May 6, 2009


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Peppers in The MN Arboretum Greenhouse


My daughter took this photo when we visited the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in February of 2009.

Ethnobotany Course Introduction

Ever used the petals of a flower to ask a question (“she loves me, she love not…”)? Ever reached for a bottle of aspirin when you have a headache? Ever thought about where your food comes from? Ever held a wooden oar, spoon, baseball bat or 2X4 in your hands?

All of these actions demonstrate the roles that plants play in human culture. Human cultures have always depended on plants as sources for food, medicines, material goods, symbolic understanding, and more. It is accurate to say that if plants did not exist, human culture would not exist, and in fact life on planet earth would be restricted to some very simple bacteria if plants had not evolved their amazing array of forms. Humans have been very adept at figuring out which plants to use for various purposes we consider essential to living a good life.

The goals of this course are to:
1. To introduce the basic concepts and insights of the anthropological subfield of ethnobotany.
2. To explore various approaches for understanding how human culture has been shaped by use of, and thought about, plants, including in prehistory, historical times, and the present.
3. To raise key questions about globalization as a process by examining the dynamics of plant prospecting and its impacts on indigenous peoples.
4. To develop students’ skills to be able to design and carry-out fieldwork-based projects related to the concerns of ethnobotany.

This blog is being used as a course resource for Anthropology 4633: Ethnobotany, being taught by Dr. David Syring at the University of Minnesota Duluth in Fall 2009.