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Mr. Canto, a Mayan "Bush Doctor" conducts a tour of native plants and medicines with Ethnobotanist Elizabeth Moriarty and Mr. Jose Magana

Ethnobotany is described as the scientific study of the relationships between people and plants. Maya First seeks to document, describe and explain complex relationships between cultures and their uses of different plants Focusing primarily on how plants are used, managed and received across human societies. This includes use for food, clothing, currency, ritual, bush medicine, dyes, construction, cosmetics and of greatest importance to Maya First, the cultivation and uses of what is often described as “Bush Medicine” Though the term "ethnobotany" was not coined until 1895, the history of the field begins long before that.


In the 20th century, the field of ethnobotany shifted from the raw compilation of data to a greater methodological collection and cataloging previously unavailable, due to a lack of known principles and usages of many plants whose primary purpose was in ritual healing. Today the field of ethnobotany requires a variety of skills: botanical training for the identification and preservation of plant specimens; anthropological training to understand the cultural concepts around the perception of plants. Maya First is also concerned not just with the healing properties of many plants, but with the spiritual aspects as well.

This is not just Herbology, as that field has often touched on the healing aspects and uses of many plants, but a greater understanding of why certain plants or plant products are believed to have properties that heal not just the body, but the mind and the spirit as well. A great deal of information about the traditional uses of plants is still intact with the Mayans. But the native healers are often reluctant to accurately share their knowledge to outsiders. Visiting acupuncturists have been able to access levels of Mayan medicine that anthropologists could not because they had something to share in exchange. Native American medicine priests have described how they would invent nonsense to satisfy visiting anthropologists. On our most recent trip to Belize, our own ethnobotanist, Ms. Moriarty was welcomed by local Shaman and Bush Doctors who have given her a wealth of information that Maya First intends to document and preserve for the use of the local Mayan people as part of our ongoing program to preserve and promote all aspects of Mayan culture and history.

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