Gathering knowledge of medical plants from the Himalayas: early botanists and plant-collectors in Nepal
The Kingdom of Nepal was one of the last regions in Asia to be studied by European naturalists. From the outset at the end of the eighteenth century, the identification and collection of medical plants from the foothills of the Himalayas and in the valley of Kathmandu played a crucial role in developing botanical knowledge of Nepalese plants and simultaneously served the needs of the Indian Medical Service of the British East India Company.
Early expeditions to Nepal, such as the outstanding enterprise of Francis Buchanan (later Hamilton), encountered many natural difficulties and bureaucratic obstacles created by the local authorities. However, they paved the way for later explorers, such as Nathaniel Wallich, and their collections of written records, drawings and samples provided the basis for research in Europe by David Don and others.
This interdisciplinary session intends to study the following research questions:
- What role did the collection of medical plants from Nepal play in extending botanical understanding, compared to other, non-medical plants, from the end of the eighteenth century?
- How was new knowledge created and transferred to British India and Europe, and to what degree did it serve supposedly 'imperial' interests as compared to purely scientific endeavor?
- To what degree did knowledge on medical plants from Nepal, and the local medical traditions, contribute to the progress of European medicine during the nineteenth century and beyond?
- What is the current status and threats to medical plants in the wild, to what extent are they understood, and how can they be used sustainably and conserved for the future?
- What areas of botanical and historical knowledge still need to be researched?