Renowned Botanist to Speak About Ancient Cultures, Medicinal Plants

A world-renowned ethnobotanist will speak at Valencia College about indigenous cultures and their use of medicinal plants – and how that knowledge could impact modern science.

Dr. Michael J. Balick, who is vice president of botanical science at the New York Botanical Garden, will present his lecture in the Performing Arts Center at Valencia’s East Campus on Feb. 14 at 1 p.m.

The presentation, which will revolve around his extensive work in Micronesia, is entitled “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science.”

The lecture is free and open to the public. The event is sponsored by Valencia’s Student Development department.

For nearly three decades, Balick has studied the relationship between plants and people, working with traditional cultures in tropical, subtropical, and desert environments. He is a specialist in the field of ethnobotany, working with indigenous cultures to document their plant knowledge.

Balick also conducts research in New York City, studying traditional healing practices in ethnic communities there. In addition to ethnobotany, Dr. Balick is an expert on the palm family, an economically important family of plants in the tropics.

He has been active in the search for plants with medicinal properties, particularly in Belize, where his research aided in the formation of the world’s first ethno-biomedical forest reserve.

“Michael is very good at speaking about the fact that indigenous people are losing their homes and because of that we’re losing their valuable knowledge about plants — many of these plants are significant sources of food and medicine,” said Valencia biology professor Steven Myers. “And as the rainforests disappear, their homes disappear and their way of life disappears, a culture and a way of life dies – and that knowledge of plants also disappears.”

To date, Balick has conducted 56 international expeditions to carry out fieldwork in countries including Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Federated States of Micronesia, Haiti, Honduras, India, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Thailand and Venezuela. His fieldwork also takes him to the fruit and vegetable markets and botanicas of New York City.

Balick currently serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia University, New York University, Yale University, and City University of New York. He is an active mentor to postdoctoral, masters, and international fellowship students. He was a co-founder of a course that taught herbal medicine to practicing physicians and other health care professionals, run in collaboration with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. He currently teaches an ethnobotany course at Columbia University.

Copies of his books, “Ethnobotany of Pohnpei” ($30) and “Plants, People and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany” ($37.35), will be available for sale. Balick will sign them after the lecture.

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