Lisa Philander

Teaching Faculty
Lisa Philander


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Teaching Faculty

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Horticulture, Community-Based Conservation, Ethnomedicine


Research Summary/Interests

I am interested in applied research on human ecology and biopolitics. My research has been in areas with practical applications relevant to real world communities where I believe solutions arise from interdisciplinary and often conflicting stakeholder collaboration. I use of a variety of social and natural science methodologies that have allowed me to assess conservation priorities and develop community-based management programming including educational programming and redefinition of policy. I strongly believe that communities must lead the impetus for research. My South African fieldwork began with an examination of the prevalence of traditional medicinal plant knowledge in Cape Town school gardens. This exploration led to the discovery of a revitalization of traditionally used herbals by bush doctors, who were protesting biomedical dependency and socio-political access to conservation lands. Interviews with and the identification of bush doctors and their pharmacopeia were instrumental in developing an apprenticeship program, sustainable harvesting workshops, and bush doctor certification that was recognized by local conservation authorities. My commitment to community food systems began with studying school gardens while working at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Garden. At the gardens, I created the Organic Vegetable Garden and paired with a local chef to create a series based on the horticultural and nutritional aspects of garden vegetables. In South Africa, I worked with school and community gardening projects in urban townships. As a postdoctoral researcher in Wyoming, I studied local food systems, community gardens and CSAs, assessing their feasibility in marginal high altitude areas with short growing seasons. My most recent research venture involves food sustainability solutions with the creation of portable, solar-powered indoor growing stations spurned by the necessity to create indoor garden-based teaching tools for schools in the majority of northern climates. Using a combination of hydroponics, LED lighting, and vertical gardening, these stations will be tested for the amount and diversity of produce that can be harvested indoors in small spaces. My research has focused on defining social, personal and environmental health towards the goal of building stability, resilience and sustainability in local food and ethnomedical healthcare systems. I am enthusiastic about learning new skills, devising novel methods and pursing multidisciplinary collaborations to go wherever complex questions lead. I have experience working within multiple academic disciplines as well as with people of varying ethnicities, ages and socio-economic backgrounds in both rural and urban areas. I believe that the implementation of a more sustainable future begins with openness to innovative solutions initiated by teams of diverse stakeholders who design educational outreach available to a wide- ranging audience.


Aston Philander, L.E., Makunga, N. & Esler, K. (2014) “The informal trade of medicinal plants by Rastafari Bush Doctors in the Western Cape of South Africa” Economic Botany 68 (3):303-315.

Aston Philander, L.E. 2012 “Hunting Knowledge and Gathering Herbs: Rastafari Bush Doctors in the Western Cape of South Africa.” Journal of Ethnobiology 32 (2):134-156.

Aston Philander, L.E. 2012. “Response to Fay’s comments: Apartheid and the Erosion or Preservation of Medicinal Plant Knowledge.” Human Ecology 40(2):329-330.

Aston Philander, L.E. 2011. “An Ethnobotany of Western Cape Rasta Bush Medicine.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 138(2): 578-594.

Aston Philander, L.E., Makunga, N.P., & Platten, S.J. 2011. “Local Medicinal Plant Knowledge preserved by South Africa’s Apartheid.” Human Ecology 39(2): 203-216.

Makunga, N.P., Philander, L.E. & Smith, M. 2008. “Current perspectives on an emerging product sector in South Africa.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 119: 365-375.