Human life depends on plant biodiversity and the ways in which plants are used are culturally determined. Whilst anthropologists have used phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs) to gain an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the evolution of political, religious, social, and material culture, plant use has been almost entirely neglected. Medicinal plants are of special interest because of their role in maintaining people’s health across the world. PCMs in particular, and cultural evolutionary theory in general, provide a framework in which to study the diversity of medicinal plant applications cross-culturally, and to infer changes in plant use through time. These methods can be applied to single medicinal plants as well as the entire set of plants used by a culture for medicine, and they account for the non-independence of data when testing for floristic, cultural or other drivers of plant use. With cultural, biological, and linguistic diversity under threat, gaining a deeper and broader understanding of the variation of medicinal plant use through time and space is pressing.
- Phylogenetic comparative methods
- cultural evolution
- traditional knowledge
- medicinal plants