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Books > Traditional Cultures >
Plants, People, and Culture
The Science of Ethnobotany

Michael J. Balick and Paul Alan Cox

Pages: 229
Price: $19.95
Publisher: Scientific American Library
Pub Date: 1996
ISBN: 0716760274

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Table of Contents >

1. People and Plants
2. Plants that Heal
3. From Hunting and Gathering to Haute Cuisine
4. Plants as the Basis for Material Culture
5. Entering the Other World
6. Biological Conservation and Ethnobotany
Suggested Reading
Sources of Illustrations

Description >
Overview of people and plants, then sections on healing, eating, building, and visionary plants, ends on conservation. "Entering the Other World" explains ebena snuff preparation; ayahuasca botany and biochemistry; communal kava experience; Cannabis in world history; coca; opium; and peyote use in the Native American Church. Good photos and graphics, suggested reading, index. Excellent introduction. - Mind Books

 Two leading ethnobotanists argue that human cultural origins are woven with plants: examining the prehistoric use and gathering of plants by hunter-gatherers to modern times, this examines important connections between indigenous peoples' development and concurrent plant discoveries. - Midwest Book Review

The relationship between plants and people is profound, affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. In this compelling new book, two of the world's leading ethnobotanists argue that the very roots of human culture are deeply intertwined with plants. Beginning with the prehistoric use of plants by hunter-gatherers and the development of agriculture, the authors argue that plants have deeply influenced the trajectory of civilization. One out of four prescription drugs, for example, was discovered from studies of plants used by indigenous peoples for healing, and today ethnobotanical searches for new remedies for AIDS, inflammation, and cancer are proceeding at a rapid pace. Complicating such searches, however, are rapid changes in the lifestyles and diets of indigenous peoples, which are linked to increasing levels of diabetes and arteriosclerosis. Yet, even here, understanding of indigenous diets can possibly lead to new strategies for treating disease. The inventive use of plants by indigenous shipwrights and weavers provides further evidence of the botanical sophistication of indigenous peoples, as does the shaman's use of plants to provide doorways into the other world - a world populated by both angelic and demonic beings. Although claims for such plants have sometimes been attributed to superstition, studies of these plants have revealed a plethora of novel compounds with potent neuropsychological impacts. Such compounds hold the promise of providing new treatments for psychiatric illness, but also the threat of societal disruption if their illegal traffic continues to grow. The view that plants themselves can be sacred leads to a startling reconsideration of the role of indigenous people in conservation. The authors, who have both spent decades in the tropics, persuasively argue that rain forest conservation can best be accomplished by learning from, rather than opposing, indigenous peoples and their concerns. - Publisher

Reviews/Excerpts >
From Book News, Inc.
Ethnobotanists Cox and Balick share two decades of experience living with the indigenous peoples of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, conducting fieldwork in the study of how people use plants. The result of their efforts details a story of human culture in relationship to the plants they have traditionally used for medicinal, recreational, and ornamental purposes. This legacy continues today in the form of pharmacology research, aided by the fields of anthropology and botany. The authors' cautionary admonition against the destruction of native communities and environments draws authority from their scientific, but passionate engagement with the subject. Includes color photographs and illustrations. - Book News

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