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Healing Properties of Botanicas Revealed

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Hilary MacGregor of the Los Angeles Times reports on a roundtable discussion at UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History, organized in conjunction with exhibit "Botánica Los Angeles: Latino Popular Religious Art in the City of Angels," which closes March 6th. The exhibit focuses on the artistic, religious and cultural aspects of botanicas.Patrick Polk, a visiting professor at UCLA who has studied botanicas for more than a decade, believes there are more here in Southern California than anywhere else in the country, with much of the growth coming since the early 1990s.

As botanicas have become a more common sight, health officials, researchers and the general public have shown increased interest in this cultural phenomenon.

Last Thursday anthropologists, folklorists, priestesses and traditional herbalists gathered at the Fowler to discuss botanicas as sites of alternative medical practices. We're intrigued by this quote because it shows how vital our city is to the field of ethnobotany:

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Increasingly botanicas are a critical aspect of alternative, if not mainstream, healthcare in California," said Polk. "Three decades ago there were about three dozen in all of Southern California. Now there are about 500. That is a significant increase. We have to ask: What does that mean?" No one can say for certain where this new interest comes from -- whether it's Latina nannies suggesting folk remedies to parents, curious urbanites wandering into the mysterious shops or the ever-expanding influence of this country's burgeoning Latino population...

The Fowler show grew out of medical field research done by Polk, the curator of the current exhibit; Michael Owen Jones, a professor in UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures; and several graduate students.

The researchers used a $250,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to study botanicas in Los Angeles. The researchers took a census of the city's botanicas, first using phone books and conventional listings, then fanning out across the city in cars and on foot. They counted 435, but the number continues to change almost daily, said Jones. He has since compiled a database of more than 200 medicinal herbs employed by botanicas and healers for more than 100 common uses.