Event — Conference

Plants in Health and Culture

16-17 February 2004
Leiden, the Netherlands


On February 16-17, 2004, the symposium "plants in health and culture" took place at Leiden University. The lectures on the two days of the symposium enjoyed the warm interest of about 120 interested persons: students, PhD-students, reseachers, professors etc. with various disciplinary backgrounds. The number and diversity of the participants was a positive response to the organizers' endeavour to establish multi-disciplinary cooperation in an area where relevant expertise is often dispersed over a number of sciences. The initiative for the symposium was taken by scientists of the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Archaeology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

The contributions at the symposium, in the form of papers and posters, dealt with the roles of plants, wild or cultivated in herbaria and gardens, in various cultures and health care and knowledge systems.

The sessions were as follows:

(1) The role of plants in shamanism, and among Middle American Mixtecs and North American plain Indians, in the light of cultural anthropological, linguistic and historical studies.

(2) The role of plants as source of compounds that have an effect on the human mind in various ethnocultural backgrounds (central Asia and India). This theme was addressed on both days, in the light of ethnobotany, philology, archeology, ethnopharmacology and medical science.

(3) The role of gardens and herbaria in the history of science, art and culture.

(4) The historical dimension of the use of plants in various medical knowledge systems in the light of philological, historical and cultural anthropological studies.

(5) The importance of traditional knowledge and uses of wild and domesticated plants for the exploration of novel applications.

The methods for exploring the potential of these plants for modern applications were discussed and the importance of cooperation between those familiar with the application in various cultures and those interested in modern applications in regular or alternative medicine was highlighted. This obviously requires the continued cooperation of scientists, across disciplines and across institutes, which the symposium has hoped to stimulate.

            The speakers at the symposium have been invited to contribute to the proceedings (chief editor: Prof. J. Slikkerveer) which can be expected end of this year or beginning of next year. This will represent the scientific result of the symposium. In addition, the organizers are at present exploring ways to formulate an adequate response to the interest evinced by students for the subject of the symposium, for instance in the form of an M.Sc. or M.A. program in which alpha, bèta and gamma disciplines are represented. A third spin-off of the symposium is the website http://www.plantsinhealthandculture.nl/, where the program and the abstracts of papers and posters can still be found, in addition to a photographic report of the symposium, and links to relevant institutes.

The organization of the Symposium was supported by the following sponsors:

Erasmus, European Union

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Leiden University

International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS)

Leiden Ethnosystems And Development Programme (LEAD), Leiden University

Leiden University

Leids Universiteits Fonds (LUF)

National Herbarium of the Netherlands

Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Earth and Life Sciences

Research School CNWS, School of Asian, African and Amerindian Studies, Leiden University

Organising committee Plants in Health and Culture:

Prof. Pieter Baas, directeur Nationaal Herbarium, Leiden University.

Prof. Corrie Bakels, Faculteit Archeologie, Leiden. University

Prof. Harm Beukers, Leiden Universitair Medisch Centrum, Leiden University

Prof. Jan Houben, EPHE, Parijs/Kern Instituut, Leiden.

Prof. Jan Slikkerveer, directeur Leiden Ethnosystems And Development Programme, Leiden University

Prof. Rob Verpoorte, IBL, Leiden University