Ethnopharmacological field studies: a critical assessment of their conceptual basis and methods

Document Type


Publication details

Heinrich, M, Edwards, S, Moerman, DE, & Leonti, M 2009, 'Ethnopharmacological field studies: a critical assessment of their conceptual basis and methods', Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 124, no. 1, pp. 1-17.

Publisher's version of paper available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.03.043

Peer Reviewed



Ethnopharmacology as a well-defined field has a relatively short history, but for centuries researchers have been interested in the observation, description, and experimental investigation of indigenous drugs and their biological activities. Today, such articles are published in a variety of journals among which the Journal of Ethnopharmacology has a prominent position as well as in book monographs. As any other area of scientific endeavour, this field requires a critical and engaged discussion about the conceptual basis, the relevant methods and the overall standards necessary for excellence. Here we review recent ethnopharmacological field studies in order to highlight achievements and future needs for improving the quality of such studies. The basis for this review is 40 field studies published in the years 2007 and 2008 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Researchers need to have a clear vision for what and how they want to achieve a conceptually and methodologically sound approach and as in all disciplines adherence to internationally recognized methodological standards is essential. Here we review not only the basic conceptual requirements but also the minimal methodological (i.e. botanical, anthropological/historical, ethnomedical) standards and ways how to quantify ethnopharmacological information. Future uses of such information both in the context of experimental research and in applied projects highlight the multiple roles of such data generated in ethnopharmacological field studies. This review cannot be a book of recipes on how to conduct such research but highlights minimal conceptual and methodological requirements for use in future projects.