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Plant-People Interactions: Ethnobotany in the 21st Century

Status:Applications open
When:September 20th - October 27th, 2021
Where:Online Course
Duration:6 weeks
Tuition:$600 (scholarships available)
Deadline:September 13th, 2021
Program Guide:Upon registration
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SKU: G-CR-FESSB-2019-1-1-3-1

Course Overview

For the first time ever, 14 globally renowned luminary lecturers come together to offer a multi-dimensional virtual expedition to understanding the true value and potential of ethnobotany for our species, as a coevolutionary partner on our planet.

Ethnobotany has been described as the science of survival and is the scientific study of interactions between plants and human societies. This includes a wide range of interdisciplinary topics often embedded within numerous natural and social science disciplines (e.g. Ecology, Anthropology, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Conservation Biology). As such, the interdisciplinary nature of this course offers various ways to examine and think critically about the myriad of interactions between people and plants. Therefore, this course draws on examples of plant-people interactions from around the world to give students a brief introduction to the ways in which human societies interact with and rely on the natural world as part of their everyday lives.

Student Learning Outcomes—At the end of this class students will be able to:

  • Describe a diversity of ways in which plants and their uses have shaped past cultural and historical developments. 
  • Discuss and appreciate the roles of plants in their personal and family daily lives. 
  • Explain the critical roles that plants play in the contemporary world and in a sustainable future. 
  • Discuss the potential of and resurgence of psychedelic research and the ethics of drug development.
  • Build a foundation for understanding the basic elements of botanical sciences.
  • Build a foundation for understanding the basic elements of social sciences. 

Course Format: Web-Enhanced Learning. See our website.

Assessment: Grades will be based on daily summaries and a final assessment and ethnobotanical research symposium presentation


The desire to gain knowledge on ethnobotany, as well as sharing yours.


3 sessions per week

This class is taught primarily as a media enhanced course, meets three times a week and involves a combination of brief introductory lectures, class discussions, and guest lectures from many iconic figures from around the world. This means that the lectures are delivered as videos, so that they may be watched at any time. The videos are accessed via Google Classroom. This format offers flexibility for students who are attending school and working concurrently, who participate in sports teams that travel, who are required to provide home care to family, or who have other commitments that may make regular class attendance challenging. These materials have the added benefit over traditional in-class lectures in that they can be reviewed as often as needed and therefore can be studied for the course assessment and daily required lecture summaries. Consider the course flexibility while planning on attending class, but on a schedule that you define. The lecture videos are approximately 1 hour and arec omplimented by a daily 50 minute in-class session (instructor lecture days), where the course instructor leads a discussion of the videos and other relevant topics in ethnobiology or facilitates an in-class activity. In class sessions are tentatively scheduled to occur at the second hour of the course (10:00am —11:00am HST). Depending on the overall class size, this schedule may change. Attendance during scheduled in-class sessions is required. Students are required to watch the previous lecture videos before each in-class session so that they will be prepared to engage in class discussions or activities. The assessment for this class is designed to lead students to learn how to conduct a short ethnobotanical research project while using ethnobotanical methods used by the top ethnobiologists worldwide. This assessment will be coupled with an online symposium where students will present the findings of their research.

Lead Instructor: Michael A. Coe PhD. in association with the Organization for Tropical Studies and the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy.  Guest lecturers from the world of ethnobotanical luminaries such as Wade Davis, Dennis McKenna, Eduardo Luna, Victoria Reyes-García, Mike Balick, Paul Cox, Tamara Ticktin, Tony Cunningham, and many more!

15 Sessions + Symposium


Session Day Date Topic
1 M 20 Sept. People and Plants : What is Ethnobotany?
2 W 22 Sept. Guest Lecture Dennis McKenna
3 F 24 Sept. Plants that Heal : Plants as Medicine & Drug Discovery
4 M 27 Sept. Guest Lecture Wade Davis  
5 W 29 Sept. Toxic Plants as Food and Medicine: Paracelsus’s Wisdom & Guest Lecture Mike Balick
6 F 1 Oct. Guest Lecture Bob Voeks & Victoria Reyes-Garcia
7 M 4 Oct. Plant-Food-Medicine Continuum: Evolutionary Origins of Medicines with Tim Johns
8 W 6 Oct. Guest Lecture  Michael Winkelman & Paul Cox
9 F 8 Oct. Methods & Techniques: Ethnobotanical Research * (Assessment Assigned)*
10 M 11 Oct. Guest Lecture Orue Gaoue & Ulysses Albuquerque **Assessment due**
11 W 13 Oct. Entering the Other World: Shamanic Medicines, Psychedelic Research & Ethics
12 F 15 Oct. Guest Lecture Eduardo Luna, Glenn Shepard & Claudia Ford
13 M 18 Oct. Ethnobotany & Biocultural Conservation
14 W 20 Oct. Guest Lecture Tamara Ticktin
15 F 22 Oct. Presentations DUE TODAY by the end of class!
16 M 25 Oct. Ethnobotanical Research Symposium: Part 1
17 W 27 Oct Ethnobotanical Research Symposium: Part 2


Tuition is $600 for all 17 online sessions.  Partial substantial scholarships are available for individuals with demonstrated financial need.

If you are interested in applying for a partial scholarship from OTS, please make sure to include it in the letter of motivation in your application. Applicants will be individually assessed to determine the scholarship assigned. 



Ph.D. Michael Coe

Michael A. Coe earned a bachelor’s of science degree in ethnobotany from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 2015 and was a recipient of the Richard Evans Schultes Research Award from the Society of Economic Botany in 2016 for his research on ayahuasca. In 2018, he obtained a master’s degree in botany with a focus on evolution, ecology, and conservation biology from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. In 2019, he received a Ph.D. in botany with a focus on evolution, ecology, and conservation biology from the same university. He is the co-author of The Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca (Springer, 2017), Theories and Major Hypotheses in Ethnobotany (Economic Botany, 2017), and author of Most cultural importance indices do no predict cultural keystone status (Human Ecology, 2020). Michael’s research has focused on understanding the patterns and processes surrounding medicinal plant use by testing several theories and hypotheses in ethnobotany proposed recently to facilitate a greater understanding of the roles culturally important plants play among human societies in addition to the factors that influence plant selection, harvest, and use-pressure. As such, his work has tested if the fundamental components of species cultural keystone designation were predicted by cultural importance indices, which factors are strong predictors of medicinal plant species use-pressure, and if the current rate of harvest of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is sustainable in a localized area of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. Michael’s current research interests include but are not limited to the ritualistic and therapeutic use of ayahuasca and other teacher plants in ethnomedicinal contexts aimed at improving physiological, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Further, his research interests include also understanding the demographic and population dynamics of ayahuasca in response to harvest pressure, the sustainable harvest limit of ayahuasca, and novel approaches toward sustainable ayahuasca production.

Invited Guest Lectures and Q&A

14 Luminary Lecturers incl. Dennis McKenna, Wade Davis, Luís Eduardo Luna & Victoria Reyes-García.

Dennis McKenna.

Dennis Mckenna has conducted interdisciplinary research on the ethnopharmacology of Amazonian traditional medicines for over 40 years. He is a founding Board member of the Heffter Research Institute ( He taught ethnopharmacology at the University of Minnesota from 2000 to 2017. In 2019, he founded The McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy.


Wade Davis

Wade Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 2000 to 2013, he became a Member of the Order of Canada in 2016 and an Honorary Citizen of Colombia in 2018. His many books include One River, Into the Silence and his latest, Magdalena: River of Dreams.






Tamara Ticktin

Tamara Ticktin is a professor in the School of Life Sciences, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her work focuses on understanding the ways in which local use and management of tropical forests can be compatible with biological and biocultural conservation and restoration.







Mike Balick

Luis Eduardo Luna

Luis Eduardo Luna has a Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Religion Stockholm University (1989) and an honorary doctoral degree from St. Lawrence, Canton, New York (2002). He retired in 2011 from the Department of Modern Language and Communication at the Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki. He was an Assistant Professor in Anthropology (1994-1998) at the Department of Anthropology of Santa Catarina Federal University (UFSC) in Florianópolis, Brazil. Dr. Luna is the author of Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon (1986), a co-author with Pablo Amaringo of Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman (1991), and co-author with Slawek Wojtowicz, Rick Strassman and Ede Frecska of Inner Paths to Outer Space: Journeys Through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies (2008). He is also a co-editor with Steven White of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine (2000). Dr. Luna is the Director of the Research Center for the Study of Psychointegrator Plants, Visionary Art and Consciousness, Florianópolis, Brazil.

Orue Gaoue

Bob Voeks

Robert is a physical geographer (PhD UC Berkeley) with interests in ethnobotany, traditional medicine, and the African Diaspora. I have carried out research in Brazil, Borneo, and Mozambique. My books include: ‘Sacred Leaves of Candomble’; ‘African Ethnobotany in the Americas’; and ‘The Ethnobotany of Eden: Rethinking the Jungle Medicine Narrative’.






Victoria Reyes-Garcia

Tim Johns

Michael Winkelman

Michael Winkelman (PhD, University of California–Irvine 1985, MPH, University of Arizona 2002) has engaged in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research on shamanism, psychedelics, and the alteration of consciousness to identify universal patterns of healing ritual and the underlying biological mechanisms. These findings are presented in Shamans, Priests and Witches (1992), which provides the cross-cultural evidence regarding shamanism; and in Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing (2nd ed., 2010). Shamanism provides a biogenetic model of shamanism and explains the evolutionary origins of these ancient spiritual and ritual healing capacities. This biological and evolutionary approach to human spirituality is expanded in Supernatural as Natural (2008, co-authored with John Baker) and The Supernatural after the Neuro-Turn (2019, co-edited). The role of psychedelics in human evolution and healing has been addressed in many of his publications, most recently in Advances in Psychedelic Medicine (2019, co-edited with Ben Sessa). He recently guest edited a special issue of the Journal of Psychedelic Studies on “Psychedelics in History and World Religions,” documenting the widespread use of entheogens. Winkelman retired from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change (Arizona State University) in 2009 and is currently living near Pirenópolis in the central highlands of Brazil where he is developing a permaculture lifestyle while continuing his academic research. He may be reached via email at or through his website,

Paul Cox


Ulysses Albuquerque


Glenn Shepard