SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany Economic Botany

Ethnobotany has some of its roots in economic botany, the study of plants with economic value. This presentation includes a look at some economically important plants which were encountered on the Pwunso botanic garden hike.

The Internet has many sites with ethnobotanical information and products. Some of this information is accurate and correct. Some of this information is wrong and possibly dangerous. Sorting out the facts from the fictions is difficult even for experts.

One way to begin to assess fact from fiction is to look at the Universal Resource Locator (URL). The URL is simply the web address. The web address usually begins with www for World Wide Web. After a period is the domain name: the name of the web site. Following the domain name is a two or three letter domain category. The category might be com for COMmercial, edu for EDUcation, gov for GOVernment, net for NETwork, or a two-letter country code for sites located outside the United States such as FM for the Federated States of Micronesia.

Commercial sites are out to make money, and unfortunately in the world of ethnobotany there are sites that are selling "fiction" in order to make money. Commercial sites are rarely, if ever, going to inform you when a product does not work as advertised, nor are they likely to warn you of possible side-effects of a treatment. Information on commercial sites should be treated as "buyer beware."

Education sites may be more likely to contain accurate information, but one should attempt to verify the qualifications of the individuals posting the information to the web site.

Governmental sites, both United States and elsewhere, are likely to contain useful information including warnings on ethnobotanical products. There is a good likelihood of the information being accurate, although it might not be the most up-to-date information.


A useful starting site is the Wikipedia. A search box is located in the left panel. Type in the term to search on, and a page of possible matches will be displayed or, in some cases, the Wikipedia will take you directly to an article. The URLs for many articles have a consistent pattern with the "front" staying the same and the capitalized article title on the "end." For example, the article on chocolate is at: Each article has many links to further information on specific related and subtopics.

Further down the main front page are links to the Wiktionary, a dictionary, and a quotations web site, Wikiquote. These are useful support sites for writing essays and composing speeches.


Use to find other information for your plant. Use the common commercial name for your plant to start your search if you do not know the Latin binomial. This will turn up a lot of fairly dubious information, but it should also help you find a site that lists the Latin binomial for the plant.

Once you have determined the Latin binomial from the commercial name search, do a new search on the Latin binomial to find academic information on the plant. Try adding the keyword ethnobotany to your search.

To search only academic sites add the search term to your list of search words. Thus noni ethnobotany site:edu will return only those pages that contain the words noni, ethnobotany and are educational sites

If you want to search only one particular site, such as the University of Hawaii site for information on kava, use the Google search string kava

Add the word side-effects or the words side effects to find sites with information on known side-effects of a particular plant.

Google has added a special site for researching in the scientific literature at:

To search for the world's largest producer of substance, use those terms in your search. For example, for nutmeg, world's largest producer nutmeg

To find the global price, use those same words in your search. Check more than just the "first page" returned. Note that .com sites may be quoting the retail price - you may be at an on line store that sells the spice! For coffee such as Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, you might only be able to get the retail price. That is all right, quote that price!

Other notes:

Files that end in .html and .asp are web pages. Files that end in .pdf are in a format called "portable document format." Viewing PDF files requires special software from Adobe called Adobe Reader.