Traditional and Medicinal

By Anna Carmichael ‘18

Denisse Gayosso-Lucano
Denisse Gayosso-Lucano ’18

Looking at a childhood picture of herself standing in her grandmother’s garden in Mexico, Denisse Gayosso-Lucano ’18 had a career path epiphany.

“I thought, ‘I like science, I like people, I like plants. Why not combine these? I could be a naturopathic doctor’,” she said.

This summer, the plant science major traveled to Belize and Mexico to explore ethnobotany--the relationship between people and plants--learning how ailments from arthritis to an itchy throat are treated with plants, as well as the transmission of traditional knowledge.

Horticulture senior lecturer Marcia Eames Sheavly recommended an initial ethnobotany course in Belize through a program called CELA, The Center for Engaged Learning. Sheavly also encouraged Gayosso-Lucano to blend the personal and professional through an independent project in Mexico by learning from her own relatives about medicinal plants. Gayosso-Lucano decided to do both.

In Belize, Gayosso-Lucano spent two weeks meeting healers and learning about traditional and indigenous medicine, plants and health.

“Despite the spiders and mosquitos, everything I learned was so much more meaningful because the people I met in Belize were so rich in knowledge,” she said. “It also made me realize how plants affect everything. Not just health, but economics, and politics, too.”

On her subsequent trip to Hildago, Mexico, Gayosso-Lucano interviewed a range of experts in medicinal plants: a chiropractor, a naturopathic doctor, a spiritual healer, a medicinal plant professor, as well as her own family elders. In addition to cataloging how specific remedies were prepared, what plants and parts were used, and what conditions they treated, she also took an anthropologist’s approach. She tracked how they became interested in this subject, who they taught and how the knowledge will be preserved.  

Gayosso-Lucano credits her travels to Belize and Mexico, with fueling her passion for plant-based medicine.

“I can’t wait to continue researching traditional medicine and change people’s lives for the better,” she said.