Economic Botany Collection

Using Kew’s collections to understand and support sustainable use of plants, past, present and future.

Economic Botany Collection jars

Team lead: Dr Mark Nesbitt

The work of the team is based on Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, a comprehensive collection of 100,000 plant raw materials and products dating from ancient Egypt to the current day.

Our research likewise takes in many places and time periods. Areas of interest include:

• Supporting the preservation and application of traditional knowledge in indigenous societies.
• Understanding the connection between the biology of plants and their uses.
• Unlocking the potential of botanical specimens through innovative methods of documentation, analysis and sharing.
• Taking a critical approach to the history of botanical exploration and its implications for today.

We take a highly interdisciplinary approach, spanning ethnobotany, anthropology, history, geography, and art and design. Fieldwork locations can vary from farmers’ fields in Sudan, to the Amazon, to museum and archive stores. Much of our work combines historical and contemporary sources in order to give time depth to contemporary problems.

Current projects include research into materials such as barkcloth, paper and rubber; medicinal plants including cinchona (the source of quinine) and plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the circulation of ethnobotanical knowledge in the 19th century, for example through Richard Spruce’s collecting in the Amazon, and the Mobile Museum project.

All our projects are in collaboration with other institutions. We welcome approaches from potential users of the Economic Botany Collection, and from potential students and postdoctoral researchers.

Team members

Senior research leader
Dr Mark Nesbitt

Early career research fellow
Dr Philippa Ryan

Collections manager
Ben Hill

Honorary research associates
Professor Felix Driver
Christine Leon
Dr Caroline Cornish

Research assistant
Rebecca Lazarou

PhD students
Kim Walker
Frankie Kubicki