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Documenting the uses of different medicinal plants in Kosovo. Photo by and courtesy of Cassandra Quave.

For centuries, plants and herbs — from peppermint and chamomile to aspirin and opium — have been long known to hold medicinal qualities. Before advances in modern medicine, synthetic drugs, and antibiotics, Indigenous cultures developed an extensive knowledge of plants to cure most common ailments. Although many of those plants are still used today, there are thousands more on the planet which may also hold significant medicinal potential. 

According to ethnobotanist and Associate Professor of Dermatology and Human Health at Emory University Dr. Cassandra Quave, there are 374,000 species of plants on the planet, of which approximately 33,000 have been used historically in medicine. Quave says that when it comes to plant pharmacology, “we’ve barely scratched the surface.” 

Jonathan Bastian talks with Quave about her latest book, “The Plant Hunter: A Scientist's Quest for Nature's Next Medicines,” and how being born with multiple congenital defects on her skeletal system influenced her path towards medicine and eventually led her on a global quest for plant-based medicinal compounds.

“The Plant Hunter;  A Scientist's Quest for Nature's Next Medicines” by Cassandra Quave. Cassandra with some wild blackberries in Baker County, Georgia. Photo by Donato Caputo, courtesy of Cassandra Quave.

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Andrea Brody