Ethnobotany is the study of the relationships which cultures and individuals have with native plants. This encompasses the ways in which particular sets of individuals interact and utilize plants such as for cooking and medicinal purposes.
Since the beginning of times, ancient civilizations have been recording their observations of plants and their various uses. For example, in ancient Chinese civilizations dating back to 2700 BC plants were used for medicinal purposes. Shen-Nong, the ruler of China at this time, devoted much of his time to researching how botanicals could be used for medicine and classified plants by taste.
Ethnobotanical knowledge gets passed down through generations. This includes early observations regarding the properties of plants, their particular uses and their relationships with the environment. Unfortunately some of this ancient knowledge has been lost overtime, especially with the advent of modern medicine which is based more on the creation of chemically-synthesized drugs in laboratories.
It is the role of ethnobotanists to interact with indigenous cultures to study how cultures use plants and gain knowledge from them. Many plants have strong cultural significances. Unfortunately, the environmental problems that the twenty-first century is facing are detrimental to the future of ethnobotany. For example, rainforests hold a large diversity of plant species with a multitude of purposes. However, deforestation will result in the extinction of some of these species, which are of cultural and practical purposes.
Ethnobotany is a very important field of biology. Recently, the relevance of ethnobotany is being rediscovered, especially in the field of medicine and pharmacology. Further focus in this field of biology is imperative for increased knowledge of the natural world.