Healing Plants and the People Who Use Them
For millennia, plants have been used for healing.
As older generations of traditional healers pass away, much of their knowledge of medicinal plants and their uses is in danger of disappearing. Even as these practices ebb in indigenous communities around the globe, there is a growing interest in reconnecting with the natural world, as well as an appreciation of the breadth and depth of these traditional bodies of knowledge. At Cornell, students will be exploring the relationship between plants, healing, and the community elders who use plants to heal in an exciting spring semester class, PSHRT 4940: Healing Plants and the People Who Use Them.
While students can tackle some elements of this work in the classroom, there is no substitute for first-hand experience with the people and places where these skills are still practiced. We have established a long-term relationship with two Maya communities in southern Belize in which elder healers are still active. And, we know of several right here in our back yard, near Ithaca, NY.
Students will spend the first portion of the semester learning about local and tropical plants, basic horticultural skills needed for plant identification, cultural preparation, reflective practices, and team-building. Over Spring Break, a group of students and faculty will travel to the Toledo District in Belize, and another group will spend several days in Van Etten, just outside Ithaca. Both will work with healers to learn about medicinal plants, and depending on the setting, identify them, understand how they are used, plant gardens and/or discover the stories and paths of the practitioners.
Many of the expenses associated with running this program have already been funded, but some critical gaps remain.
The funds raised through this campaign will allow us to create a garden of medicinal plants in Santa Elena, at the Rio Blanco National Park in Southern Belize, cover some of the lodging and transportation expenses for the group travelling to Belize, and, crucially, compensate the 10 traditional healers who will be devoting a week of their time to sharing their knowledge with Cornell students. A learning experience like this cannot happen without them, and we cannot take their time, knowledge, and openness to this sort of dialogue for granted.
After they are back on campus, the teams will share their experiences with each other and meld what they learned in the classroom with what they learned in the field. And we will share our experiences with you, our supporters, as well – you are the ones who will make this possible.