An Unexpected Finding about Immigrants’ Knowledge of Medicinal Plants


Globalization and loss of plant knowledge: challenging the paradigm

Ina Vandebroek, Michael J. Balick
PLoS One
2012;7(5). Epub 2012 May 25
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3360753

To investigate the transnational dynamics of immigrants’ knowledge of medicinal plants  from their origin in the Dominican Republic to their new home in New York City, researchers from The New York Botanical Garden systematically queried participants on their knowledge of plants reported to treat 30 common health conditions.

Contrary to their initial hypothesis, and widely held belief among scholars, the authors found a significant and non-age-dependent increase in knowledge of medicinal plants among Dominicans living in New York City as compared to the Dominican Republic:

“The widely held paradigm is that plant knowledge declines with cultural change associated with modernization and globalization in many migrant and non-migrant communities world-wide. Our study demonstrated that cultural knowledge about medicinal plants in the context of a highly urbanized, transnational community in a globalized setting is kept alive and actively transformed by the geographic dynamics of that community. The increase in knowledge about food medicines in NYC was unexpected and is the first study to report a statistically measurable increase in this type of cultural knowledge associated with migration. We did not expect this to be the case in the NYC metropolis with its dramatically different ecological and social environment as compared to the DR, where people readily obtain medicinal plants free of charge from their backyards or surroundings. New Yorkers from Latino descent, however, operate a culturally-based healthcare system through botánicas that exists in parallel with the biomedical system.”

Among the health-policy implications of this finding is that ethnobotanists may have an important role to play in U.S. medical education.

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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