Wednesday 7-10pm EPS 1.128
Office Hours TTH 11:00-12:00 noon EPS 2.204
Ethnobotany, an interdisciplinary field, studies the relationships between humans and
plants. It is not simply the study of plants that are useful to humans, but rather includes
the placement of plants within their total cultural context in particular societies, and also
the placement of peoples within the ecological contexts that include their plant friends,
neighbors, and adversaries. It includes the ways that humans perceive the different kinds
of plants, the ways they classify plants, the things they do to plants (such as destroying
"weeds", protecting certain "wild" plants, and "domesticating" and planting specific kinds
of food and medicinal plants), and the ways in which various members of the plant world
influence humans and their lifeways. This course proposes to introduce the student to
such general topics as systems of plant classification and nomenclature, plants and
divination, plants in cosmology and religion, plants in construction and furniture, plants
in clothing and ornament, plants in discourse, plants and the question of pre-Columbian
contacts, and the impact of humans on plants (including forest management). These
topics will be explored in a seminar format and often exemplified from a perspective of
indigenous Mesoamerican communities. No knowledge of botany, geography,
pharmacology, or anthropology is presupposed or required for participation in this
Pollan, Michael 2001. The Botany of Desire. [BOD]
Recommended (no assignments given in these):
Michael J. Balick, Paul A. Cox 1997. Plants, People and
Culture : The Science of Ethnobotany, a Scientific
American Library Book (Paperback Textbook, 1997)
Nabhan, Gary 2004. Some Like it Hot. Island Press
Richard Evans Schultes & Siri von Reis 1995. Ethnobotany:
Evolution of a Discipline. Dioscorides Press/Timber Press
[RES] GN 476.73 E84 1995 PCL Stacks
Beryl Simpson and Olga Conner-Ogorzaly 1986, 1994, or 2000.
Economic Botany: Plants in Our World.
Anthony Huxley. 1974. Plant and Planet. Viking Press. [AH]
Herbert G. Baker. 1970. Plants and Civilization.
Deborah Barndt. 2002 or 2007 Tangled Routes: Women,
Work, and Globalization on the Tomato Trail.
2007 ISBN-10: 0742555577, 2002 or
Requirements: Each student will be expected to write a brief research paper
(up to 20 pages) or a grant proposal for an original project on some aspect of
ethnobotany (10 pages or more), and to make a brief oral presentation of the
research or proposal to the class. The final written version of this project will
be due on the last day of class. Keep up with weekly reading assignments,
class participation including presentation of small topical research projects
(using only the internet).
Notebook/Journal - I would like all participants to keep a running record or journal
of insights, thoughts, and general notes about ethnobotany that occur in the course of
the semester. I expect each of us to share observations during class time discussions
in a kind of show and tell experience- such observations will be part of the notebook).
Internet - It will be useful for all of us to explore the internet for sites dealing with
ethnobotany, keeping a record (with brief annotation of content) of URLs that have useful
information whether in the form of databases, articles, pictures, or other. We can share
these by e-mail or in show-and-tell time during class.
1. a short introduction to the day's topic by the lecturer.
2. a short film presentation
3. seminar discussion of the film and its implications for ethnobotany & the day's topic
4. “show & tell” - each week each person will pick a plant (species, genus, or family)
to do an internet search on, and to share in class
5. discussion of the homework assigned
6. seminar discussion of the day's topic -
WEEK 1 INTRODUCTION 1/21
what is botany, what is ethnobotany, economic botany, cultural
botany, comparative ethnobotanical studies (plant domestication,
weeds, living abroad, seeing the other
PLANTS AND FORENSICS (e.g. the palo verde pod in the
pickup truck – DNA from seeds found in pickup truck bed
convicts murderer in Phoenix, AZ.; coprolite analysis to see what
was staged); Apatzingan maize found in jar in tomb;
Rio Azul – chocolate found in drinking vessel)
Short film on the Mayo of Sonora, Mexico and their use of plants
Homework: For Week 2, pick a society (or linguistic group) anywhere
in the world, and search on the internet for botanical and ethnobotanical
information relating to that group. Select material from the search and
be prepared to share it by oral presentation in class (2-5 minutes—this
kind of show & tell, or expo from journal will be a regular part of each
week); Read [PEM] Minis, Introduction; Fowler, Ethnoecology: an
introduction; Seri Cactus Stones (url e-mail); Manioc – Archaeology
and language (url e-mail)
Optional: [RES] Part 1 (23-74); Huxley Chs. 1-2 (The Planet Sharers,
The Ways of Change); M. Walter Pesman Meet Flora Mexicana.
(G. Lawrence, An Introduction to Plant Taxonomy); [HB] Ch. 2;
Barthel, Mourning and consolation:… (handout); Bowles, Notes
On a floral form represented in Maya Art and its Iconographic Implications
(handout). Heather Miller Coyle Forensic Botany: Principles and
Applications to Criminal Casework (2004).
WEEK 2 PALEO-ETHNOBOTANY, ARCHAEO-ETHNOBOTANY 1/28
identification and interpretations of plants in ancient iconography
and literature (e.g. Popol Vuh and Cacao).
Short Film: SOL - Garlic
Homework: Read for Week 3: Zarger, Botanical Knowledge
(e-mail url); Pollan, Introduction and Ch.2 (Tulips)
Optional: [RES] Part 10 (391-405), Part 3 (93-130); Deborah Pearsall
2000 Paleoethnobotany (second edition); Nina Etkin (ed.)1994.
Eating on the Wild Side (chapters 10, 11);
WEEK 3 FIELD WORK AND ELICITATION METHODS AND
TECHNIQUES 2/4 Amber
Plant specimen collection and preservation -
(folktales, origin myths, legends), other discourse genres (e.g. “counting
out formulae” – e.g. “one potato, two potato…”), participation in plant
acquisition trips and agricultural work, direct interviews.
ACQUISITION OF PLANT KNOWLEDGE by children, by adults,
by botanists and anthropologists
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS - rainforest plants ,
Short Film : SOL - Chilies
Homework: Read for week 4: [PEM] Ch. 10, 11
Optional: [Lipp in RES]); Stross (1973 "Acquisition of Botanical
Terminology by Tzeltal Children"); J. Dougherty 1979 ("Learning
names for plants and plants for names" Anthropological Linguistics
WEEK 4 BOTANY [western] 2/11 Sontee
(western concepts: scientific and folk nomenclature; keys)
Linnaean Plant Classification, Plant taxonomy.
Methods in the study of plant evolution,
domain (Eukaria [animals, fungi, plants inc. algae], Bacteria,
kingdom (Animals, Fungi, Plants [inc. algae], Eubacteria,
division, class, order, family,
genus, species, variety
Fungi kingdom (fungus, breadmolds & yeasts) [closer to animals
than to plants based on DNA]
algae (red & green)
gymnosperms (Pinophyta) [conifers, cycads, ginkgo],
Evolutionary adaptations of plants. Leaves
Flowers, flower meanings (differentiating botany culture from
Short Film: SOL Cloves
Homework: Read for Week 5, [PEM] Part 2 (65-142);
Frake "Ethnographic study of cognitive systems" in S. Tyler [ed.]
Cognitive Anthropology; Roy Ellen "Putting plants in their place"
(see ethnobotany link in week 1 of syllabus)
Optional: Breedlove and Laughlin, The Flowering of Man;
Huxley Ch. 3, 4 (From Cell To Tree, The final Flowering);
V. Schlesinger Animals & Plants of The Ancient Maya;
WEEK 5 SYSTEMS OF CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE 2/18
(naming and classifying - non-western concepts)
Short film: Private Life of Plants 1 (traveling)
Optional: Berlin, Brent. 1973. "Folk systematics in relation to
biological classification and nomenclature." Ann. Rev. Ecol.
Syst. 4: 259-271; Berlin, Brent et al.1992. Ethnobiological
Classification: Principles of Categorization of Plants and
Animals in Traditional Science; W.J. Stearns, Stearns
Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners;
Huxley, Chs. 8, 9 (Eccentric and Bizarre, The Flower);
Berlin et. al, Principles of Tzeltal Plant Classification
WEEK 6 STAGES OF PLANT GROWTH 2/25 Sontee
(life cycles of plants - maize, beans, and squash;
forest fires; calendar cycles; intercropping)
PLANTS AND WEATHER, PLANTS AND THE MOON -
CULTIVATION & PROTECTION – (Coke insecticide)
FOREST MANAGEMENT – the outdated notion of climax forest;
cleared earth and weeds;
CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY
Short Film: Private Life of Plants 2 (putting down roots)
Homework: For week 7 Prepare for the topic by using the
Internet to research native vs. introduced plants, pre-Columbian
Optional: R.B. Yepson Jr. (ed.) 1976. Organic Plant
Protection. Rodale Press; Huxley, Chs. 5, 6, 7 (The
Great Invention, Nature the Engineer, The Power Station),
Huxley, Ch 10 (Growth and Rhythm); Sorenson,
WEEK 7 PLANTS AND PRE-COLUMBIAN CONTACTS 2/4 Kumiko
new world plants (vs. old world plants) Mesoamerican flora,
Vavilov (plant origins and dispersal)
NATIVE vs INTRODUCED plants
(cacti / Euphorbiacae, Bromeliacae), bromeliad in Africa (Pitcairnia),
prickly pear in middle east (Opuntia)?, sweet potato, coconut, cotton.
Short Film: Private Life of Plants 3 ( Flowering )
Homework: for Week 8, read: A. McDonald 2002. "Botanical
determination of the Middle Eastern Tree of Life." Economic
Botany 56:113-129; Stross copal ;
Optional: Riley, Kelley, Pennington, and Rands (eds.) Man Across
the Sea: Problems of Precolumbian Contacts. Section III pp.
309-444. V. Schlesinger 2002. Animals & Plants of the Ancient
Maya: A Guide. [HB] Ch. 4; Balick and Cox pp. 141-143.
WEEK 8 PLANTS IN RELIGION 3/11 Will
religious usage (divination, shamanistic curing [tobacco]); talking
plants; plant offerings to deity (incense, including frankincense,
& Ipomoea alba); sacred and symbolic plants (hoja santa, Plumeria);
decoration of altars, doorways, and crosses (bromeliads); plants in
creation narratives; plants for death (marigold ladder to heaven),
birth, other life crisis rituals; souls (maize spirit is a little girl w/
bloody nose). [CHR corn god, bean goddess. Plants as axis mundi
(date palm, maize, ceiba)]
PLANTS IN ART AND ARCHITECTURE e.g. murals, sculpture,
codices, buildings, indoor plants for decoration and air freshening,
Short Film: Private Life of Plants 4 (Plant Politics)
Homework: for week 9, read: Pollan, Ch. 3
Optional: [RES] (131-146); Michael F. Brown, Tsewa's Gift
pp. 88-132 (Peruvian Amazon); Huxley Ch. 12 (Do Plants Feel);
Stross: 1996 "The Cosmic Portal in Mesoamerica: an Early
Zapotec Example" RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 29/30:82‑101.
(Spring break 3/16-21)
WEEK 9 ENTHEOGENS 3/25 Nick
Entheogens / Psychoactive plants (identifications;
soma as mushroom, soma as lotus; ololiuhqui) , peyote,
mushrooms (Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe), tobacco, ayahuasca,
Datura links, sinicuichi (Heimia salicifolia), beach beans (Canavalia
maritima), axocatzin (Sida acuta)
Short Film: Private Life of Plants 5 (living together)
Homework: for Week 10, read: [PEM] Part 3, Introduction, &
Chs. 7, 8;
Teonanacatl; Peter Furst (ed), Flesh of the Gods;
Optional Reference Resource: Jonathan Ott, Pharmacotheon:
Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History.
Christian Ratsch, The Encyclopedia Of Psychoactive Plants.
PLANTS AND POWER
Plants in war – what part do they play
Curing by divination with plants (for cause and cure)
Curing by use of plants/herbs with “pharmacological”
Curing by use of plants with “symbolic” properties
(for sweeping, baths, wearing)
Community Gardens & physical and mental health
PLANT RELATED ALLERGIES AND POISONS (peanut allergies,
poison oak, curare)
Short Film: Aprendiz del Chiman
Homework, for Week 11, read: Pollan, Chs 1 & 4 (apples, potatoes)
[PEM] , Part Four, Agriculture: An Introduction; Stross, Maize.
Herbalgram 27 (Special Issue—New World Medicinal
Herbalgram 34:44-55 ("Medicinal Plants of the Tarahumara");
22-27 + ("Ma Huang: Ancient Herb, Modern Medicine,
Regulatory Dilemma"); L. Bremness, Herbs; Joie Davidow,
Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of Mexican-American
Herbal Remedies. A. DeStefano 2001. Latino Folk Medicine;
Heinerman, New Encyuclopedia of Fruits and Vegetables.
Parker Publishing Co.Van Wyk & Wink, Medicinal Plants of
WEEK 11 FOOD PLANTS 4/8 Casey
plant domestication (wild / domesticated distinction, wild useful
[protected, unprotected]; old world vs. new world food plants);
agriculture (the milpa: maize, beans, squash), interplanting,
companion planting; mixed planting/cropping.
grains (maize, wheat, barley), seeds, nuts,
Short Film: The Future of Food 1
Homework: for Week 12 read: [PEM] Chs. 9-13; Nabhan Chs 1-4
Optional: [RES] ; [HB] Ch. 1; Sophie Coe, America's First Cuisines
(ch. 1-9); N. Foster & L. Cordell, Chilies to Chocolate; J.N. Cole, 1979.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS
WEEK 12 FOOD PLANTS 4/15 Amber
(vegetables, horticulture, edible "weeds" (Portulaca oleracea –
famine foods (Oxalis, Brosimum alicastrum, Dioscorea),
fruits Morton's fruits of warm climates link ; (black zapote;
matasano; chicozapote); perceptions about food plants;
Short Film The Future of Food 2
FLAVORINGS, CONDIMENTS, AND SWEETENERS (spices)
Homework: for week 13 read: Nabhan Chs 5-8; Vanilla - Bruman
Optional: Cole, Amaranth: From the Past, For the Future. Rodale
Press; [HB] Ch. 5, 6;
WEEK 13 DRINK PLANTS 4/22 Nick
classification (e.g. medicinal, food beverage, alcoholic); herbal
teas, coffee, cacao, maize (atole, pozole, pinole, popo), juices,
licuados, alcoholic beverages – agave (pulque, mescal, tequila),
honey beer (balché), sprouted maize beer (tesgüino, sugiki),
pineapple beer (tepache), plums (wine), pitahaya (wine),
cornstalk (beer), sugar cane (beer, rum), grapes (wine).
DRINK ADDITIVES: yam (popo), chocolate (popo),
Acacia angustissima (bark fermenter catalyst - pulque), Lonchocarpus
longistylus/violaceus (mild euphoric, alcohol potentiator - balché)
Short Film: Private Life of Plants 6 (surviving)
Optional: Bruman, Alcohol in Ancient Mexico. Herbalgram 37:50-55
(Chocolate: Past, Present and Future of Cacao);
Herbalgram 37:33-40 (Rediscovering Tea);
[HB] Ch. 9, 10;
WEEK 14 PLANTS FOR CLOTHING (fiber, leaves, stems) 4/29
palms, reeds, agave, cotton, pineapple
PLANTS FOR ORNAMENT (seeds, flowers, resin)
(coral bean [tzompantle], hibiscus) face & body paint, dye
Readings: [PEM] Ch 2 ; [HB] Ch. 3, 7, 12, 14
Optional: Herbalgram 29:26-33;
WEEK 15 PLANTS FOR HOUSING, HEATING, and LIGHTING 5/6
(lumber, tying fiber, firewood, living fences, awnings)
PLANTS FOR SITTING, SLEEPING and TRAVELING
( petates, rugs, chairs, blankets, beds, cradles, hammocks, sails)
PLANTS FOR FORAGE, TANNING, TOOLS, GUMS and
RESINS (handles, batons, glue, chewing gum, incense)
PLANTS FOR CONTAINING, WRAPPING, WIPING,
and SWEEPING. (twine, cord, rope, baskets, brooms)
PLANTS FOR SOAP, DYES (soap, dye, insect repellant)
Film: Farmer John or Secret Life of Plants (or alternative film)
MESOAMERICAN ETHNOBOTANICAL RESOURCES:
Alcorn, Janis 1984 Huastec Maya Ethnobotany. (San Luis Potosí, Mexico)
1221 H8 A42 1984 Life Science Library
GN 476.73 A42 1984 Center for American History TXC-ZZ
Berlin, Brent, Breedlove, Dennis and P.H. Raven 1974. Principles of Tzeltal
plant classification: an introduction to the botanical ethnography
of a Mayan-speaking people of highland Chiapas. (Chiapas, Mexico)
F 1221 T8 B47 Benson Latin American Collection
Breedlove, Dennis and Robert Laughlin 1999. The Flowering of Man: Botany of
Zinacantán. (Chiapas, Mexico) F 1221 T9 B733 1993 V.2 Benson
Latin American Collection GN 1 S54 NO.35 PT.1 PCL Stacks
Bruman, Henry. 2000. Alcohol in Ancient Mexico. University of Utah Press.
Clark, Phil. 1972. A Flower Lover's Guide to Mexico. Minutiae Mexicana.
Davidow, Joie. 1999. Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal
Ebeling, Walter 1986. Handbook of Indian Foods and Fibers of Arid America.
78 W5 E34 1986 PCL Stacks
E 78 W5 E34 1986 Benson Latin American Collection
Felger, Richard S. 1985. People of the Desert and Sea : Ethnobotany of the Seri Indians.
(Sonora, Mexico) F 1221 S43 F45 1985 Benson Latin American
Collection (F 1221 S43 F45 1985 Life Science Library)
González, Roberto J. 2001. Zapotec Science: Farming and Food in the Northern
Sierra of Oaxaca. University of Texas Press.
Griffith, R. Drew. 2008. Mummy Wheat: Egyptian Influence on the Homeric View
Of the Afterlife and the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Heffern, Richard. 1974. Secrets of the Mind-Altering Plants of Mexico. Pyramid
Jordan, Julia A. 2008. Plains Apache Ethnobotany. U. of Oklahoma Press.
McAndrews Gina Marie. 1995. Utilization of Medicinal Plant Species in the Zapotec
Community of Yatzachi el Bajo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Unpublished MA
Thesis, Iowa State University. See at:
Nolan, Justin M. 2007. Wild Harvest in the Heartland: Ethnobotany in Missouri’s Little
Dixie. University Press of America.
Orellana, Sandra L. 1987. Indian Medicine in Highland Guatemala: the Pre-Hispanic
and Colonial Periods. (Highland Guatemala)
F 1435.3 M4 O74 1987 Benson Latin American Collection
Pesman, M. Walter 1962. Meet Flora Mexicana.
Reko, Blas Pablo 1945. Mitobotanica Zapoteca. (Oaxaca, Mexico)
G580.144 R279M Benson Latin American Collection
Roys, Ralph L. 1931, 1976. The Ethno-Botany of the Maya. (Yucatan, Mexico)
1435.3 M4 R7 1976 Benson Latin American Collection
F 1435.3 M4 R7 1976 Life Science Library
Schlesinger, Victoria. 2001. Animals & Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide.
Tapia, Fermin 1978-80. Etnobotanica de los Amuzgos. 2 vols. Centro de
Investigaciones Superiores del INAH Cuadernos de la Casa Chata.
14, 28 . Contents: pt. 1. Los Arboles -- pt. 2. Los bejucos, zacates,
yerbas y otras plantas. (Guerrero, Mexico) F 1221 A58 T36 1978
Latin American Collection
(Oaxaca, Mexico) with a comparison of Chinese medicine. (U.T.
doctoral Dissertation - Diss 1998 W436 PCL at Periodicals Desk;
Digital version accessible at: http://wwwlib.umi.com/cr/utexas/main)
Williams Linera, Maria Guadalupe. 1980. Estudio Etnobotanico de Algunas plantas
Rituales Utilizadas por un Curandero de Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz.
F 1219.1 V47 W54 1980 Benson Latin American Collection
Yetman, David and Thomas R. Van Devender. 2002. Mayo Ethnobotany: Land,
History and Traditional Knowledge in Northwest Mexico. U. of
ETHNOGRAPHIC RESOURCES (Mesoamerica)
Carmack, Robert. l98l. The Quiche Mayas of Utatlan
Dow, James 1986. The Shaman's Touch: Otomí Indian Symbolic Healing.
Kennedy, John G. l978. Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre.
Lipp, Frank 1991. The Mixe of Oaxaca.
Madsen, William. l96O. The Virgin's children: Life in an Aztec Village Today.
Monaghan, John. 1995. The Covenants With Earth and Rain: Exchange, Sacrifice, and
Revelation in Mixtec Sociality.
Parsons, Elsie Clews. l936. Mitla: Town of the Souls.
Pennington, Campbell W. 1969. The Tepehuan: Their Material Culture.
Redfield, Robert, and A. Villa Rojas. l934. Chan Kom: A Maya Village.
Sandstrom, Alan R. 1991. Corn Is Our Blood: Culture and Ethnic Identity in
a Contemporary Aztec Indian Village.
Wisdom, Charles. l94O. The Chorti Indians of Guatemala.
Vogt, Evon Z. 1976. Tortillas for the Gods.
INTERNET RESOURCES (BOTANICAL AND ETHNOBOTANICAL)
World Information Network on Biodiversity – Mexican Flora click on "access to the information"
Plants of Central Texas a course
Economic Botany the journal
Ethnopharmacology International Society for Ethnopharmacology
Online Botany Index glossary terminology w/ links
Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages - 117 spices, names, history, chemistry
Maize (Ricardo Salvador)
Useful Wild Plants of Texas (UWP) Austin Based
American Botanical Council Herbalgram (Mark Blumenthal)
Intellectual Property Rights:
For information regarding specific case of disputed intellectual property rights, see URLs below:
Dr. Brent Berlin's defense of Maya ICBG project in Chiapas.
Further defense of ICBG project: Code of Ethics
Announcement of Maya ICBG project cancellation
The Private Life of Plants (David Attenborough series of 6 hour long tapes)
2. Putting Down Roots - Feeding and Growing
4. Plant Politics - The Social Struggle
5. Living Together
6. Jungle Out There - Surviving
The Secret Life of Plants (unreleased film w/ musical score by Stevie Wonder)
Mayo of Sonora (David Yetman's film about the Mayo ethnobotany) 26 min.
The Spice of Life Series – traces the history of spices and herbs over the centuries and into
present day kitchens.
Allspice, One Spice
Chilies: a Dash of Daring
Cinnamon, the Elegant Addition
Cloves: Natures Little Nails
Curry Around the World
Garlic's Pungent Presence
Herbs: Aromatic Influences
Mustard, the Spice of Nations
Nutmeg, Nature's Perfect Package
Pepper, the Master Spice
Peppercorns, Fresh Ground Flavor
Saffron, Autumn Gold
The Spices of India
The Shaman's Apprentice - charts ethnobotanist's Mark Plotkin’s discoveries in the
Amazon rainforest, and looks at the astonishing ability of native people to manage their
environment. 53 min
The Future of Food - Deborah Koons Garcia - about GMOs & the future. 90 min.
Bibliography (Mesoamerican Ethnobotany)
Bibliography 2 (Ethnobotany)