day have had this Traditional Ecological Knowledge (also known simply as TEK) passed down in their communities. However, for other cultures, some of this knowledge was lost or not fully passed down.
One reason this knowledge is important is because it can help us approach climate change. For example, check out this article written by Dr. Samantha Chisholm Hatfield. She shares how the knowledge of her lineage of the Tututni Band (Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians) contains records of trends that offer an additional dimension to climate change research.
Additionally, your own personal ethnobotany can help you to form a sense of curiosity as to what food, medicine, and knowledge was essential to the survival of your ancestors. If this knowledge hasn’t been a part of your life, this personal research can be valuable. It might encourage you to grow a garden or tend to a plant on your windowsill. You may learn about a plant that is endangered in the wild, and learn about conservation efforts.
Regardless of if the food you grew up with was a part of your ancestor’s traditional food or not, the food that has nourished you from an early age holds importance. This food forms the building blocks of who you are and brought you to where you are today.
Prompt: Take some time to reflect upon your favorite food memories and food that you have a deep passion for. Don’t label the food as “good” or “bad.” Instead, tune into the power of feeling that comes up for you when you contemplate this food.
Pick 5 of the strongest food memories and research the origins and current state of that food item. What role has that food played in cultures of past and present? Is the food endangered in any way? What impact does this food have on the current environment? What impact does the environment have on this food?
Search this database for your home regions for ethnobotanical studies
On Google, search for your region with the word “ethnobotany” after it
Explore Google Scholar – try to search for your region with “traditional ecological knowledge” after it
If possible, search for regions instead of whole countries. I also recommend regions instead of specific towns, as it’s more likely that a region was studied.
Often, the names of the plants shown in scientific research are in Latin. This avoids confusion between common names of plants, where two plants can share the same common name, but will each have their distinct Latin name. Google is the easiest translator of these names from Latin to English. A search will typically place a Wikipedia article on that plant at the top of the list. In this way, you can click over to that article to learn more about the plant. This is especially helpful if you do not have any previous experience with the plant.
You may live in the place where your ancestors have lived for as far back as history/story has recorded. It may also be that you have specific knowledge of previous locations your ancestors have lived.
If your ancestors immigrated to your current country from elsewhere, you may be able to research the history of your ancestral land and go back a step further. You can research “immigration history of ____your country___” to look at mass migrations. For example, there is a history of Greek colonisation in Southern Italy. The Jewish diaspora can be traced to different countries. The Moors from northwest Africa settled in Spain. In this way, you can speculate and go further back in your lineage than what is knowledge you can research.
You may also have the privilege of knowing exact villages people in your lineage have lived, which can help you to pinpoint regional foods and plants.
The tips in step 2 also apply to this researcha s well.
It’s one thing to research; it’s quite another thing to give yourself an opportunity to experience your personal ethnobotany. Whether you live in an apartment or a home, have access to a gardening space or a public park, there are so many ways that you can integrate your personal ethnobotany into your own life.
You can plant seeds in pots or in your garden. You can tend to plants that are on “your” land or that are in your neighborhood. You can integrate more of the foods you discovered into your diet. You can grow these foods on your own, or purchase them at a local farmer’s market, if they are available.
Beyond food, how can you interact with these plants? If appropriate, can you bring them into your home as a way to offer beauty to your indoor space? Can you create crafts with them? Can you work with them in any other way?
Through the exploration of the plants that make up your personal ethnobotany, you may discover that some of the traditions, plants, and habitats are endangered. How can you actively participate in a regeneration of the habitat, culture, and plant life?
– raise awareness through discussion
– find a way to tend to the land where these plants grow
– tend to the land where you live currently, even if it is not the land of your lineage. In this way, you can preserve the culture and plants as a steward of the land, as a good guest.
– learn the names for plants in the native language to where they originate
– donate to/volunteer for organizations who preserve the land/plants
Teach Ethnobotany (a great Youtube Channel)
Rosalyn LaPier (an interview with an ethnobotanist, with lots of great links)
Monica Gagliano (a scientist exploring plant cognition. This is a really exciting new field of study that explores how plants think and learn)