The Society for Ethnobotany

Fostering research and education on the past, present, and future uses of plants by people.

Ghent 2009

Notes from the round-table workshops, Ghent, 14 March 2009

Ethnobotany in Europe: methodology

Chair: Christian Vogl; notes: Tinde van Andel

Key themes

  • Move from lists/description to hypothesis-driven work.
  • Need a greater awareness of IPR/ethics issues in work in Europe (perhaps we are more aware of these issues when working outside Europe, but they are important here too).
  • Need more outreach to public.
  • Raise awareness of good/innovative methodology (often buried in amongst data-rich papers)
  • Need to ensure that the large existing body of good practice is actually applied: need for more training and awareness-raising.
  • Issues at the interface between disciplines – poor understanding of ethnobotanical techniques; benefits if other disciplines adopt ethnobotanical techniques, and ethno botanists draw on other disciplines.


  • Publish papers specifically on methodological aspects of our work.
  • Increased training opportunities, e.g. field workshops
  • Workshop with other disciplines

Links mentioned

  • Journal of Ethno pharmacology – Rule of Five
  • Michael Heinrich – forthcoming paper on methodology in Journal of Ethnopharmacology Journal: Field Methods.

Ethnobotany in Europe: Surveys and data

Chair: Andrea Pierson; notes: Mark Nesbitt

Key themes

  • Difficulty of comparing data because of lack of standardisation of ethnobotanical methodology and database formats.
  • Useful work can be done with a wide range of data recorders, including volunteers, with careful planning.
  • Hard to locate existing data – role for an inventory of sources?
  • Need to appreciate that there are different audiences for data; probably the public, and the source communities have been neglected. Need to ask ourselves who is the data for?
  • A need to share good practice in negotiation with source communities and dissemination of results to them. Databases might or might not be suitable.
  • Broad comparisons, of different areas/cultures in an area so diverse as Europe, would allow investigation of local impact of broad changes such as climate change.
  • Broad surveys can also mine historical data; this can be a powerful tool for explaining patterns of plant use.

Food plants/Neglected species

Chair: Palos Georgiadis Notes: Filippo D’Antuono Must balance cultural and practical aspects of research – these are often products with an existing or potential economic role. Good time for research on this subject in an era of “McDonaldsisation”. Some important research topics and areas for applied ethnobotany:

  • Many challenging issues around transfer of plants to market:
  • In transfer of knowledge, need to take care that industrial involvement is to the benefit of all parties. IPR issues.
  • Three key markets: Local foods Speciality food industry Ecotourism
  • Relationship between food and medicine, both cultural role and health benefits.
  • Role in maintaining cultural identity.
  • Importance of accurate recording of use, especially processing methods.
  • Famine foods.
  • Role of ethnobotany in informing decision-making in agriculture, esp. extension services, to ensure local landraces are preserved.
  • Links to wider agenda for issues such as food security, toxicology and food sovereignty.


  • Checklist of species of interest (drawing on existing information) – means developing criteria for choice of taxi.
  • Catalogue of European food plants.
  • Links between these foods and modern diseases such as diabetes as a major research subject.

Home Gardens

Key themes

  • Economic/financial role of home gardens, not only for income, but also for food security.
  • Health – food quality/nutrition, but also benefits to physical and mental health from exercise.
  • Maintenance of plant diversity, including important role in the development of new landraces.
  • Reconciliation, integration of migrant communities.
  • The social history of home gardens.


  • Development of a common vocabulary among researchers is important, maybe through Wiki format.
  • Easy access to a list of researchers.
  • Group of institutions to take common projects forward: University of Kent, BOKU, Czech University of Life Sciences, Spanish home gardens network. Bioversity International would be an obvious partner.

Migrant studies

Chair: Ina Vanderbroek

Key themes

  • Public health. Interaction of migrant health systems (e.g. use of herbal medicines) with western medicine, both positive and negative aspects. Key action could be provision of resources to medical centres so doctors can identify and take account of such use.
  • Food. Positive role for nutrition, income. Some possibilities to increase income – can ethnobotanists help. Also food safety aspects.
  • The role of plant use and gardens in community integration, promotion of inter-cultural learning (see e.g. from Kew) and maintenance of cultural identity.
  • Migrant communities offer exciting possibilities (with strong practical implications for the communities concerned) to study transmission and transfer of knowledge, including the use of substitute plants.
  • Dissemination of results, especially back to migrant communities, remains vitally important. What are the best means to do this?

Natural products

Chair: Ladislav Kokoska

Key themes

  • Need for collaboration between ethnobotanists and those using more chemistry-centred approaches Vital that source communities benefit from research. Agreed to take these concerns forward as a European network with Ladislav Kokoska as the key contact.

Plant sustainability/Conservation

Chair: Raj Puri Many diverse approaches represented.

Key themes

  • Need to link ethnobotany to broader policy frameworks: Global Strategy for Plant Conservation New European laws on regulation of herbal medicines (likely to impact small-scale producers) FAO Global Strategy for Crop Wild Relative Conservation and Use.
  • Conservation efforts hampered by difficulty of finding information on current use/conservation status of plants in Europe.
  • Application of taxonomy and identifications must be more systematic
  • Ethnobotany can be strengthened through links to other disciplines, e.g. phytochemistry, ecology, soil microbiology.

Tropical ethnobotany

Chair: Tinde van Adel

Key themes

  • Knowledge loss and change, particularly investigation of young people’s knowledge; old literature can allow study through time. Not only loss, sometimes gain, or change in knowledge.
  • Important to link ethnobotany to Millennium Goals: climate change public health – integration of plant medicine and western medicine - risks and benefits. gender – women’s knowledge often under-represented. biodiversity conservation. poverty alleviation. For example, need to investigate notion that as people become more affluent they use plants less.
  • Island vs. continental ethnobotany an attractive topic. Evidence that indigenous knowledge on islands is more vulnerable.
  • As a practical matter, permits often hard to get. Politics can also affect local consultation; ethnobotanist can become drawn into local politics.


  • Need to ensure we work with local colleagues throughout process, including publication, exchange visits both ways.
  • More work needed on return of results to source communities. Usefulness of technologically appropriate means highlighted, e.g. use of line drawings that reproduce easily on photocopiers.