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), she will examine how traditional crops are being taken up in new culinary contexts. In Transforming taste: The revitalisation of traditional crops and neglected wild edible plants by the Novo-Andean cuisine movement, the conceptual focus is revitalisation, an important yet understudied adaptive process in responding to environmental and cultural change. Her project interrogates presumptions of culture, identity and tradition; going beyond the stagnant rationales of cultural absolutism and salvage ethnobiology.

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.

Meghan Henshaw (2019) has 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 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 a grant from the Oleg Polunin Memorial Fund 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. Lilly is interested in exploring how culture and religious affiliation affect plant use, and has a wonderful ‘natural experiment’ setting to explore the topic; plus 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