This article is reposted with permission from the American Botanical Council. You can see the original post here.
By Mark Plotkin, PhD
Richard Evans Schultes
Richard Evans Schultes, PhD, was the greatest Amazonian explorer of the 20th century. Boston-born and Harvard-educated, he set off for the Amazon in 1941 for a six-month expedition. He was so entranced by the plants and the peoples of this great rainforest that he essentially extended this expedition for more than a decade. Now, interested readers can follow his journeys in an interactive, informational story map.
Schultes (1915-2001) first learned of the concept of “ethnobotany” in an undergraduate course at Harvard University taught by the prominent orchidologist Oakes Ames. After Schultes wrote his term paper on the traditionally revered peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii, Cactaceae), Ames sent Schultes to Oklahoma to experience the sacred cactus firsthand in a traditional Kiowa tribal ceremony. Later, Schultes returned to Harvard, and decided to pursue a PhD under Ames, focusing on the “magic mushrooms” of Oaxaca, Mexico. As a newly-minted PhD, he headed south to the northwest Amazon to study arrow poisons from the curare vines (e.g., Chondrodendron tomentosum, Menispermaceae), which, at the time, were being used as pre-surgical muscle relaxants in abdominal surgeries.
Young Richard Schultes taking tobacco snuff, May 1952 (photo: R.E. Schultes) via Harvard Square Library
Cartographer Brian Hettler of the Amazon Conservation Team decided to recount Schultes’s travels and research in a compelling new story map.1 With commentary and explanations supplied by this author, Hettler traces Schultes’s phenomenal journeys through the rainforest in search of healing plants. Using the capabilities of the story map format, Hettler has organized this information in a way that allows readers to click on a location and see photos of the location and/or the people that lived there. Perhaps even more impressive, readers can click on a list of plants collected by Schultes and see the actual herbarium specimen he collected in high resolution.
Hettler’s story map allows readers to follow the late ethnobotanist into some of the world’s most remote locales in search of exceedingly rare plants. It is hoped that this intriguing initiative will not only teach about the history and importance of the science of ethnobotany, but also will inspire others to use the story-map format to teach about botany in general, and medicinal herbs in particular, in new and compelling ways.
Mark J. Plotkin, PhD, is an ethnobotanist whose field research focuses on the plants and peoples of northern Amazonia. He currently serves as president of the Amazon Conservation Team, a nonprofit organization that conducts environmental and cultural sustainability activities in the Amazon basin (www.amazonteam.org). He is the author of several books and is a member of the American Botanical Council Advisory Board.
- Amazon Conservation Team. The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes. Amazon Conservation Team website. Available at: http://amazonteam.org/maps/schultes/. Accessed May 4, 2016.
- Cox PA. Medicinal Plants and the Legacy of Richard E. Schultes. HerbalGram. 2013;98:73-75. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue98/hg98bkrvw-schultes.html. Accessed May 4, 2016.
- Davis W. The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes. HerbalGram. 2005;66:50-59. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue66/article2831.html. Accessed May 4, 2016.
- Blumenthal M. The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes. HerbalGram. 2005;65:73-74. Available at: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue65/article2788.html. Accessed May 4, 2016.
- Davis W. One River: Excerpts from the new book about the life of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. HerbalGram. 1996;38:32. Available at:http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue38/article1219.html. Accessed May 4, 2016.
To travel further into the explorations of Amazonian peoples and sacred plant medicines with Richard Evans Schultes, explore Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia and Where the Gods Reign: Plants and Peoples of the Colombian Amazon written by Richard Evans Schultes himself.
Life of legendary ethnobotanist and Synergetic Press author, Richard Evans Schultes, portrayed in Academy Award nominated film, Embrace of the Serpent, starting March 25 in Santa Fe at the CCA.
An image from Embrace of the Serpent with Schultes’ character in the background
Embrace of the Serpent was Academy Award Nominated for BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers: Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant.
Filmed in stunning black-and-white, SERPENT centers on Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and the last survivor of his people, and the two scientists who, over the course of 40 years, build a friendship with him.
Embrace of the Serpent will be playing at The Center for Contemporary Arts , Santa Fe
Starting March 25
Richard Evans Schultes classic book, Vine of the Soul, is published by Santa Fe based Synergetic Press.
VINE OF THE SOUL: MEDICINE MEN, THEIR PLANTS AND RITUALS IN THE COLOMBIAN AMAZONIA By Richard Evans Schultes & Robert F. Raffauf Preface by Wade Davis
Read more about the connections between Vine of the Soul and Embrace of the Serpent.
About the Book
This book is the story of a time that was—a time when the Amazon Indian was free to roam the forest and rivers, happy with their social institutions, unencumbered by acculturation or the cultural destruction of their ancient societies and virgin forests. The story is told through over 160 black & white photographs taken by renown Harvard ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes during the ‘40s and ‘50s when he spent fourteen uninterrupted years living with the Indian tribes of the Amazon. Combining his scientific eye for documentation with a photographers eye for lighting, composition and character, he created an extraordinary record of the medicinal plants and flora of the Colombian Amazon.
Co‐authored by Robert F. Raffauf, an outstanding plant chemist, VINE OF THE SOUL contains some of the most significant photographs on this subject ever taken accompanied by detailed descriptions of the Amazon Indians use of medicinal and other sacred plant substances, with information on the bioactive chemistry and medicinal properties of the plants.
VINE OF THE SOUL (or ayahuasca) is a sacred drink used for millennia by shamans throughout the Amazon basin. This book is not just for readers interested in ayahuasca, and other psychoactive drugs; it is a remarkable record of a rich heritage that is in danger of disappearing altogether and should be examined by anyone interested in preserving the Amazon rainforest and the cultural heritage of its people. Thanks to attention drawn to the Amazon Indians by Schultes and others, the former President of Colombia, Virgilio Barco, in 1988 returned over six million hectares of land to the Indians for their exclusive use. The Colombian government further created a number of biological reserves, bringing the total area under protection to more than 20,000,000 hectares.
Dr. Richard Evans Schultes in Vine of the Soul
The second edition contains a Preface by Wade Davis, Explorer‐in‐Residence for the National Geographic Society; a Foreword by Sir Ghillean Prance, Former Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England (Emeritus); and Epilogue by Michael Balick, Director of Institute of Economic Botany, NY Botanical Gardens.
Recipient of numerous national and international awards including the annual World Wildlife Fund Gold Medal, Schultes was awarded in 1983 the Cross of Boyaća, the highest honor offered by the Republic of Colombia. In 1992, Dr. Schultes was awarded the Linnean Gold Medal, the highest award a botanist can receive. Possibly more famous on the streets of Bogotá, Schultes was nevertheless the quintessential Harvard man, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Bostonian, a gentleman and a scholar.
Co‐authors Drs. Schultes and Raffauf passed away in recent years. This reissue is in commemoration of the authors life’s work. Remarkable plants; remarkable people; remarkable men.
“The medicine men of the Kamsa and Inga tribes of the valley of Sibundoy have an unusually extensive knowledge of medicinal and toxic plants. One of the most renowned is Salvador Chindoy, who insists that his knowledge of the medicinal plants has been taught to him by the plants themselves through the hallucinations he has experienced in his long lifetime as a medicine man. It is such knowledge, fast disappearing, that we must salvage for the potential benefit of all mankind.”