Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Our Economic Botany Collection illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world and also includes 500 specimens of fungi.

The huge variety of objects includes artefacts made from plants as well as raw plant materials, such as wood samples.

Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing.  

The Economic Botany Collection explained

Our Economic Botany Collection contains an extraordinary range of artefacts that demonstrate some of the vital uses of plants. For example, as food and drink; medicines and poisons; clothing and ornament; and as fuels, papers, toys, and musical instruments.

The collection holds around 100,000 objects. These include raw plant materials and artefacts representing all aspects of craft and daily life worldwide, including medicines, textiles, basketry, dyes, gums and resins, foods, and woods. All plant uses and most parts of the world are represented, with an emphasis on the former British Empire. Most specimens date to the period 1847 to 1930, but about 2,000 specimens are still added each year.

Key collections include: Ancient Egyptian artefacts, bark cloth, basketry, botanical jewellery, cinchona, gourds, Japanese and south Asian lacquerware, paper, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Collection of medicines, Chinese traditional medicines, and the Amazonian collections of Richard Spruce. The Collection also includes 40,000 specimens of wood.

The Economic Botany Collection is an important research resource because of its extraordinary breadth, and the copious documentation associated with many specimens. Research use has changed through time, with increasing emphasis on anthropology and history.