HEBE University of California, Berkeley

Medical and Nutritional Ethnobotany

Curare darts
Curare darts prepared by a traditional healer of the Yagua ethnolinguistic group
in the Amazon Basin of Peru
© Thomas Carlson

Ethnobiological Expeditions & the Museums

Each of the museums has close ties with different cultural groups in various parts of the world. By working with these people, and conducting ethnobiological field research, hypotheses can be generated on the value of different ecosystem resources to human health and well-being. Hypotheses can be generated and tested in experimental biology studies. Voucher specimens of all collections will be deposited in the Berkeley Natural History Museums and in the countries of origin, and will provide an invaluable set of archival materials for the future. The geographical focus of these ethnobotanical expeditions will be in California, Latin America, Pacific Islands, Asia, and Africa.

Medicines and Foods from Biological Species

Research will be conducted on medical ethnobotany to understand the ethnoempirical and ethnotheoretical perspectives of how local/indigenous peoples select, prepare, and consume plants, fungi, and animals for medicines and foods. This medical and nutritional ethnobotanical knowledge can help generate hypotheses on how these therapies are beneficial and experimental biology studies can be designed to test these hypotheses. Collections of groups of organisms can also be conducted based on taxonomic, ecological, geographical, and physiological characteristics.

California Ethnobotany

Ethnobotanical field research will be conducted in California with both Native American and immigrant ethnolinguistic groups from Latin America and Asia that gather and grow plants for medicines and foods. This program will develop a detailed inventory of the ethnobotany, taxonomy, ecology, and therapeutic bioactivity of medicinal plants of California.

Biological Assay Development from Novel Species

Biodiversity in ecosystems throughout the world contain a broad spectrum of animal species that may be developed into into novel in-vivo or in-vitro assays that can evaluate bioactivity of compounds and extracts.

Systematic and Phylogenetic Studies on Medicinal/Nutritional Species

Systematic studies will be conducted to understand the phylogenetic relationships among key species of cultural importance, including those that play a role in environmental function, disease, and are used for medicine and food. Systematic analysis provides a predictive basis for comparative analyses of all aspects of life's diversity -- chemistry, structure, function, behavior, and ecology. Understanding of evolutionary affinity, including species boundaries, species origins, and species relationships, allows prediction and extrapolation of the importance of different species as key players in ecosystem function, invaders and modifiers of ecosystems, vectors of disease, and current and potential wild and cultivated plants of medicinal and/or nutritional value. Systematic analysis of the characteristics, distribution, and ecology of endangered species and habitats provides crucial information on the biodiversity crisis and many other urgent biological problems in conservation, medicine, nutrition, and public health. Ethnotaxonomic studies on how local/indigenous people classify their biological organisms can be conducted and compared to studies on systematic and phylogenetic relationships of these groups.

Experimental Biology Research:

Through collaboration with a number of labs already active on the Berkeley campus e.g., Mishler (IB), Hayes (IB), Baldwin (herbarium), Carlson (herbarium), Kubo (ESPM), Harris (Public Health), research coordinated by this Center will apply lab techniques from chemistry to prepare extracts & isolate pure compounds to evaluate bioactivity, mechanism of action, efficacy, and safety in a variety of in-vitro and in-vivo biological disease models in endocrinology, cancer, antioxidation, osteoporosis, infectious diseases, immunology, and inflammation.

Human Clinical Research:

Natural product extracts or pure compounds with compelling pre-clinical research results can be assessed in human clinical safety and efficacy studies. Small human clinical studies can potentially be coordinated through this Center. Tom Carlson the Director of HEBE, is an M.D. and has experience writing research protocols, filing for IRB approval, and being medical monitor on human clinical studies on plant-derived medicines.

Traditional Indigenous Medicine & Food and Public Health:

Research on medical/nutritional ethnobotany and ethnoepidemiology, an determine which local diseases traditional medicine treats well and which are not treated well. Methods and systems can be established through which traditional indigenous medical systems and healers can be working in collaboration with regional, national, and international public health programs. A goal is to have outside public health programs collaborate with and understand what the local/indigenous traditional healthcare system treats well and only focus on healthcare issues not well addressed by the local/indigenous system. Any projects set up by outside public health programs should, of course, integrate the local/indigenous traditional healers and communities into the planning and conduction of these activities.

U.C. Botanical Garden:

The U.C. Botanical Garden (and other local gardens such as the Tilden Park Botanical Garden) are extremely diverse. This Center will coordinate an evaluation of the medicinal uses, experimental biology, and chemistry literature known about the plant species in local botanical gardens and establish a database with this information. This Center will also contribute to increasing the number of medicinal plant species growing in both gardens, with a focus on rare or endangered medicinal plant taxa, accompanied by rich interpretive material for the public. At the U.C. Botanical Garden, living collections will be available for research purposes and can be grown out in bulk when needed for assay or other purposes. The Garden will conduct research to determine "best-practice" propagation methods for taxa of special interest. Experimental ecological studies on medicinal plants can be conducted by Simms (IB) and D’Antonio (IB). In addition, it will be possible (dependent upon taxon adaptability) to establish long-term seed banking for taxa of special research or conservation concern. The UC Botanical Garden is used extensively for teaching from K-12 to the undergraduate level. Course-appropriate educational activities using medicinal plants in the collection will be developed.

Convention on Biological Diversity:

All research conducted will comply with the Convention on Biological Diversity. Proper research permits and agreements and clear prior informed consent will be established with the host country government agencies, scientific institutions, and local communities.

Table of contents | Purpose and vision of HEBE | Narrative on Health, Ecology, Biodiversity, and Ethnobiology | Medical and Nutritional Ethnobotany | Ethnoecology and Ecosystem Conservation | Medical Ecology and Ethnoepidemiology | Associated Researchers | Undergraduate and Graduate Education | Public Outreach