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Ethnobotanical Collection






Biological Sciences

Plant Biology I

Estela Seriñá Ramírez

+34 91394 5047



Description of Funds

Ethnobotany is the study of the interrelationship between people and plants, in particular the way in which plants impact human culture and practices, and how humans have used and modified plants. Modern industrial society has replaced botanic materials with others of synthetic origin. In this process of change, the collection and study of everyday objects of plant origin becomes meaningful.

The History of the Collection

The Department of Plant Biology I houses an ethnobotanical collection of objects divided into eight groups, depending on the use of plants: Nutrition, Basket Weaving, Medicine, Dyes, Wooden Utensils, Textiles, Cosmetics, and Cultural Uses. Along with the ethnobotanical objects, the collection includes some audiovisual material.

The UCM Ethnobotanical Collection is relatively new; it was created in 1990 for the dual purpose of recovering the legacy of popular knowledge and assembling a set of materials that could be used in the teaching of this discipline. Despite its recent origin, the collection has more than 600 pieces that have been displayed in various public exhibitions.

The group dedicated to Nutrition includes essential nutrients for diet, such as cereals or legumes, organized according to the origin of crops. In addition, there are botanical and commercial samples of seasoning herbs and spices, as well as various refreshing and stimulating drinks (tea, liqueurs, etc.). The samples are mostly of Spanish origin, but there are also American, North African and Asian products.

Basket Weaving is one of the largest and most significant sections in the collection. It includes baskets made of wood, mainly chestnut and hazel, and others made of herbaceous stems of wheat, rye, or hemp leaves, traditionally used to make hats or small baskets and panniers.

Among the basketry, it is worth highlighting the cordage section, dedicated to the use of plants in the production of ropes and braids for the manufacture of footwear and household goods. The pieces in the collection show the historical evolution of this practice: traditionally, the cordage fiber plants were hemp and esparto grass. The introduction of American plants, especially in the eighteenth century, modified procedures for braiding cords and increased their diversity. In the nineteenth century, new plants were added to this art, especially raffia. In the twentieth century, due to the introduction of plastic fibers (nylon), those practices fell into disuse.

The collection shows the use of plants as raw materials in the production of textiles such as cotton, linen, hemp, etc., as well as samples of fibers and fabrics.

The Dye Plants belong to another, larger group of the collection. Natural dyes have been replaced by chemical dyes since the second half of the nineteenth century. However, some handicrafts are still produced using traditional methods, and are represented in the collection.

The Cosmetic group highlights plants used in perfumes, oils or body dyes. Plants traditionally employed to make soap are of significant interest and hold an important place in the collection.

The group of Cultural Uses includes a broad representation of plants that served as charms and other religious and ritual objects, as well as vegetable products used in secular rites or recreational activities.