The activities presented here help students become critical thinkers by entering the world of science through a personal experience in ethnobotany. Students gain a real sense of how important
plants are in their lives and are then more willing to delve into other aspects of botany. Using ethnobotany to teach science empowers students to participate in the discovery process rather than read about the work
of others or replicating work almost mechanically. It should also touch their lives in a personal way. Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between people and plants. The word ethno, means "people" or "cultural group" and "botany"
means the study of plants. An ethnobotanist may study how people collect wild foods for a meal, use herbs to treat illness or craft canoes from plant materials in the forest.
Plants are critical to our lives because they are primary producers. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants are able to transform water, gases and small quantities of minerals into living matter. Consumers,
like ourselves, depend on plants, either directly or indirectly, as their source of food. In addition plants provide people with building materials, fibers for textiles, perfumes, ornamentation for house and
landscape, gums, dyes, cosmetics, and beverages including the flavors for cola, root beer and ginger ale. Because plants can't run away from their enemies, they also produce a vast array of biochemicals as defense
mechanisms against predators, May of these chemicals have provided people with important medicines including aspirin, blood pressure medication, and birth control pills.
Plant communities such as forests also provide us with other vital environmental services. They supply food and shelter for wildlife, recycle water through transpiration, and trap CO2 and prevent
soil erosion, they modify climate and intercept air pollutants and act as filter to cleanse water systems. Botanists have so far described about 250,000 species of plants worldwide: an estimated 50,00 more await
discovery. Any one of these species may provide us with new sources of medicine, but may easily become extinct before they are catalogued.