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On October 28, 2021, Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health hosted their very own Dr. Cassandra Quave for a Q&A with acclaimed journalist and author Maryn McKenna on Quave’s new book, The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicine. 

Cassandra Quave, PhD, is a medical ethnobotanist, the herbarium curator, and an associate professor of Dermatology and Human Health at Emory University. She is a scientist, a professor, and a mother with a passion for biodiversity and scientific discovery. Her recent book, The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines, is part science, part memoir.

Plants are the basis for much of the medicines we know and use today and may be the source of the solution we need to fight against the impending post-antibiotic era, which is one of the greatest medical challenges plaguing us today. In The Plant Hunter, Dr. Quave shares her experiences as an ethnobotanist, as well as her ideas about how plants can act as the solution for the antimicrobial resistance era. 

Dr. Quave’s experience and interest in plants began at a very young age. She was an active and curious child that spent much of her days exploring nature and life, observing the world around her. She grew up in Florida, where her father shared family lore and traditional knowledge about Floridian plants and food with her.  

Dr. Cassandra Quave

Dr. Quave’s experience and interest in medicine also arose at a young age. At the age of three, she nearly lost her life due to a staph infection. This infection arose from her healing limb amputation, which she faced as a person born with multiple congenital defects of her skeletal system. This experience shaped Dr. Quave’s passion for scientific discovery and gave her personal insight into the strengths and failings of modern medicine. 

With a deep appreciation and love for the various cultures across the globe, she studied anthropology at Emory. Here, she was exposed to different cultures and learned about the different systems of medicine that exist globally. She also became interested in how an individual’s experience with medicine and plants is shaped cultures.

Her introduction to the field of ethnobotany was a game-changer. This field combined all of her interests and passions: culture, plants, and scientific discovery. In The Plant Hunter, Dr. Quave recounts her journey through places such as the Amazon forest and the mountaintops in Albania. She shares her search for natural compounds, rare plants, and essential knowledge from traditional healers. The book also discusses how all of these discoveries offer potential solutions to the antibiotic resistance crisis, and how we can look to plants for a future of medicine that is optimistic and full of constant scientific discovery. 

You can purchase Dr. Quave’s book, The Plant Hunter: A Scientist’s Quest for Nature’s Next Medicines on Amazon.com or at the Emory University Barnes & Nobels bookstore.