Bottle gourd

Explore the collection

Kew's Economic Botany Collection contains an extraordinary range of artefacts that demonstrate some of the vital uses of plants. For example, as food and drink; medicines and poisons; clothing and ornament; and as fuels, papers, toys, and musical instruments.

Collection overview

The Economic Botany Collection holds about 95,000 objects. These include raw plant materials and artefacts representing all aspects of craft and daily life worldwide, including medicines, textiles, basketry, dyes, gums and resins, foods, and woods. All plant uses and most parts of the world are represented, with an emphasis on the former British Empire. Most specimens date to the period 1847 to 1930, but about 1,000 specimens are still added each year. These web pages highlight just a few of the strengths of the Collection.

Economic botany database

Search Kew’s Economic Botany Database for further information about the objects in the collection. The database includes about 2,000 images, and information on the donor, collector, plant parts, uses and geographical location.

Search the Economic Botany Database

Key collections

Ancient Egyptian wreath

Ancient Egyptian artefacts

Kew's Economic Botany Collection includes about 600 specimens of ancient Egyptian plant remains, including wreaths, flowers, leaves, bread, textiles, wood and artefacts.
Bark cloth stamped with letters

Bark cloth

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses around 100 specimens of bark cloth, a versatile material made from beaten tree bark, once used widely throughout the tropics.
Rosary made of rose petals

Botanical jewellery

Kew’s Economic Botany Collection holds a broad range of jewellery made from plant materials, totalling more than 600 pieces. The majority of these are necklaces, but there are also earrings, bracelets, bags and brooches.
Model of an Indian cradle

Canadian Aboriginal artefacts

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses approximately 85 Canadian Aboriginal artefacts, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cinchona

Cinchona

Cinchona bark and its derived quinine alkaloids were the most effective treatment for malaria from the 17th century to the 1940s.
Snuff boxes made from gourds

Gourds

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses around 60 gourds in a variety of shapes and sizes, most collected between 1850 and 1900
Two round Chinkinbori trays

Japanese lacquerware

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses an impressive array of Japanese lacquerware, illustrating each stage in the production of these meticulously crafted and beautiful objects, from cultivating the trees to applying the finishing polish.
Gourd with wooden pin

New Guinea

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses a diverse range of artefacts from the mountainous island of New Guinea, dating from 1847 to the present.
Sun umbrella made of paper

Paper

Kew's Economic Botany Collection includes many examples of paper used to make less-than-ordinary objects, including hats, sandals, hair ornaments, umbrellas and even a waterproof raincoat.
Quiver with poison arrows, collected by Richard Spruce

Richard Spruce - Amazonia

Kew holds 260 rare and fascinating artefacts and raw plant materials collected by Richard Spruce in South America.
Selection of bottled crude drugs from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society collection at Kew

Royal Pharmaceutical Society Collection

Kew's Economic Botany Collection houses extensive collections of plant material used as medicines. The jewel of these materia medica is undoubtedly the collection given in 1983 by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
Writing cases

South Asian lacquerware

Kew's Economic Botany Collection includes several fine examples of South and Southeast Asian lacquerware, including examples of Punjabi, Burmese, Malayan and East Indies origin.