Ethnobotany deals with the acquired knowledge system about the use of the biological resources among various human communities living close to nature. It is based on the natural and direct relationship with plants and man, including both the useful and harmful aspects.
The term ‘Ethnobotany’ was first coined by Dr. John W Harshberger in 1895. It comprises two syllables. Ethno – meaning science of races and Botany – meaning science of plants.
The empiric age-old wisdom on the intimate relationship between primitive man and plants has come to us through surviving traditions. The study of such a knowledge-system based on the direct relationship with the plant kingdom is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary in nature.
Ethnobotanical studies have brought on record a large number of unknown, little known, or less known uses and of those which are mentioned in taboos, myths, and folklore.
General Branches of Ethnobotany
Ethnobotanical studies deal with various subgroups of plant kingdom like algae, fungi, bryophytes, pteridophytes, lichens, taxonomy and have been designated accordingly as ethno-algology, ethno-mycology, ethno-bryology, ethno-pteridology, ethnolichenology, and ethno-taxonomy.
Studies on special aspects of botany like paleobotany, ecology, etymology, agriculture have been named as paleoethnobotany, ethno-ecology, ethno-etymology and ethno-agriculture.
Ethnobotany has great significant input to other branches of science like archeology, meteorology, cosmetics, dietetics, music, toxicology, pharmacology, orthopaedics, gynaecology, linguistic, ophthalmology and has become interdisciplinary as ethno-archeology, ethno-meteorology, ethno-cosmetics, ethno-dietetics, ethno-musicology, ethno-toxicology, ethno- pharmacology, ethno-orthopaedics, ethno-gynaecology, ethno-linguistic, ethno-ophthalmology. More new lines of interdisciplinary subjects are emerging now.
Branches of Ethnobotany
ETHNO – ALGOLOGY – Deals with ethnobotanical study of algae.
ETHNO – MYCOLOGY – Deals with the use of fungi as food, medicine, etc by human societies.
ETHNO – BRYOLOGY – Deals with study of bryophytes.
ETHNO – PTERIDOLOGY – Deals with ethnobotanical study of pteridophytes.
ETHNO – LICHENOLOGY – Deals with ethnobotanical study of lichens.
ETHNO – TAXONOMY – Deals with naming and classification of plants, animals by human societies in their language.
ETHNO – PALEOBOTANY – Deals with identification of fossilized plant materials.
ETHNO – ECOLOGY – Deals with the study of the past and present inter-relationships between human societies and their living and non-living environment.
ETHNO – ETYMOLOGY – Deals with the science of naming plants.
ETHNO – AGRICULTURE – Deals with the origin of agriculture, in a society.
ETHNO – ARCHAEOLOGY – Study of ethnobotanical aspects of archaeological sites.
ETHNO – METEOROLOGY – Deals with practices about meteorological phenomena among ethnic groups.
ETHNO – COSMETICS – Deals with materials used by ethnic groups, for beautification.
ETHNO – DIETETICS – Deals with relations with consumption and nutritive value of food.
ETHNO – MUSICOLOGY – Deals with the study of the music of tribals and its contents.
ETHNO – TOXICOLOGY – Deals with the use of toxic plants as a poison in human societies.
ETHNO – PHARMACOLOGY – Deals with identification, description, investigations of ingredients that are used in different recipes prepared by aborigines.
ETHNO – ORTHOPAEDICS – Deals with concepts and practices for the healing of bones.
ETHNO – GYNAECOLOGY – Deals with diseases of women in tribal societies.
ETHNO – LINGUISTIC – Deals with the study of languages among ethnic groups.
ETHNO – NARCOTICS – Deals with the study of the use of narcotics among primitive societies.
ETHNO – MEDICINE – Deals with medicine derived from plants and animals.
ETHNO – AGRONOMY – Deals with agricultural practices.
ETHNO – ARCHAEOBOTANY – Deals with aspects of archaeological sites and monuments.
ETHNO – HORTICULTURE – Deals with the raising of horticultural plants for ornamental use and as vegetables and fruits.
ETHNO – OPHTHALMOLOGY – Deals with concepts and practices for treating diseases of the eye.