“What on God’s green earth is ethnobotany?” you may ask. Don’t worry, senior Cam Dasher, president and co-founder of Eckerd’s very own Ethnobotany Club, has the answer.
Dasher defines ethnobotany as “the study of people through plants.”
“It’s not just an academic discipline. It’s also something everyone practices every day,” Dasher said.
Eckerd has plenty of diverse plant life on campus that can be easily overlooked. Ethnobotany allows a person to slow down and see life through the eyes of a plant, considering how they affect our everyday lives. The club wants to “make the unfamiliar familiar,” in the words of Dasher.
The club’s mission is also “creating an inclusive and just space,” aiming to achieve this “by working closely with COSIA (Coalition of Students for Indigenous Action) to carve out space for indigenous voices, a deeply interwoven aspect of ethnobotany as a discipline and practice,” according to the club’s president.
Maintaining its roots
The Ethnobot’ N’ Tea Club at Eckerd College started as a tea club, where students could socialize and indulge in fine, loose-leaf teas from around the world. Eventually, it became more than essentially a “finer things” club as the students’ curiosity about the source and history of that tea grew. They began finding ways to research the diverse plant life on campus and in the surrounding St. Pete area -- getting involved in the community, which sprouted an increased desire for these same ideas on a global perspective.
As the tea connoisseurs of Eckerd, they planted a tea garden towards the end of this past fall term. Working in conjunction with the Eckerd Community Farm, this highly anticipated project allows them to explore every aspect of the tea-making process from planting the seeds to boiling the leaves in water.
“I think it’s an awesome partnership. It’s fantastic,” Farmer Jon, the farm manager, said in response to the budding tea garden.
Farmer Jon is excited about the mutualistic relationship brought about by Eckerd’s first very own tea garden, and he hopes to gain some medicinal knowledge in exchange for his gardening expertise.
According to Dasher, “The Tea Garden is a community space where anyone is free to enjoy, use, and care for the 50+ ethnobotanical plant species. Every plant in the garden is edible and tea-able, even the “weeds” on the path!”
The new space will continue to grow this semester, even housing student art and literature that will also be featured on the club’s website.
“The garden also features a pergola where students and faculty can relax, host events, and just appreciate the land. The Tea Garden is a space for our community, the land, and the relationship we share with each other,” according to Dasher.
When asked why he wanted to join Ethnobot’ N’ Tea, first-year Lucian Flanagan-Burt said, “I love to eat things outside and prefer not to get sick.”
Whether you have the same motivation as Flanagan-Burt or simply a growing interest in plant life, the club will meet every third Thursday of the month and take monthly “botany trips,” making this an opportunity for students who want to experience some hands-on work. They will also host many other events each month, aside from their main meeting, including nature walks, visits to botanical gardens, botany book clubs and talking with researchers behind the scenes. Whether your interests lie in biology, art or humanities, the members of the club advertise it as a place all fields of study can enjoy.
“It was like something was missing in what I was studying, and ethnobotany was where I found what I wanted to do. It was that missing piece,” Ansley Jacobs, co-founder and vice president, said.
Aiming to share their passion with the community this semester, the club is excited to create an on-campus plant trail, host an educational event on psychedelics, welcome local professional botanists for workshops, and embark on camping ventures across Florida.
Dasher was also part of a group that brought the school’s dormant herbarium back to life — essentially maintaining a database of plants in the area and working on modernizing the process. The digitizing of the herbarium is a project the club will continue to work on throughout the semester, making the ethno histories of all the plants research-grade and “accessible through the library.
Students will also be able to use the database as a means to learn more about the plants they connect with in the Tea Garden, including how to prepare them for eating.
Dasher started at Eckerd as a marine science major but became particularly drawn to botany after taking a compelling winter term class his first year. Dasher is currently triple majoring in anthropology, biology and environmental studies, but he is ready to pursue a career in botany as soon as he can.
After growing this past year, the Ethnobot’ N’ Tea is now a pre-professional club and prepares students to explore careers in ethnobotany, where they will conduct their own research. Dasher was able to study abroad in Peru last summer, where he researched Peruvian and Amazonian ethnobotany, through opportunities the club has sparked. He described this experience as one he wouldn’t trade for the world.
For more information, visit the club’s newly launched website: https://www.ethnobotntea.club/
For updates on events and to get connected, follow the club’s account, @ethnobot_n_tea, on Instagram.
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