Plant Systematics, Conservation Biology, and Ethnobotany


Kate Farley, Ph.D.

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Kate Farley, Ph.D.

Assistant Scientist
William L. Brown Center

Research Interests
• Ethnobotany
• Medicinal plants

A comparison of historical and contemporary uses of native medicinal plants in the Ozarks. Farley is an Assistant Scientist in in MBG’s William L. Brown Center, with research interests involving the use of native medicinal plants. The Ozark plateau is a highland region covering southern Missouri, northwest Arkansas, and a small portion of northeast Oklahoma. Like Appalachia, a region with similar cultural and geographic features, the Ozarks have long been considered in the popular imagination to be culturally isolated from mainstream America. Anthropologists and folklorists in the early 20th century contributed to this perception by documenting “old time” home remedies, superstitions, and other folk traditions, including native Ozark plant uses. Despite significant economic and demographic changes over the past century, some Ozarkers continue to use native wild plants for food and medicine in ways they perceive to be traditional. However, preliminary ethnographic work in the Ozarks and previous fieldwork in Appalachia by the PI suggests that many people today are using medicinal plants in ways that are significantly different from their historically documented uses. Differences include de-emphasizing plants with emetic/purgative properties and using plants to address ailments that are more common today than in the past, such as diabetes or opioid addiction. This project is a comparative study looking at present-day uses of medicinal plant species in the Ozarks, and how contemporary usage differs from historical ethnobotanical data from the late 19th and early 20th century. The student will choose one native Ozark species with a documented history of medicinal use to focus on, research historical uses of their chosen plant in the Ozarks, and accompany the PI on a five-day field trip to southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas to conduct interviews with medicinal plant users in the Ozarks. The student and PI will work together to select participants, develop interview questions, and conduct semi-structured interviews. The student will then analyze interview data for similarities and differences between contemporary and historical plant uses.

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