Editor's Note: This post starts a short series written by students who work with Dr. Cassandra Quave, Assistant Professor in the Center for the Study of Human Health and School of Medicine Department of Dermatology. Over spring break, Dr. Quave took some students to Florida to collect plants on an ethnobotanical research expedition. The Center for the Study of Human Health graciously helped fund a portion of the trip, making the students' participation possible. Several of these students wrote reflections about this trip, which Destination HealthEU will be posting over the course of the next few weeks.
I have always been a proud self-determined city girl, usually never venturing out of my comfort zone. I was happy with my internet access, my concrete roads, and my espresso lattes in the morning. When Dr. Quave offered an alternative spring break to Florida, I quickly accepted, having no idea what I had gotten myself into.
Mr. Brewer, a local grower whose land we surveyed for plants, had an amazing depth in his knowledge of plant matter. Even though we had spent hours compiling a field guide of plants, we were out of touch with the environment in front of us and had trouble navigating various habitats. Mr. Brewer took up the challenge with skill, and would survey a given area and point out which plants could be of potential use to us. He told stories of the Native Americans who used the land before him and show us which plants were of medicinal use. His stories and the passion he had for plants was amazing, and is something I will never forget.
In addition to learning about how to survey and collect plants, I learned a variety of practical skills. In my 18 years of life, I never learned how to cook. My family was very invested in our take-out menus. Our local restaurants knew my family’s order before they even picked up the phone. When Dr. Quave watched me struggle even cutting a tomato, she taught me all I needed to know to make my portion of dinner: the guacamole. I committed everything she said to memory and learned more from her about cooking than I ever did from my family. Throughout the week, she taught me about the importance of a healthy meal, which is something that I never fully understood. Even though I was constantly given pamphlets and taught in school to eat my vegetables, it was a foreign concept. During the trip, I was forced to opt for the healthier choices, and loved almost every meal I ate.
This trip taught me skills that I will carry with me for a very long time. I am no longer scared of laying down on the grass, and, by the end of the trip, even embraced dirt. I learned about the historical and anthropological side of ethnobotany, and watched my fellow classmates interview local farmers in order to gain their perspective on the medicinal uses of certain plants. By hearing the stories behind each plant species, I developed a greater appreciation for the samples themselves. It gave me insight into the stories behind the plants, and provided with me with a deeper motivation for working in the first place. The disconnect I previously felt between these plant samples and their uses was stitched together after the alternative spring break trip through the Center for Human Health.