ETHNOBOTANY

Scientists who are trying to uncover little-known medicinal uses of plants often travel to isolated areas of the world where people still rely on traditional remedies. But it’s a race against time. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

ambience: rainforest

“In our societies, we’re so removed from the plant kingdom that most people wouldn’t know a wheat field if they were driving by.”

Dr. Richard Evans Schultes has often been called the father of ethnobotany. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, Dr. Schultes spent years in the rainforests of South America working with indigenous peoples and studying their use of herbal medicines. This interview was conducted in 1989.

“Primitive people know their plants. They have experimented over thousands of years. They know the properties of these plants, and they’ve bent them to their use.

“There is a danger that this knowledge may not be passed on because it’s lost with the arrival of missionaries, commercial people, or even tourists, and the availability of our drugs. Every road that goes in brings in our civilization. Many things of the natives are lost. And one of the first things that’s lost is this knowledge of plants that are useful as medicines.

“Take the 80,000 species in the Amazon. We should concentrate first on those plants that the people who live there have found to have some physiological effect on the body.

Many Amazonian plants have been the basis of western medicines, as we’ll hear in future programs.

Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

ETHNOBOTANY

As rainforests continue to disappear, what is lost isn't just plants and animals, but centuries of valuable knowledge.
Air Date:11/11/1999
Scientist:
Transcript:

Scientists who are trying to uncover little-known medicinal uses of plants often travel to isolated areas of the world where people still rely on traditional remedies. But it's a race against time. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

ambience: rainforest

"In our societies, we're so removed from the plant kingdom that most people wouldn't know a wheat field if they were driving by."

Dr. Richard Evans Schultes has often been called the father of ethnobotany. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, Dr. Schultes spent years in the rainforests of South America working with indigenous peoples and studying their use of herbal medicines. This interview was conducted in 1989.

"Primitive people know their plants. They have experimented over thousands of years. They know the properties of these plants, and they've bent them to their use.

"There is a danger that this knowledge may not be passed on because it's lost with the arrival of missionaries, commercial people, or even tourists, and the availability of our drugs. Every road that goes in brings in our civilization. Many things of the natives are lost. And one of the first things that's lost is this knowledge of plants that are useful as medicines.

"Take the 80,000 species in the Amazon. We should concentrate first on those plants that the people who live there have found to have some physiological effect on the body.

Many Amazonian plants have been the basis of western medicines, as we'll hear in future programs.

Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.