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The Life & Legacy of Richard Evans Schultes

The Life & Legacy of Richard Evans Schultes

Richard Evans Schultes; The Father of Contemporary Ethnobotany

Richard Evans Schultes is one of the most important plant explorers known to the 20th century. Initially a medical student at Harvard, he later went on to do a course in economic botany, finding himself completely enthralled by the subject, and changing his degree entirely.

In December 1941, Schultes embarked upon a quest in the Amazon rainforest to study how indigenous peoples utilized plants in medicinal, ritual and everyday contexts. He is often referred to as the ‘father of contemporary ethnobotany’ because of the well-known extensive field studies that he carried out in South America, particularly in the northwest Amazon. Schultes spent over a decade engaged in continual fieldwork, collecting over 24,000 species of plants, 300 of which were previously unknown to science.

Schultes was one of the first Westerners who lived amongst the isolated tribes of the northwest Amazon, and the first scientist to explore certain areas in that region which have not been researched since. The notes and photographs that he took during his research remain some of the only existing documentation on indigenous cultures in regions of the Amazon which are currently facing external threats to their existence.

Our Rainforests Under Threat

Richard Evan Schultes in the Amazon (1940) (via Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries/Wikimedia)

According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the Amazon “around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.” Rainforests cover less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, with the Amazon rainforest being the world’s largest. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of the Earth’ because it is thought that more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced there. Further, the Amazon is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, and estimated to be home of 390 billion trees, among them 16,000 different species, and is the tribal home of 1 million indigenous people.

With the days of the rubber boom long gone, new trajectories of economic exploit now threaten the Amazon rainforest. Brazil’s president, the recently elected Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to develop Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, aiming to open up and allocate more rainforest to the production of beef and soya in order to meet sustained international demands. Further, Bolsonaro stated that he wanted to dissolve the Environmental Ministry, planning to merge it with the Agriculture industry, favoring the interests of those who have stakes in converting forest into farmland. During last year’s election campaign, Bolsonaro vowed to end demarcation of new indigenous lands in order to free up mining and commercial farming on indigenous reserves.

Recently, Bolsonaro made a tweet stating:

“More than 15% of the national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and Quilombolas. Fewer than 1 million people live in these isolated places of real Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. We will together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”

The Preservation of Knowledge

Due to economic exploit, the ways of life of indigenous groups are on the verge of being lost, alongside many species, plants, and trees, having tragic implications for our planet as a whole. Thus, it is important in today’s quickly changing world to make efforts to preserve and deepen our knowledge about such biologically and culturally rich areas of our planet. More than preserving knowledge, we need to make collective efforts to protect the peoples that steward it.

In line with this goal, the non-profit Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) who are committed to working alongside indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin in order to help them protect their bio-cultural heritage launched an interactive educational map, the Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes. This fully interactive map enables you to dig deeper and retrace Schultes’ illuminating adventures into ritual, medicinal plants, and indigenous cultures.

The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes

Former student of Schultes’ and founder and President of ACT, Mark Plotkin, and cartographer Brian Hettler gave a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History about their newly developed interactive map Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes. Through this fully immersive map journal, you can navigate Schultes’ extraordinary adventures, retracing the landscapes and cultures that Schultes explored in his first 14 years of research (1939-1953).

The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes (screenshot by the author for Synergetic Press)

The launch of the map serves as a tribute to the life and work of Schultes, charting the magical history, cultures, and biodiversity that he uncovered on his travels in Latin America through the lens of his field notes, ethnobotanical research, and beautiful photography.

“In an era of climate change and rapid acculturation, it is urgently important that we improve how we communicate science and research, in order to engage new audiences and inspire people to pursue careers in these fields.” ㄧBrian Hettler, Senior Manager of ACT

Explore the travels of Schultes


Amazon Conservation Team

Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) is a non-profit founded by Dr. Mark J. Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal in the mid-1990s. From its beginning, ACT veered from the well-worn paths of the conservation community, enlisting the support of indigenous communities that live in the forests in order to achieve conservation results that were as impressive as they were sustainable. Today ACT partners with 55 indigenous tribes and other local communities to map-manage, protect, and bio-culturally conserve of 80 million acres of ancestral land.

 

Keep up to date with the ACT’s latest developments in conservation @AmazonTeamOrg and find out how you can help support their efforts through amazonteam.org


Books by Richard Evans Schultes 

Vine of The Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants, and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia

Vine of the Soul is an exceptional photographic essay accompanied by detailed descriptions of the Amazon Indians’ use of medicinal and other sacred plant substances. Over 160 documentary photos, some of the most significant ever taken on the subject, bring the reader along a journey in which healing with plants is the norm, and ritual and magic play an essential role in everyday life. Richard Evans Schultes, former Director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, led an extraordinary life that bridged the worlds of academia and tribal cultures.

 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

A defining scholarly publication on the past and current state of research with psychotropic plant substances for medicinal, therapeutic, and spiritual uses. 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs features a prominent essay by Mark Plotkin, Brian Hettler & Wade Davis named, “Viva Schultes – A Retrospective”, highlighting the important work that Schultes’ pursued throughout his life and illuminating the legacy he left behind.

 

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

May 31 – June 2 | Girona, Spain

Hosted by the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS)

Save 10% by using discount code SYNERGETICPRESS10

 Looking Forward to Seeing You at AYA2019!

Synergetic Press is excited to announce our participation in the 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference being held this spring in Girona, Spain, May 31st-June 2nd, for the European debut of our seminal publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD).  Among the many distinguished speakers at the conference will be the four editors of ESPD:  famed ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, internationally known botanist Sir Ghillean Prance, filmmaker/anthropologist Wade Davis, and the founder and Executive Director of ICEERS, Benjamin De Loenen. Several other contributors to the book including shaman/anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna and medical psychology researcher Ede Frecska, MD, will be giving presentations at the conference. Other Synergetic Press authors will be found at the conference including Allan Badiner (Zig Zag Zen) who will be speaking, and John Allen (Me and the Biospheres) attending. It promises to be a truly stellar event. – read more on our blog. 

The AYA2019 Conference is being hosted by the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS). ICEERS is a non-profit organization committed to integrating traditional medicinal plants such as ayahuasca, and iboga as therapeutic tools in contemporary society. Further, dedicated to preserving the integrity and traditions of indigenous cultures that have been using such plants medicinally for time immemorial, aiming to safeguard and harness ethnobotanical knowledge in response to the urgent need for better tools for personal and social development.

More than a Conference…

The 3rd World Ayahuasca Conference 2019 will be the largest gathering on the subject of ayahuasca ever held, bringing together a diverse community and a multiplicity of voices to share knowledge about this invaluable plant medicine and how we can use it in order to shape a better future for our planet.

The conference aims to explore the use of ayahuasca in a wide variety of contexts, and its ability to not only affect individuals in a transformative way, but whole communities, societies, and moreover our planetary landscape. The transformative and healing potentialities of this sacred plant must not be overlooked, with AYA2019 aiming to unite academics, practitioners, and communities around a shared vision – creating a sustainable, ecologically aligned paradigm for our species.

The conference is scheduled to span over three-days with additional events such as workshops, open-discussions, art, music and much more. Participants will have the opportunity to connect with one another, engage in dialogue, listen to inspirational talks, and enjoy art, food, film, and good music together.

Use code SYNERGETICPRESS10 for 10% off your tickets!  Buy Your Tickets Here

Speaker Line-Up

Dennis McKenna PhD

Dennis McKenna’s professional and personal interests are focused on the interdisciplinary study of ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. He received his doctorate in 1984 from the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral research focused on ethnopharmacological investigations of the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two orally-active tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs.

Wade Davis PhD

Wade Davis is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker whose work has taken him from the Amazon to Tibet, Africa to Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 1999 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Author of 22 books, including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence, winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top nonfiction prize in the English language, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University.

Luis Eduardo Luna PhD

Luis Eduardo Luna has a B.A. from Universidad Complutense de Madrid (1972), an interdisciplinary M.A. from Oslo University (1980), a Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Religion Stockholm University (1989), and an honorary doctoral degree from St. Lawrence, Canton, New York (2002).  Dr. Luna is since 1989 a Fellow of the London Linnaean Society. He was an Assistant Professor in Anthropology (1994-1998) at the Department of Anthropology of Santa Catarina Federal University (UFSC) in Florianópolis, Brazil. He is co-editor with Steven White of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine. He is the Director of the Research Center for the Study of Psychointegrator Plants, Visionary Art and Consciousness, Florianópolis, Brazil.

And many more! Check out the full speaker-line up here.

Interested in learning more? All of the talks from the 2016 World Ayahuasca Conference in Rio Branco, Brazil are open-source and available to watch for free through this link. 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs eBook Newly Available

For those who like to save paper, keep things minimal, or merely have their research library on easy tabs, we are excited to announce that the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESDP50) Volume 2: Proceedings of the 2017 conference held in Tyringham Hall, UK, is now available in eBook format!

 

McKenna’s Milestone Publication

The milestone publication, ESPD50, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

“The realization that real science was being pursued in this field was a revelation to me, partly because it opened the possibility that one day I, too, might be able to achieve a place in this exclusive fellowship. At first, I thought I would be able to prove to my parents that I was serious about psychedelics and not just a confused hippie in search of cheap thrills, but they were not very reassured. However, over the years, they came to recognize the merits of my chosen career.”Dennis McKenna, The Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: Reflections on a Book that Changed My Life.’

The first international gathering of researchers held on this subject was in 1967. It was an interdisciplinary group of specialists gathered in one place to share their findings on a topic that was gaining widespread interest: The use of psychoactive plants in indigenous societies. It was intended that follow-up conferences should be held about every 10 years. However, the War on Drugs soon limited any advances in this field of research, putting a prohibitive ban on psychoactive drugs, denying their medicinal value altogether.

 

The Future of Medicine

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the medicinal and therapeutic properties of psychoactive substances. In spite of their prohibitive ban, researchers persevered. With their substantial discoveries and findings helping to reverse public opinion and reestablish the medical legitimacy of certain substances.

In June 2017, a group of interdisciplinary researchers from around the world convened to review their research and findings together in what was known as the second Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Symposium. The papers given at the 2017 Symposium, organized by Dr. Dennis McKenna, have been collected and curated into what is now known as the ESPD50, representing the most significant body of knowledge in this field available.

 

McKenna Speaks at ESPD50 Conference

 

 

Interested in ESPD50, but find the science hard to digest? Make your reading interactive by watching the video lectures of individual authors presenting their research papers at the 2017 Symposium here

Check out Dennis McKenna’s recent interview on the Future Fossils Podcast with Michael Garfield, where they discuss the applications of psychoactive substances as tools for scientific investigation.

What Reviewers Had to Say:

For decades, the keepers of the psychedelic therapy and ethnobotany flames have guarded and passed along rare copies of the published proceedings of this January 28–30, 1967 conference at UC San Francisco, which were released later that year as “Public Health Service Publication No. 1645” and briefly sold for $4 by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

This month, the historic research papers from that mostly forgotten conference, along with the proceedings of a symposium held in England last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco gathering, have been published by Synergetic Press in a beautifully boxed, two-volume hardcover edition. 

Don Lattin, award-winning journalist & author of Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy

Much of their discussion centers around the indigenous peoples of the world who have utilized these miraculous psychedelic fungi and plants (even the skin secretions of frogs and toads) in their cultures and religions. Of course, what’s most exciting is the potential for additional therapeutic discoveries, once the substances are better understood. 

Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews

White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in the Amazon 1896-1906

White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in the Amazon 1896-1906

White Gold

White Gold is the diary of an American named John C. Yungjohann, recounting his journey through the Brazilian Amazon and the toilsome ten years of his life spent working as a rubber cutter there. The book is of major relevance today due to the economic and ecological developmental paths that we have begun to take on a societal level.

Within his diary, Yungjohann writes in detail about the flora and fauna particular to the Amazon at that time as well as his encounters with the various groups tribal Indians in that region. In particular, Jungjohann became increasingly close with the Yanomami Indians of which he relates their customs and traditions.

The Amazon Under Threat

With the days of the rubber boom long gone, new trajectories of economic exploit now threaten the Amazon. Brazil’s new president, the recently elected Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to develop Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, aiming to open up and allocate more rainforest to the production of beef and soya in order to meet sustained international demands. Further, Bolsonaro stated that he wanted to dissolve the Environmental Ministry, planning to merge it with the Agriculture industry, instead favoring the interests of those who have stakes in converting forest into farmland.

The Amazonian rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest, sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of the Earth’ because it is thought that more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced there. Moreover, the Amazon is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions and is estimated to be home of 390 billion trees, among them 16,000 different species, let alone being the tribal home of 1 million indigenous Indians.

The Preservation of Knowledge

Due to economic exploit, the ways of life of indigenous groups are on the verge of being lost, alongside many species, plants, and trees, having implications for the planet as a whole. Thus, it is important in today’s quickly changing world to make efforts to preserve and deepen our knowledge about such biologically, culturally and economically rich areas of our planet. More than preserving knowledge, we need to make collective efforts to preserve its very existence.

About the Editor, Sir Ghillean T. Prance


Sir Ghillean Prance FRS PPLS has conducted 39 expeditions to study the Amazon’s flora. He is a former Director of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London, author of 24 books, monographs and extensive papers on the taxonomy of tropical plants, ethnobotany, and conservation. He was involved with the development of the rainforest biomes at the Biosphere 2 project and at the Eden Project. Most recently, he worked as co-editor of the landmark academic volume, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research.

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