Ethnobotany In-Class Activity

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View exercise overview

Exercise ID: 3.11
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II III
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Ethnobotany
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from entire collection
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? No
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Christiane Cunnar, Alissa Jordan, Human Relations Area Files

Adapted from Teaching eHRAF Exercise Topics in Medical Anthropology, Section 5: Ethnobotany and its Medical Uses by Christiane Cunnar

Download In-Class Activity PDF



This exercise asks you to explore ethnobotanical practices related to a chosen plant across the world.

Exercise Details

Time: 30 minutes

Materials Required:

  • HRAF Access
  • Worksheet and pen or other materials for recording answers

Student Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this assignment, you will be able to:

  • compare and contrast the cultural views regarding medicinal properties of common plants, herbs, and fruits.
  • construct effective and efficient search strategies in eHRAF in order to retrieve data relevant to a specific topic/assignment.
  • appreciate the cultural diversity of medicinal knowledge across the globe

In many traditional medical practices, plants, herbs, and fruits are used for their healing properties. For example, the antiseptic properties of garlic are known to a great number of societies. Garlic has been used to cure everything from bites, colds, boils, and furuncles, to wounds and fevers. Ginger is also widespread as a remedy. It is not only used for treating eye inflammations,  stomach-aches, fevers and colds, but it is also used for childbirth.  Rosemary is a good “general” herbal medication and will cure everything from headaches to toothaches.

Assignment Part 1

  • In this exercise, you will explore the medicinal uses of a specific plant, herb, or fruit across a number of societies and world regions in order to better grasp variations in traditional medicinal
  • Select one of the following plants in order to create a table of your chosen plant & its medicinal uses across the world.
  1. Garlic
  2. Basil
  3. Ginger
  4. Ginseng
  5. Juniper
  6. Mint
  7. Parsley
  8. Rosemary
  9. Sage
  • Combine the name of your plant (as a keyword) with medicinally-related subjects (or their OCM Identifiers) across world regions.
    • Tip: In the Add Subjects box of Advanced Search, try adding subjects such as bodily injuries, mental and magical therapy, medical therapy, pharmaceuticals, child birth, post-natal care, and more.
  • Fill in a table comparing plant use in your medicinal subjects across the societies you discovered in eHRAF. (Example Table Below).
Culture Name Subject 1 (e.g. Bodily Injuries…) Subject 2 (E.g. Magical Therapy…) Subject 3 (E.g. Childbirth…)
Cultural A Basil leaves and stems crushed and applied as a poultice to open wounds and burns Basil leaves crumbled and spread at doorways to ward off evil energies No
Culture B Basil root applied to skin over sprains No Basil stems chewed by mother, burned as incense in room

Assignment Part 2

  • Question #1. Across societies in your table, are there similar symptoms that this plant is used to treat—or similar effects that it is used to produce? List the symptoms/syndromes and societies. (5 minutes)
  • Question #2. Do any of societies explain the effects of your chosen plant (or the illness the plant is used to treat) in identical (or nearly identical) ways? Explain. (5 minutes)

Resources: Assignment Rubric, Tips, References

  • The assignment rubric is located in the attached PDF.


  • Check out the Advanced Search Tutorial for detailed instructions on conducting searches in eHRAF World Cultures.
  • For information on ethnobotanical practices in the archaeological record, check out eHRAF Archaeology.
  • For more exercises and teaching resources related to human societies past and present, explore Teaching eHRAF.
  • For a more detailed version of this particular exercise with additional questions and activities check out Teaching eHRAF Exercise Topics in Medical Anthropology, Section 5: Ethnobotany and its Medical Uses by Christiane Cunnar