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Making Sense of Plant Medicines: Exploring the Sensory Properties of Plant Therapies

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Published on May 17, 2012

Video 24 in the Introduction to Ethnobotany series. Making Sense of Plant Medicines: Exploring the Sensory Properties of Plant Therapies: A Kalimantan Example. Presented by Lisa X. Gollin.

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.

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