Plants for medicine with ethnobotanist Michael Balick

April 29, 2013 | Author: AAAS MemberCentral Program Director Peggy Mihelich

Traditional cultures in tropical, subtropical, and desert environments have long understood and used plants for the treatment of illness and to promote well-being. Michael Balick studies the relationship between plants and people as an ethnobotanist for The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. His work has taken him all over the world. Just recently Balick was on a remote Pacific island in the republic of Vanuatu where he was working with indigenous people, talking to them about health care and their interest in documenting the medicinal knowledge of their elders. He also conducts research back at home in the Bronx and Washington Heights, working with immigrant communities who still use plants for their primary health care needs.

"We’ve only identified 25,000-30,000 species of plants that traditional peoples use, it is conceivable that there are many more species out there that have yet to be documented for medicinal use," says Balick.

The New York Botanical Garden has a long history of research on medicinal plants. One of the founders, Dr. Henry Hurd Rusby, a physician and botanist, started the programs in the late 1800s on medicinal plant research that continue to today.

A new exhibit called Wild Medicine tells the story of the use of medicinal plants by people from the 1500s to modern times. The exhibit features a re-creation of an Italian Renaissance garden and interactive stations highlighting the rejuvenating and healing powers of tea, cacao, and tropical juices. Visitors are able to see hundreds of medicinal plants, most of them grown in the Garden's glasshouses.

Wild Medicine us open to the public from May 18 to September 8. "Bring your senses, your taste buds and your cameras," Balick told AAASMC.

In this video, Balick introduces us to just a few of the medicinal plants he studies and their use in indigenous cultures.

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