A taste of traditional Italian medicine

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | July 2, 2013

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Medical ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave takes students off the beaten track, to learn about agrarian life in Italy.

"Ethnobotany is the science of survival," Cassandra Quave told a group of Emory students when they visited her field research site in southern Italy recently.

Quave, a medical ethnobotantist with Emory's Center for the Study of Human Health, is documenting the traditional ways that people use plants in the Vulture-Alto Bradano region of Basilicata province, a landscape of rolling hillsides dominated by the dormant volcano Monte Vulture. She is also collecting specimens of medicinal plants that she will take back to her Emory lab for her drug discovery research projects.

The students were in Italy this June as part of the "Italian and Medical Humanities" course, a collaboration of Emory's Italian Studies Program, the School of Medicine, the Center for Ethics and the Center for the Study of Human Health.

Their itinerary included a day with Quave, who immersed the students in the local life of the village of Ginestra. She took them on a walk through the surrounding countryside, identifying the traditional medicinal uses of plants they encountered along the way. A fourth-generation shepherd told the students about pastoral life, and truffle hunters demonstrated how they use dogs to hunt these gourmet delicacies.

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