The Society for Economic Botany

Fostering research and education on the past, present, and future uses of plants by people.


SEB 2015 Ballot

President-Elect –  Steve Casper   |   Diane Ragone
Council  –  Darach Lupton  |   Rachel Meyer   |   Sonia Peter   |   Martin Terry 
Student Representatives to the SEB Council  –  Sandra Bogdanova  |   Barnabas Seyler    
GRADUATE POSITION at-Large to the Student Council  –  Matthew Bond  |   Betsabé D. Castro Escobar   |   Cory W. Whitney
UNDERGRADUATE POSITION at-Large to the Student Council  – Brandon Dale   |   Ghita Heidt   |   Anne Elise Stratton

Cast your BALLOT here

The Election Closes June 1st, 2015


Steve Casper

It has been a while since I left the Amazon Jungle for the bureaucratic jungle of the US Food and Drug Administration.  I experience a wide range of tasks and issues as the agency’s botanical expert but the main focus of my work is dealing with the review, safety, and regulation of botanical ingredients that are used in dietary supplement products.  Whenever I can, I advocate for ethnobotanical science to guide decisions because the law states that safety for new dietary ingredients must be shown by history of use (or other evidence of safety) and rarely is this shown accurately.  Moreover, I see adverse events occur in cases where the ingredients should be safe if used in a traditional manner, but the product is composed of many different botanicals that haven’t been used together before or that have been extracted with various solvents and concentrated.  It is always encouraging to see companies use ethnobotanists or at least respect peoples’ traditional knowledge by keeping as close to the traditional use as possible when developing a dietary supplement product.

I have been a member of the society since I was a graduate student in the late 90’s.  My mentor, Walter Lewis, said that if I belong to just one professional society, then this is the one.  He was right.  Of all the organizations for which I hold membership, this is the most closely knit group of colleagues not only doing fascinating science but who are more like family members.  I also found my “place” as a student in ethnobotany when another student, Michael Casaus, and I founded the SEB Student Group.  It is amazing to see how the group has grown but even more amazing how the society values and uplifts the student members.  In support of this, I have always encouraged the students to be more involved because the students around them will be their professional colleagues and some will be running the society one day.  I was finally able to back those statements with action as I have been on the Business Council for nearly 4 years and now I find myself honored with being nominated for society president.  I never would have agreed if I didn’t know that I have the knowledge and support of fellow council members and presidents, both current and former, who have done commendable jobs leading and promoting the society.


Diane Ragone

I am honored to be nominated as President-Elect for the Society for Economic Botany and to have the opportunity to serve the society in this position. I attended my first SEB meeting in 1989 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The friendships and professional associations made then have grown and flourished for 25 years. That meeting typifies what I love about our society and our annual meetings. Students attending meetings are welcomed and encouraged by the members – from the Distinguished Economic Botanist, to society officers and Council, to the most illustrious, accomplished and published members. I go to many professional society meetings, but none engage and inspire me as much as SEB. They are a reflection of the diversity and depth of our society.

At that 1989 meeting I received the Edmund H. Fulling Award. At subsequent meetings I attended council meetings to learn more about the workings of the society and the people involved who volunteer so much of their time and expertise. In 2004-2007 I served as Treasurer and was closely involved in the establishment and fiscal oversight of a Honolulu-based Business Office prior to the transfer of society business operations to Bill Dahl and his management team at the Botanical Society of America.

Having worked for a non-profit organization for 25 years, I bring a useful perspective and skill set to the society. In addition to establishing and managing the Breadfruit Institute, I have maintained an active multidisciplinary research program and developed local, regional, and international programs and partnerships to promote the conservation and use of breadfruit.

I am cognizant of the challenges and issues that our society faces in being relevant and fiscally sound. As President Elect I will do my best to maintain our society’s connections to its roots and attract new members who will keep our society vibrant and advance our mission.


Council members at large

Darach Lupton

I am a senior botanist at Oman Botanic Garden. My role largely focuses on native plant collection, seed bank management and staff teaching and training. In 2011, having observed the enormous wealth of undocumented ethnobotanical traditions in Oman, I set up the Oman Botanic Garden Ethnobotany research group. We are a small department with only three staff members; however, in three short years we have gathered and data-based a huge amount of ethnobotanical information. Our team continues to grow in experience and knowledge and has a bright future ahead. I attended my first SEB meeting in Frostburg in June 2012, where I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to many of the diverse and engaging members. Oman signed up as a chapter of the Society at the Frostburg meeting. This was a very important step, in particular for the Omani team members who suddenly felt a part of something bigger: it gave them a great sense of enthusiasm and continues to act as positive incentive for their development.

I feel as a council member I can offer a broad range of skills, drawing on my often challenging experiences with promoting ethnobotanical research in a country where the discipline and wider scientific and social investigation is in its infancy. I have many years experience as an active committee member on a number of societies/committees, including the Irish Biodiversity Data Centre, The Irish Museums Trust, and most recently the Oman National Plant Genetic Resources Steering Group. I can bring to the Society an enthusiastic and genial attitude, a strong work ethic, and  desire to promote the ideals and ethos of SEB. It would be an honour to serve as council member.

Rachel Meyer

I am running for the position of Member-at Large of the SEB Council because I want to show a deeper commitment to the Society. I am keenly interested in this Society’s governance and growth, and am energized to help the SEB thrive by investing time and hard thought. Interactions at Society meetings and reading Economic Botany are always transformative. Economic botanists are diverse and using increasingly interdisciplinary technologies in their science.  I would like to help teach the public who the economic botanist of today is. For example, my graduate school and postdoc departments are Plant Genomics, and in these settings the overlap and dependence on ethnobotanical research cannot be overlooked. On the Council I would help increase these interdisciplinary opportunities and networks with other societies, such as the Botanical Society of America, where I served as student representative from 2009-2011. I first attended Economic Botany in Chicago in 2007, and was fortunate to receive the Fulling award at the Maryland meeting in 2012. I published my first article in Economic Botany in 2014, and have enjoyed being a reviewer for several ethnobiological journals. As a junior scientist, I also seek to increase the support and mentorship available to younger members of the society.

Sonia Peter

I am currently Head of the Departments of Chemistry and Environmental Science in the Division of Natural Sciences at the Barbados Community College.  I am the founder and President of the Caribbean Chapter of the Society for Economic Botany, CCSEB, which was established in 2010.  I am also a member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy, a member of the McGill Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados, and Public Relations Officer of the Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Barbados Chapter.  My research interest is, broadly, sustainable utilisation of Caribbean Medicinal Plants with a current focus on natural dyes, anticancer agents, medicinal teas, natural antioxidants and conservation of plant biodiversity.  I will bring to the post of Council Member of the SEB 33 years in the field of science education with a focus on Biological, Chemical and Environmental Sciences.  Furthermore, my special interest in chemical and ethnomedicinal research, conservation of plants of medicinal value and the associated heritage knowledge and plant biodiversity in general will be an asset.  In pursuing these interests I have managed a project on the sustainable utilisation of plants of medicinal value in Barbados, worked on curriculum development for courses on medicinal plants in the Biology Major of the Associate Degree Programme and Natural Dyes for the general public and also workshops on heritage teas.  My published papers cover the topics of natural product structure elucidation, Ethnobotany in Barbados and conservation of plant biodiversity in a Caribbean hotspot. I have a wide experience in conference protocols and was co-convenor of the Small Island States session at the Planet Under Pressure Conference in 2012.

Botany and economics, though treated as separate disciplines, are inextricably intertwined and knitted by the human experience.  In economic activity there is dependence on plant-derived products from the cellulose fibres of printing media to the value of agricultural investments.  The study of botany, at its most intricate level, requires an investment of funding and an economic policy for sustainability.  So here we have plants and people interdependent for perpetuity, not a new concept for those committed to the underpinning philosophy of our society.  However, my concern is that this fundamental relationship is waning in recognition in both the academic and societal spheres.  The decline in students opting to pursue botanical studies is worrisome and the limited acknowledgement of the value of the plant world to society is glaring.  The youth must be targeted to reawaken the academic and societal cohort.  I fully support the drive to establish chapters of the SEB and see this as enhancing the mission of the society at a global level.  This network should yield valuable exchange and knowledge-sharing opportunities.  As President of the SEB I pledge to uphold the mission of the society and work towards fostering collaborations within the global network of chapters to promote youth programmes aimed at bridging the gaps referenced.  A youth network must now be established to encourage stewardship in botany, ethnobotany and economic botany.

Martin Terry

I am an Associate Professor of Biology and Curator of the Herbarium, Sul Ross State University (USA). I was first made aware of the existence of SEB in 1969, when one of my classmates in R.E. Schultes’s course, Plants and Human Affairs, published his term paper on the iboga plant in Economic Botany.  My next encounter with SEB occurred when I happened to drop by an SEB annual meeting and by chance sat next to Beryl Simpson at dinner.  But my first real immersion in SEB occurred when I attended and presented a paper at the 2012 Annual Meeting in Frostburg.  That was when I realized that SEB members – and especially the ones with gray hair – have far more fun than ordinary citizens.  So of course I had to attend the 2013 meeting in Plymouth, and am now inexorably drawn, like moth to proverbial flame, to the meeting in Cherokee this year.

Why am I interested in serving on the SEB Council?  Answers include:  (1) Gail asked me to.  (2) My experience as Editor of Haseltonia, the peer-reviewed botanical journal on cacti & succulents published by the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, may be of some use to the Council in relation to its publications.  (3) As a purely selfish reason, service on the SEB Council would afford more opportunities to talk with Bob Bye about the changing conditions in the Sierra Tarahumara of Chihuahua and how those socioeconomic changes are affecting the uses and availability of plants traditionally used by the Rarámuri.  (4) Plants with economic value exhibit varying degrees of vulnerability to overharvesting, and the degree of interdigitation of economic botany and conservation biology are steadily increasing.  A decade of experience in running the Cactus Conservation Institute ( has given me a sort of baptism by crossfire between the various stakeholders involved in the vortex of decreasing availability – directly associated with overharvesting – of Lophophora williamsii (peyote), the psychoactive sacrament of the Native American Church.  I am glad to share this experience so that SEB may (one would hope) benefit from it.



Student Representatives to the SEB Council

Sandra Bogdanova (MA Student, Arctic University of Norway)

Research Interests
I am a second year MA degree student in Indigenous studies, at the Centre for Sámi studies, UiT the Arctic University of Norway also a member of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB), a member of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), freelance writer for FDCIP (Forum for Development Cooperation with Indigenous Peoples). Recently I became a fellow researcher at the UiT project “Focal Point North” that combines education, research and networking among institutions in the North. Currently I am doing my community based research study among the indigenous Sámi people gathering the knowledge for recording the continuity and change of the ancient use of Pinus sylvestris L.(Scots pine) bark for food in the North Eastern Finland.

My interest in the field of (applied) ethnobotany is constantly growing through my passion - ancient and current cultural uses of various plant bark, its management, and commerce. I have a BA in Archaeology from Vilnius University (Lithuania), experience of working in the field, archives and in the laboratory. Last years of work connected me to ethnobotany and step by step I begin to specialize in Alpine, Arctic and sub-Arctic vegetation. So far I have been working with traditional knowledge of native peoples in Northern Scandinavia and South Western China. All along the way gained knowledge formed the solid and sustainable foundation of an accurate view of my individual scientific direction. I hope everything I do with the help of ethnobotany will contribute to informing the encounters between peoples in the North, reveal and heal the burdens of history, suggest new approaches to curation of indigenous peoples’ heritage, encourage cooperation among local, indigenous and other institutions.

SEB Interest
I would like to be on the Student Committee because I am a loyal team worker, burning with creativity and thirst for learning and I want to work to develop new initiatives and resources for SEB Student group, possibly through collaboration with the Circumpolar Arctic peoples. I would also like to develop leadership skills and collaborate with fellow researchers that face similar challenges and carry similar responsibilities while pursuing projects in ethnobotany. Long ago I met an Inuit storyteller Hivshu from Greenland. At once I felt a great sense of significance and purpose in getting to know diverse cultural identities that help to raise self-awareness and at least for an eye-blink bring one back to the foundations of humanity. Attaining this union is my lifelong goal.



Barnabas Seyler (Doctoral Student, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa)

Research Interests
I have loved plants since I was young, and I have also always loved learning about and experiencing other cultures. I became fascinated with the field of ethnobotany while pursuing my master's research at Chinese and American botanical gardens. Discovering the important role that cultural diversity plays in both plant conservation and public education efforts, I decided to pursue a doctorate in ethnobotany at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. My doctoral research focuses on documenting the association between orchid diversity loss and cultural knowledge loss in Southwest China. 

SEB Interest

I seek to be on the Student Committee because I would like to help the SEB improve its presence in and collaboration with China. I am passionate about international botanical collaboration, especially now in relation to ethnobotany. I would like to help facilitate the establishment of SEB chapters in China, especially at several universities and botanical gardens that I am working with. I believe my professional experience in China and my Mandarin Chinese speaking ability will prove to be valuable resources for the SEB now and into the future.


Students Only Voting

There are three student council positions open. One must be filled by an undergraduate, the other two may be filled by undergraduates or by graduate student. 


Matthew Bond (Doctoral Student, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa)

Research Interests
My gateway to the field of ethnobotany stemmed from a lifelong obsession with plants and the ingenious ways that people use plants. By combining this obsession with my love of health and medicine, I entered the realm of medical ethnobotany. I am currently a first year Ph.D. student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. My dissertation asks why certain species and harvesting practices of medicinal plants are used rather than other species and harvesting practices. I want to explain medicinal plant selection practices by exploring their social, ecological, and pharmacological implications.
Although I knew from a young age that I was interested in ethnobotany, throughout middle and high school it was difficult for me to find information about ethnobotanical education, leadership, and career opportunities.
SEB Interest

As a Student Committee Member, I want to use SEB as a platform to make these kinds of information and opportunities available to anyone. I also would like to make the field of ethnobotany more accessible to the general public with communications that explain scientific concepts clearly and highlight practical outcomes. For six years I served as Western Director, President, and Past President of the National Junior Horticulture Association, where I targeted audiences of youth and adults with mixed educational backgrounds. Working as a SEB Student Committee Member will allow me to target a larger and more diverse audience and build on my current media and outreach skills.


Betsabé D. Castro Escobar (MS Student, University of Missouri, Columbia)

Research Interests
Hola! My name is Betsabé, but feel free to call me Betsy. I was born and raised in the tropical gem of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. As a native islander nature, plants, and people have always fascinated me. My growing curiosity for natural and human systems motivated me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology at the University of Puerto Rico (BS earned in 2012) and later a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Missouri (MA will be earned in 2015). My next steps are to attend a Ph.D. graduate program starting next Fall 2015 where I can be intellectually stimulated and driven to continue growing as a scientist, scholar, and educator in the field of ethnobotany.

SEB Interest
I have been involved in diverse leadership positions with science related organizations since 2009. Last year was my first time attending the Society of Economic Botany annual meeting held in Cherokee, North Carolina. Even though the society it’s a small organization I was very impressed to see how committed everyone was to this meeting, society, his or her collaborations, and own personal work. I attended one of the student meetings and was excited to learn about some of the initiatives that are being arranged by the student body of the society. I was specially captivated by how the students made an active effort to connect among their peers and advance colleagues in the field, exchange ideas, scheme new projects, and maintain an active support community within ethnobotany. The SEB Student Committee seems like a great place for me to further my leadership skills, now more than ever grounded in the field of ethnobotany. As a newbie to SEB, there still many facets of this organization I would like to explore and it would be my honor to do so while being part of an active student group. Through my personal experiences and involvement I have become an advocate for promoting diversity within academia and science in general. I intend to continue my mission of encouraging underrepresented groups at all levels to pursue higher education and engage in research experiences, especially within ethnobotany. As a student committee member for SEB, I will not only attend my regular duties appointed (e.g. promoting new plans, maintaining ongoing projects, writing articles, etc.), I would also like to address dialogues and initiatives on how can we diversify the field. As a Puerto Rican woman of color, I feel a personal obligation to guide people of minority backgrounds as they advance in their scholarly careers. I am always 100% devoted with my projects/duties, extremely responsible, reliable, organized, and attentive to details. I have exciting ideas of future projects to undertake with fellow committee members.


Cory W. Whitney (Doctoral Student, University of Kassel)

Research Interests
I am currently a graduate student at the University of Kassel working on indigenous food systems and ethnobotany in southwest Uganda. For the last several years my work has brought me together with indigenous peoples, farmers, and wild collectors, from Iceland to mainland Southeast Asia to East Africa with a research focus on the ethnobotany and conservation of indigenous livelihoods and traditional food systems. My ethnobotany work has been with in participatory research with research teams of indigenous youth and elders with agronomists botanists sociologists and anthropologists working together to do what in 1983 Andrew Vayda called “pursuing the surprising”. We follow the ‘walk in the woods’ methods of ethnobotany to explore human ecological systems and gather traditional knowledge observations and impressions and later describe these systems. Following the ethical approach of agroecology our work attempts to use the research process and findings to address issues of direct relevance to the community regarding the loss of both the traditional culture and biodiversity. My current work with the Ankole and Lukiga peoples of southwest Uganda has two focal points 1) the agricultural biodiversity of homegardens 2) traditional food systems diet and food preservation. Pending manuscripts cover the ethnobotany and circa-situm conservation of indigenous plant species found in these gardens the relationship between this biodiversity and socio economic factors as well as food security and more experimental Bayesian belief network and Monte Carlo analysis of the factors related to food security and the gardens to describe resilience and possible future scenarios.

SEB Interest
I would be interested in one of the At-large Student Committee Member positions or the Student Committee Representative position a part of the committee I think I could do a lot to help with the start of the student and post-doc editorial review board for the Journal of Economic Botany. I would also like to be part of the communications and events work, especially the South Africa annual meeting. Being a committee member would be a great opportunity for networking and getting closer to the ethnobotany community.



Brandon Dale (Brown University, Class of 2017)

Research Interests
As an amateur botanist researcher who studied the cultural and scientific aspects of traditional medicine, with a specific focus on the types of herbal therapies that are used to heal, I did not think that there would be any majors that truly captivated all of what I wanted to learn as an undergraduate. However, after taking a biology class during my first semester called “The Botanical Roots of Modern Medicine,” my eyes were opened to an entirely new world of academic pursuits – ethnobotany and pharmacognosy. After being equipped with knowledge of traditional healing systems, traditional botanical knowledge and phytotherapy, I knew that this is what I wanted to study as an undergraduate and beyond into my doctoral degrees.

SEB Interest
Wanting more experience within these fields, I began to conduct research involving medicinal plants and reaching out to those who had similar interest, which inevitably lead me to the SEB. Serving on the SEB’s Student Committee would allow me to share my passions for the field of ethnobotany, while creating opportunities for other students to access mentors, internships and SEB resources. As an undergraduate, I feel especially inclined to serving on the SEB Student Committee so that I can reach out to the undergraduate population of ethnobotanist to build a community that promotes academic inquiry and conversations amongst undergraduates interested in ethnobotany.


Ghita Heidt (Florida State University)

Research Interests
I am not the typical student, I am a single mother and after a long break from university I have returned to finish my degree. I have always been interested in plants since I was a young girl living in the North.  Now I am an older "girl" living in the south and my love of plants and their uses has stayed with me these many years.  As far as ethnobotany is concerned and my focus in my studies I am still trying to figure that out.  At Florida State there have not been any professors interested in ethnobotany that could give me any guidance and most everything I have learned of plants has been self guided.  I did some independent study on the medicinal uses of Hypericums of Florida along with georeferencing and have explored the biogeography of plants while at FSU.

I find myself interested in the evolution and biogeography of plants and how this has affected the various cultures of the world but also how culture has affected plants and their dissemination over the planet.  At this point of time in the history of our world I also find incredibly important the protection of this knowledge of the many uses of plants and also the conservation of said plants and the ecosystems within which they reside.

SEB Interest
I have spent most of my time as a student apart from the world of ethnobotany and would like to participate more.  I am a single mother attending university part time and working which has limited how much time I could give to any organization. My daughter will suddenly be spending the next year abroad in South Korea and I will have more time to donate to my own personal endeavors and causes I find worthy.  I would like to be part of the student committee to participate in something I feel is important, to promote the study of ethnobotany and related fields and to help those finding their way.


Anne Elise Stratton (Tufts University, Class of 2015)

Research Interests
I am a Biology and Food Systems (Environmental Studies) undergraduate student at Tufts University in the Boston area. My real passion lies in ethnobotany, however, and I am thrilled to have discovered the SEB student page and committee this year. Since my freshman year of college, when I began working with Dr. Selena Ahmed (now at Montana State University) on her tea agroecosystems project, I have been enthralled by the plants-and-people relationships that make up ethnobotanical research. Following that spark, I have conducted two independent field-based research projects, the first on seed-saving practices among the Mapuche in southern Chile and the second on plant biodiversity and agroecosystem vitality in eastern Guatemala. My methods in the more recent project involved interviews with (Guatemalan) Q'eqchi' Maya farmers and maize grain collections for protein analyses. These dual methods illustrate my blossoming interest in finding ways to tell both plants' and peoples' stories about agroecosystem changes.

SEB Interest
The Society for Economic Botany publishes the scientific work I find most complete, due to its ability to cross and co-mingle disciplines that are often artificially separated. Ethnobotany students are few and far between, and I am eager to jump on this opportunity to form relationships with others who share my passion. The Student Committee makes available invaluable resources and serves as a platform for myself and other students to find funding, attend meetings, and converse with students of a similar mind who could one day become collaborators. I will also be graduating from Tufts this May and applying to graduate programs related to ethnobotany for next year, so I could act as a bridge between undergraduate and graduate members on the committee. I would be honored to join forces with other ethnobotany students who could trade insights about the scholarly and career options in the field.