The Economic Botany Collection at Kew illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world. The huge variety of objects ranges from artefacts made from plants, to raw plant materials, including a large collection of wood samples. Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing.

The collections build an important bridge between biological and cultural diversity, and are a valuable resource for the study of plant uses past, present and future. They are managed by the Biodiversity Department of the Herbarium Directorate, in close collaboration with the Sustainable Uses Department of the Jodrell Laboratory.

Museum No. 1 indigo factory & collection cases

Museum No. 1 indigo factory & collection cases

Sir William Hooker, the first official Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, opened the Museum of Economic Botany in 1847. While the majority of the objects were acquired during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Collection continues to grow today and now holds over 85,000 specimens. These include present-day material as well as archaeological specimens and nineteenth century curiosities. Please explore some of our holdings.

The Plants+People exhibition in the renovated Museum No. 1 displays over 450 of these plant-based treasures.


A Spoonful of Science

Mark Nesbitt will give an informal talk to visitors to Kew on Tuesday 17 June, 2-2.30 pm, Kew Palace. Usual visitor charges to gardens apply. The subject will be historic herbal medicines.

Details: Spoonful of Science

David Harris’s global approach to Ethnobotany and the Economic Botany collections at Kew Gardens, by Mark Nesbitt

Part of UCL Institute of Archaeology Symposium: Celebrating the Contributions of Professor David R. Harris (Friday, 20 June 2014)

Details: Institute of Archaeology, UCL

Tropical plants in European medicine, by Mark Nesbitt

One of three talks on Medicines from plants at the Royal College of Physicians, Monday 7 July 2014

Booking: Royal College of Physicians

New book: Curating biocultural collections: a handbook

Available from all booksellers and www.kewbooks.com

Economic Botany Collection blog launched

Online now at the Kew Blogs page

Launch of the Economic Botany Collection database: all 85,000 specimens are online, with photos for 2000.

Some ethnobotanical talks in the Kew Mutual series see http://www.kew.org/learn/talks-courses/lectures/kmis/

Reading list on Kew, economic botany and empire. Kew, economic botany and empire (PDF).