- Mind-altering substances from plants and fungi, such as ayahuasca, are having a moment in popular culture, but they’re also starting to gain attention from the medical and conservation communities.
- Famed ethnobotanist, conservation advocate and best-selling author Mark Plotkin joins the Mongabay Newscast to talk about what he dubs the “psychedelic renaissance” and how this moment can be a hook to inspire conservation.
- Many Amazonian plants and fungi have medicinal properties understood by traditional healers, but can also be frequently abused if applied improperly.
- Plotkin talks about the importance of protecting this traditional ecological knowledge, both for the responsible application of these plants, and for realizing their potential as a vehicle for conservation.
Harvard-trained ethnobotanist and host of the popular podcast Plants of the Gods, Mark Plotkin is no stranger to psychedelic plants. But many people across the world, particularly in countries where these plants have been demonized, may not be as familiar. That’s beginning to change. Today, ayahuasca is arguably the most popular of these, but the traditional knowledge behind it is not just crucial for their safe application, but also for understanding and preserving the cultures from which they come, Plotkin says:
“Mind-altering substances are a cornerstone of the new healing in the age of the psychedelic renaissance, or proof that these rainforests hold compounds that we need and don’t know — hallucinogenic and otherwise — and that these Indigenous peoples in the Amazon … know stuff that guys like you and me don’t.”
He joins the Mongabay Newscast to talk about the value of many Amazonian plants that have historically gone understudied, the importance of the traditional ecological knowledge behind them, and how their popularization could be a new vehicle for conservation action.
Plotkin is the co-founder of the nonprofit Amazon Conservation Team, which has been using a community-led conservation model for decades. While considered a pioneering approach at the time, centering Indigenous communities in conservation management is beginning to be recognized by a growing number of conservation experts as the ideal model, given that 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is on land that is home to or managed by Indigenous communities.
An estimated 40% of plants and fungi species are threatened with extinction. The “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020” report shows that around 90% of fungi species are yet to be described. Experts say a vast amount of plants that could be used for food, medicine and fuel remain to be harnessed.
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- Ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin: Indigenous knowledge serves as a ‘connective tissue’ between nature and human well-being
- World’s plants and fungi a frontier of discovery, if we can protect them: Report
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2020). State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020. doi:10.34885/172
Banner photo: Amanita muscaria is a mushroom that is both hallucinogenic and poisonous, and has been traditionally used by shamans in northern regions of Europe and Asia. Image posted by Creator 942784 to the Creative Commons via Pixabay.