The Rubin is transforming. Read more about our future as a global museum.

Healing Herbs

With Michael J. Balick

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
8:00 PM–9:30 PM

Of the 420,000 species of higher plants known to exist on earth, about half are found in the tropical regions of the world. Tropical forests are a rich reservoir of biological diversity, home to a vast range of flora and fauna. This lecture discusses the study of plants used in traditional healing by indigenous cultures, the science of ethnomedicine. Since 1987 he has worked with Dr. Rosita Arvigo, a naprapathic physician and resident of Belize, Central America, on an ethnobotany project to inventory the ancient and modern uses of the plants found in Belize. Over two dozen traditional healers and other local experts in forest utilization have participated in this effort to collect, identify, and evaluate thousands of plant specimens gathered from the tropical ecosystem. In another area of the world, The Pacific Islands known as Micronesia, Dr. Balick is working with an interdisciplinary team to inventory the vegetation of Pohnpei, Kosrae and Palau Islands and their surrounding atolls and document the traditional uses of plants. This project involves the participation of local ethnobotanists and elders knowledgeable in traditional ways. As is true in South America as in the Himalayas, the team has shown how traditional plant knowledge in this region has “devolved”, or disappeared when its practitioners pass on without teaching the next generation, and how local initiatives are helping to resolve this crisis, as well as conserve important habitats for future generations. In seeking to show the utility of traditional medical knowledge and practices in the modern world, as well as preserve the biodiversity upon which it depends, scientists find themselves in a race against time, with both ecosystems being destroyed and the ancient wisdom about the plants and their environment rapidly being lost. He will introduce his new book, Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature’s Most Powerful Plants, a work that has been inspired by ancient texts known as “herbals,” a genre of books on the therapeutic use of plants published widely during the 15th-18thcenturies.

About the Speaker

Michael J. Balickholds a PhD in biology from Harvard and is vice president of botanical science and director and philecology curator of the Institute of Economic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. An ethnobotanist with a specialty in medicinal and food plants, Dr. Balick has conducted fieldwork with indigenous cultures in many areas around the world and appears frequently on television and radio and in print media.