Nabhan, G.P. 1990. Gathering the desert. Univ. of Arizona Press.  209 pp.

While reading about the multitude of native knowledge in terms of the curative properties of creosote, my mind continually circled around the same proverbial drain: How many of these remedies would modern science discover, and how many other miracle plants out there have been forgotten as the shamans of their culture were slaughtered without a second thought? Let’s be clear that I’m not singling out European settlement as the only killers of such knowledge. Throughout history cultures were overthrown and slaughtered, rarely did the more intelligent cultures prevail in the stone throwing contest these early wars would have resembled. Just how much of this valuable knowledge has already been lost to us? Information that would have been trivial to the individuals in the know. More importantly though, is the question of how much knowledge could we still glean if we simply start asking the right questions to the right people? This has been a heavy topic in my consciousness since Wade Davis visited our campus last year for a talk. He has taken on this responsibility of documenting rare, isolated cultures and their knowledge of the local plants before the culture becomes westernized and lost, or bull dozed altogether. My respect for this life calling is immeasurable. Most modern researchers would tell you that science is the pursuit of knowledge, but in today’s world of grants and publishing it has taken on a new tone; the pursuit of new knowledge. If scientists were willing to put their ego aside and simply amass as much knowledge as possible, regardless of where it comes from or how rigorously it has been tested, then I truly believe the world would be better for it. I’m not saying that we should start prescribing ancient remedies, but we should document them and test them scientifically to see if there is validity in it or if it is just the placebo effect. You never know where we may find the next creosote plant.

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