Not for the first time, a study suggests that indigenous and scientific knowledge can add value to each other. This one comes from South Africa’s Human Science Research Council (scroll down to p.14 of the pdf). It found that any interventions to assist small scale farmers in the study area — two districts in Limpopo — would have to be low-cost and based on locally available resources and technologies. One of these resources turns out to be local leafy vegetables. The survey found that almost all respondents consumed African leafy vegetables, and dried and stored their leaves for use during the dry winter. It suggested that the communities could generate significant income by marketing this produce more widely.
New medicinal plants
Speaking of medicinal plants, a remarkable study in Peru traces the traditional use of plants for all kinds of curative purposes from colonial times to the present. There’s an article on the work on SciDev.Net here but it is in Spanish. Although many plants used in colonial times have disappeared from the area of the study, traditional healers have replaced them with other species and have thus maintained their pharmacopeia. This is very much a living, evolvingÂ tradition.
Mysteries of medicinal plants remain
A fascinating reflection by Dr S. Allen Coulter, professor of neurology and neurophysiology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, asks a question that perplexes many people: how did people acquire their detailed knowledge of the effects of plants on the body? Coulter’s musings are prompted by “scientific” studies on Caesalpinia pulcherrima, which reveal active ingredients that match the effects he was told by a wise person some years ago. I feel the same way about complicated food processing methods; how on earth did people learn how to render toxic and inedible things safe and delicious? Like Coulter, I fear we will never really know.
Flickr photograph by Esther17 used under a Creative Commons License.
Rescuing food traditions around the world
Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) “is a coalition of seven of the most prominent non-profit food, agriculture, conservation, and educational organizations dedicated to rescuing Americaâ€™s diverse foods and food traditions.” You can download hereÂ their great book explaining what these traditions are. There’s also aÂ map of North America’s “totem foods.”
Same topic, different region: Dr Lois Englberger of the Island Food Community of Pohnpei (right, with some of her NGO’s information products) has made Pacific Magazine’s list of “293 Pacific Leaders You Need To Know” because of her efforts to promote local island foods, food cropsÂ and food traditions. Congratulations, Lois, and keep up the good work!
Will the disappearance of the traditional Chinese tea-house lead to a decline in tea diversity? I’m not sure to what extent the diversity of teas we see in supermarkets and specialty shops is due to differences in provenance and processing as opposed to genetic differences among cultivars. No doubt a bit of both.
Flickr photograph by emily_mason_boyd used under a Creative Commons License.