Centre for Biocultural Diversity

Conducting international research and providing training for capacity building

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Ethnobotanical research flowers at Kent

Over the last year or so, students on Kent’s Ethnobotany MSc have found support for innovative research projects from a variety of funding institutions.

Harriet Gendall (2020) has recently been awarded a prestigious UK ESRC 1+3 doctoral scholarship, that will fund her MSc and PhD at Kent. Building on past research on the lost Andean crop of Mauka (Mirabilis expansa (Ruíz & Pav.) Standley), her project—The revitalisation of Andean foodways—will examine how the (re)discovery of pre-Columbian culinary heritage and native ingredients by local gastronomists is influencing both plants and people in Peru. Her research will investigate the idea that, by strengthening biocultural systems, processes of ‘revitalisation’ can improve resilience to socio-ecological challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, the loss of biodiversity and the disappearance of traditional knowledge.

Alex Greene (2018) received a National Geographic Early Explorer award in 2018 to work with Karen mahouts in Thailand on a project, Can elephant ethnoveterinary care tell us about the evolution of human medicine? Based on the observation that elephants self-medicate, the project explores whether elephant trainers have observed and learned from elephants about the use of medicinal plants. Establishing the link between elephant zoopharmacognosy, ethnoveterinary practice and human herbalism may potentially provide novel evidence contributing to a fuller understanding of the evolution of human medicine.

Alex has also recently received a Firebird Foundation grant to record and preserve the complete oral literature of the Malikarjun community of Darchula District, far western Nepal, where he did research for his Ethnobotany MSc dissertation. The primary oral literature to be recorded is a traditional form called jhoda (or jhora), a sacred literature which recounts the spiritual and material history of the people of Malikarjun, their pantheon of local gods, and the landscape they inhabit.

Mandy Hansen (2019) has received a Society of Economic BotanyTravel Grant to attend the SEB 2019 meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio. She’ll be presenting on her MSc project, Go Green-Collar: A longitudinal study of employment motivation within public horticulture, which involves investigating why people decide to become horticulturalists, particularly relevant at a time when the industry is suffering severe staff shortages. This project is in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK.

Meghan Henshaw (2019) has also received a Society of Economic Botany Travel Grant to attend the SEB 2019 meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio. She’ll be presenting on her project, From Mountain to Market: exploring markers of quality and identification of Lavandula spp. and Thymus spp. through the Moroccan supply chain, which explores how local collectors, traders and retailers know and judge the quality of medicinal herbs. This project is being conducted in conjunction with The Global Diversity Foundation’s work on the conservation of medicinal plants of the High Atlas mountains, funded by a Darwin Initiative Award.

Jason Irving (2018), also an ESRC 1+3 scholar, has won a prestigious British Society for the History of Science Engagement Fellowship to work on natural history collections from Jamaica. Supported by the fellowship, he has been working at the Natural History at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, to research the collections, adding an historical dimension to his study of contemporary medicinal plant use in Jamaica and among the Jamaican diaspora in the UK.  His PhD, The trade in medicinal plants from Jamaica to the UK, addresses the contemporary issue of biological exchange. Recent approaches to wild harvested natural resources argue for a more comprehensive mapping of specific commodity chains to understand the environmental and socio-economic implications of the trade. This overlaps with questions of the quality of herbal medicine products (HMPs). The trade in HMPs faces problems of adulteration, substitution and contamination, which is difficult to overcome due to the problem of identification of processed material.

Janina Kurjenoja (2018) has recently acquired government funding from Mexico’s CONCYTEP for a study of the Biocultural Diversity of Tochimilco, which is located in the foothills of the Popocatepetl volcano in the State of Puebla, Mexico. She will also work with architects and engineers to create an ethnobotanical garden to feature the important local flora of the Nahuatl Puebla residents.

Lilly Zeitler (2019) has received two grants to support her MSc research project, Understanding the role of ethnic and religious diversity in medicinal plant use between Tai Yai and Lisu Buddhists and Christians in northern Thailand. The Oleg Polunin Memorial Fund and the ISE’s Richard Evans Schultes Research Award will help Lilly explore how culture and religious affiliation affect plant use. She’ll be returning to a village she lived in for many years, starting as a teenager experimenting with permaculture and living off the land. See PermaPai.

More information on Ethnobotany at Kent: Dr Rajindra Puri: rkp(at)kent.ac.uk