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Making Sense of Plant Medicines: Exploring the Sensory Properties of Plant Therapies: A Kalimantan Example

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Making Sense of Plant Medicines
The Kenyah Leppo` Ke of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) rely heavily on plants grown and gathered for healing a wide range of health complaints. For the Kenyah, sensory evaluation of plants plays a critical role in the selection and use of botanical therapies. This lecture explores the biological evidence for sensory selection criteria of medicinal plants in relation to cultural understandings of modes of action and efficacy. The meaningful taste and smell qualities of bitterness, astringency and more, mirror widespread patterns of interpretation and use found in other plant-dependent medicinal systems around the world. Subordinate categories of the Kenyah sensory domain such as the property nglidah, accentuate the subtleties and sophistication of perception, interpretation and application that guide native therapeutic systems. Although harder to typecast, this elusive property that characterizes different species is in fact distinguished by a number of chemotaxonomic and pharmacological commonalities. The chemical constituents of less obvious sensory attributes has significant implications for the field of ethnobotany. In this episode key questions about Kenyah approaches to illness and healing are addressed. Medicinal taxa are discussed in terms of effectiveness. The theoretical framework that guided research in Kanyah communities is also discussed.

Production Credits

Presented by:

  • Lisa X Gollin

Themes and Content by:

  • Isabella Abbott

  • Al Keali'i Chock

  • Will McClatchey

  • Mylien T. Nguyen

  • Tamara Ticktin

  • David Webb

Special Presentations and Content by:

  • Tony A.B. Cunningham

  • Catherine Davenport

  • Orou Gaoue

  • Lisa X Gollin

  • Y. Han Lau

  • Spencer Leinweber

  • Mark Merlin

  • Levon ‘ohai

  • Joseph Ostraff

  • Melinda Ostraff

  • Orlo Steele

  • Clay Trauernicht

  • Art Whistler

  • Namaka Whitehead

  • Kawika Winter

Post Production Critique by:

  • Al Keali'i Chock

  • Momi Kamahele

  • Kiope Raymond

  • Botany 105 Students (Fall 2005)

Camera Work by:

  • David Reedy

  • David Strauch

  • Michael B. Thomas

Video and Sound Editing by:

  • Markus Faigle

  • David Reedy

  • David Strauch

  • Michael B. Thomas

Audio Production by:

  • Will McClatchey

  • David Reedy

Consulting by:

  • Edo Biagoni

  • Kim Bridges

  • Pauline Chinn

  • Valerie McClatchey

  • Hae Okimoto

  • Nelda Quinsell

  • Ingelia White

Funding provided by:

  • University of Hawai'i, Department of Botany

  • University of Hawai'i, Information Technology Services

  • University of Hawai'i, College of Natural Sciences

  • University of Hawai'i, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs

  • National Center for Academic Transformation

  • University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Chancellor

Inspiration from:

  • Isabella Abbott

  • Michael Balick

  • Brad Bennett

  • Brent Berlin

  • Paul Cox

  • Memory Elvin-Lewis

  • Timothy Johns

  • Beatrice Krauss

  • Walter Lewis

  • Richard Evans Schultes

  • Gail Wagner

  • The Society for Economic Botany


Supplemental Readings

Cunningham, A.B. 2001. Taxonomy with all your senses. Pp. 32-44 in Applied Ethnobotany: people, wild plant use and conservation. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.

Martin, G.J., Hoare, A.L. and Agama, A.L. 1998. Measuring Diversity - Methods of Assessing Biological Resources and Local Knowledge. Pp. 1-5 in People and Plants Handbook Issue 4 - December 1998.

On-Line Resources

Dave Reedy,
May 29, 2012, 2:23 PM