The Plant Hunter – A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines (Viking-Penguin) is an fascinating book, coming as it does in these two years of a pandemic. We have had doctors and scientists working to find a cure for COVID-19 and now for variants like Omicron. We do not get to see how the scientists work, but in her book Cassandra Leah Quaves provides great stories and information as well as about her life as a plant hunter, searching for plants that will heal.
The Plant Hunter is a story about a child who loved plants. It is also the story about a child who endured a mis-shapen leg that required many surgeries. A portion of the leg was ultimately was removed, and was replaced by a prosthetic leg, a leg that was replaced many times as she grew.
This is the story of a young woman who learned about ethnobotany, ‘the scientific study of how humankind interacts with the environment in the procurement and transformation of plant materials into food, building materials, and especially into medicine.” She studied and won her first science prize in third grade. She started working at the hospital when she was 16.
This is the story of a woman who traveled around the world learning about the tens of thousands of plants that could heal. She spoke to healers and pursued a PhD.
This is the woman who taught ethnobotany and learned how to get grants. The many lives of her prosthetics did not stop her from learning from college through to a “dissertation that was aimed at determining the impacts of my extracts – many of which were derived from plants used in the traditional treatment of skin disease . . . . .My training in graduate school had thus far been focused on plant taxonomy, ethnobotanical fieldwork methods, and chemistry.” At that point she needed to work on microbiology.
Cassandra had help from Marco, her Italian husband, who worked to provide money, and eventually to help with their two sons, Donato and Giacomo. But there was always important work to do – to teach and work with the students, to write and win grants, to make a research team, to scavenge equipment and more.
This is a great book!
Cassandra has given information at the end of her book about various resources.
For example – Teach Ethnobotany YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/TeachEthnobotany) – Includes videos of Cassandra’s lectures and recordings of presentations from scientific meetings of the Society for Economic Botany and Society of Ethnobiology.
The International Society of Ethnobiology (www.ethnobiology.net) – a global collaborative network of individuals and organizations working to preserve vital links between human societies and the natural world.