Ethnobiology in Thailand

Instructor: Dr. Linda Swift

Thailand is a fascinating and exotic location, where one can immerse themselves in a distinct, rich culture. Students investigate this culture by taking classes at a Thai University in language, history, politics, food, music, dancing, and Buddhism. Students also explore Thai cultural sites and stay with a Thai family. Field trips include a visit to the hill tribe villages.

Hill tribe people have traditionally practiced slash and burn agriculture, growing opium poppy, upland rice and maize supplementing these crops with hunting, gathering and trading. Current government land policies prohibit slash and burn agriculture and growing the opium poppy as a cash crop, thereby promoting forest conservation and growing alternative cash crops. Some select students are able to assist in two hill tribe projects, one in which they can help deliver medical care and another to facilitate identification of an alternative cash crop of herbal medicines for the hill tribe peoples.

The identification of an alternative cash crop involves interviewing hill tribe medicine people to determine the medicinal plants used by villagers. The collected medicinal plants are photographed and identified using local and scientific names. The methods of preparation and administration of the medicine and the medical condition treated are also recorded. Collected medicinal herbs are dried and their pharmacological properties are tested using clinical trials on laboratory animals.