© 2016

Plants and Health

New Perspectives on the Health-Environment-Plant Nexus

  • Elizabeth Anne Olson
  • John Richard Stepp


  • Provides comprehensive coverage of medical plant knowledge

  • Showcases current ethnobiological accounts of how people use plants to promote health and well-being

  • Written by leading scholars from around the world


Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)

About this book


This volume showcases current ethnobiological accounts of the ways that people use plants to promote human health and well-being. The goal in this volume is to highlight some contemporary examples of how plants are central to various aspects of healthy environments and healthy minds and bodies. Authors employ diverse analytic frameworks, including: interpretive and constructivist, cognitive, political-ecological, systems theory, phenomenological, and critical studies of the relationship between humans, plants and the environment. The case studies represent a wide geographical range and explore the diversity in the health appeals of plants and herbs. The volume begins by considering how plants may intrinsically be ‘healthful’ and the notion that ecosystem health may be a literal concept used in contemporary efforts to increase awareness of environmental degradation. The book continues with the exploration of the ways in which medically-pluralistic societies demonstrate the entanglements between the environment, the state and its citizens. Profit driven models for the extraction and production of medicinal plant products are explored in terms of health equity and sovereignty. Some of the chapters in this volume work to explore medicinal plant knowledge and the globalization of medicinal plant knowledge. The translocal and global networks of medicinal plant knowledge are pivotal to productions of medicinal and herbal plant remedies that are used by people in all variety of societies and cultural groups. Humans produce health through various means and interact with our environments, especially plants, in order to promote health.

The ethnographic accounts of people, plants, and health in this volume will be of interest to the fields of anthropology, biology and ethnobiology, as well as allied disciplines.


Ethnobiology Ethnobotany Healing Systems Medical Anthropology Medicinal Plant Knowledge

Editors and affiliations

  • Elizabeth Anne Olson
    • 1
  • John Richard Stepp
    • 2
  1. 1.History, Sociology, & Anthropology DepartmentSouthern Utah UniversityCedar CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and Tropical Conservation and Development ProgramUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

About the editors

Elizabeth Anne Olson is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. Her anthropological research has looked at traditional and non-biomedical healing systems in Mexico, Utah, the Bolivian Amazon, and Western Europe. Her work with traditional healing systems has led to a focus on the intersections among health, environments, economic markets, and community development. Her past work has focused on Indigenous medicinal plant knowledge, and she is currently studying the ways that globalization influences the transmission of medicinal plant knowledge and use. Dr. Olson’s current research concerns the globalization of medicinal plant knowledge and the relationships between Indigenous, professional, and lay uses of medicinal plant knowledge across various ethnomedical systems. Her work connects to topics including the health sovereignty movement, as well as other social justice and community-based conservation initiatives. She frequently collaborates with community-based social justice projects in Mexico and the USA. Dr. Olson serves on the Board of Directors of the Culture and Agriculture section of the American Anthropological Association, and is the Conference & Awards Coordinator for the Society of Ethnobiology. She is co-editor along with Cynthia Fowler of the monograph series “Global Change/Global Health” for the University of Arizona Press.

John Richard Stepp is a professor at the University of Florida in the Department of Anthropology and Tropical Conservation and Development program. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy and was in residence at the University of Hawai'i as the Wilder Professor of Botany. He has conducted biocultural conservation research over the last two decades throughout the tropics, especially in the Maya Forest and in the Greater Mekong Region of Southeast Asia. His research explores persistence, change and variation of traditional ecological knowledge and ethnobiology. Much of this work has focused on wild food plants and medicinal plants. His work has also focused on patterns and causes in the distribution of biological and cultural diversity (biocultural diversity) on both regional and global scales. Other interests include the anthropology of food, medical anthropology, visual anthropology, social science research methods, GIS and land use change and the anthropology of climate change. He is also involved in documentary and ethnographic film production on topics both related and unrelated to his primary research. He is the founding editor of the Journal of Ecological Anthropology and former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ethnobiology. Along with Robert Voeks, he serves as Ethnobiology series editor for Springer. <

Bibliographic information


“This volume positions ethnobiology as a rich realm for leading edge anthropological inquiry in cultural interchange, ontology, and political economy. The complimentary expertise of Olson and Stepp enhance the volume and the lively, diverse offerings of the chapters are stimulating both individually and taken together as a complete work. Each chapter adds nuance and challenge to monolithic concepts in ethnomedicine and global health, portending a dozen future lines of inquiry for anthropological ethnobotany.” (Alex McAlvay, Ethnobiology Letters, Vol. 8 (1), 2017)