Creating a Digital Knowledge Base of Himalayan Materia Medica
Fundamental to the production of efficacious and safe Asian medicines is the careful identification of materia medica to be used in compounding, whether at a small scale or for industrial production. Equally important are issues around sustainable harvesting and sourcing, dynamic and place-based systems of substitution for rare, endangered or unavailable ingredients, and knowledge about the market prices for materia medica. At the same time, naming medicinal ingredients and identifying visual representations (drawings, photographs) in relation to textual representations can be a source of confusion, not only between different classification systems (e.g. Linnean and Tibetan, Ayurvedic and Tibetan, etc.) but even within one medical system.
Added to this can be concerns about protected or even secret knowledge about materia medica, which practitioners might not want to make available ‚open source.’ And yet arguably the identification of materia medica remains a cornerstone in the production of medicines and in the support of robust, diverse knowledge from which medicine is produced, therapies prescribed, and healing occurs. Such empirically- and textually-grounded knowledge should also be the basis from which policies on conservation, cultivation, and sustainable harvesting are formed. A larger aim of this effort is to make more visible issues of depletion, substitution, and market (in)accessability as well as how national and global drug regulation intersects with local knowledge about specific materia medica.
This workshop-oriented panel aims to attract scholars and practitioners (max. 12 people) to give short (10 min.) presentations on their work and/or ideas on identifying and classifying Himalayan materia medica. We invite contributors from different medical systems and pharmacological traditions, understanding the Himalaya as a region where materia medica from Tibetan, Chinese, and Ayurveda intersect. We would like to focus on medicinal plants, with the aim of envisioning a platform by which the diversity of local and regional names can be accounted for and linked, as possible, to textual references within and across medical systems.
We understand that existing, if disconnected, resources are already in use across the region, but we would like to use this workshop to collectively envision what a geographically grounded, textually and ethnographically rich, multilingual platform could look like. What benefits would it bring and to whom? What infrastructures would be required to produce it? What would be the limits of its utility?