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GCA Medalist Paul Alan Cox, PhD


April 01, 2021

An Adventure into the Science of Ethnobotany

Paul Alan Cox, PhD, recipient of the GCA’s 2019 Eloise Payne Luquer Medal, and fellow co-author Michael J. Balick, PhD, have published a new book entitled Plants, People, and Culture, The Science of Ethnobotany, Second Edition. Their fascinating stories weave together chemistry, history, botany, anthropology, and ecology with a focus on the many features of indigenous cultures and the impact of plants on cultural development. 

Could it be possible that the bond between plants and people is responsible for shaping the very development and progression of human cultures? This new edition examines the evolution of the relationship between plants and people from prehistoric times with the use of medicinal plants, thatch to build shelter, fiber to make cloth, and timber for boats while featuring preeminent ethnobotanists that made major cultural advancements possible. A few examples provide a taste of the richness of this volume. 

  Sickness and Medicine

“Drug discovery, with an ethnobotanical approach, has been spectacularly successful as evidenced by the discoveries of digitalis and quinine,” says Dr. Cox. Today, … “nearly half of all human pharmaceuticals now in use were originally derived from natural sources.” (Scientific American, April 2001)

 Food and Diet

Food and lifestyle analyses of 100 year-old women living in Ogimi, Japan, reveal a plant-based diet of seaweed and tofu that is providing them with a generous amount of the dietary amino acid L-serine. Dr. Cox’s Brain Chemistry Labs is now studying L-serine as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in FDA-approved human clinical trials.   

Conservation and Religion

Indigenous people perceive the earth as sacred, so for them conservation becomes a religious obligation rather than just an effective management tool. 

In addition to being awarded the Eloise Payne Luquer Medal, Dr. Cox is a frequent speaker at GCA meetings. In 2019, Time Magazine named him a Hero of Medicine. He is director of the Brain Chemistry Labs, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he is searching for cures for Alzheimer’s and ALS. 


100 year-old women living in Ogimi, Japan. Photo by Paul Cox.


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