Airdate: May 28, 2007
Scientist: John Richard (Rick) Stepp
Medicinal Weeds- Origins
People have used medicinal plants for centuries, but how was this knowledge first learned?
Medicinal Weeds - Origins
Ambience: dawn chorus
JM: For thousands of years, people have used plants as medicine. But did you ever wonder how his knowledge was first learned? I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Rick Stepp is an assistant professor in anthropology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He studies how indigenous societies around the world use medicinal plants.
RS: "Well, I think there's lots of questions in terms of how this knowledge is transmitted and how it is carried on , not by being written down but through oral transmission, how people go about selecting medicinal plants. With 250 to 300,000 potential candidates for medicinal plants, how did they come on this subset of plants that are useful for medicinal purposes?
RS: "We have only had pharmaceuticals in their current form for maybe the last century, but we have 100,000 years of human history and probably beyond of medicinal plant use. We know from looking at non-human primates, both apes and monkeys use medicinal plants. So it is likely, for all of human existence we've used medicinal plants. Clearly they've been effective or we wouldn't still be around. They've treated our illnesses and allowed us to reproduce and colonize the entire planet."
JM: In many societies worldwide, this knowledge of plants has been passed on from generation to generation.
RS: "Well I think it is important to learn that for the vast majority of the world's population, they're using plants for their medicines and that is not very well known because in the US we don't tend to use a lot of plants for medicines. But for most people the first thing they do when they get sick is not to go to the doctor, but rather to go into their back yard or out in the field to find a medicinal plant to treat it. I think it is also important to realize that there is a wide potential for new pharmaceuticals from plants and not just plants that are found deep in the rainforest but plants that are fairly common and exist all around us."
JM: Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.