The Use of “Use Value”: Quantifying Importance in Ethnobotany. Use value (UV) is an index widely used to quantify the relative importance of useful plants. It combines the frequency with which a species is mentioned with the number of uses mentioned per species, and is often used to highlight prominent species of interest. However, high-UV species are often disproportionately cultivated species, with wild-collected plants ranking lower. To better understand this pattern, and to determine if it is present in the broader ethnobotanical literature, we reviewed an array of papers with results on UV and cultivation status, and we analyzed in depth data from two large ethnobotanical studies in the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus. In addition to looking for differences in UV by cultivation status, we compared the two best-populated categories of use (medicinal and food uses) and the components of UV (relative frequency of citation and number of uses mentioned per species). We found that UV was higher in cultivated plants than wild plants in both the Caucasus datasets and the 17 studies overall. Medicinal plants did not exhibit this trend, as medicinal wild plants had marginally higher UV than medicinal cultivated plants. Relative frequency of citation had a substantial effect on UV, in contrast to number of uses mentioned for a given plant. In sum, UV seems subject to some obscured biases which are important to consider in the context of each study.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Ahmad, L., A. Semotiuk, M. Zafar, M. Ahmad, S. Sultana, Q.-R. Liu, M. P. Zada, S. Z. U. Abidin, and G. Yaseen. 2015. Ethnopharmacological documentation of medicinal plants used for hypertension among the local communities of DIR Lower, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 175: 138–146.
Albuquerque, U. P., R. F. P. Lucena, J. M. Monteiro, A. T. N. Florentino, and C. F. C. B. R. Almeida. 2006. Evaluating two quantitative ethnobotanical techniques. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 4: 51–60.
Bibi, S., J. Sultana, H. Sultana, and R. N. Malik. 2014. Ethnobotanical uses of medicinal plants in the highlands of Soan Valley, Salt Range, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 155(1): 352–361.
Bussmann, R. W., N. Y. Paniagua Zambrana, S. Sikharulidze, Z. Kikvidze, D. Kikodze, D. Tchelidze, M. Khutsishvili, K. Batsatsashvili, and R. E. Hart. 2016a. A comparative ethnobotany of Khevsureti, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Tusheti, Svaneti, and Racha-Lechkhumi, Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo), Caucasus. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 12: 43.
Bussmann, R. W., N. Y. Paniagua Zambrana, S. Sikharulidze, Z. Kikvidze, D. Kikodze, D. Tchelidze, K. Batsatsashvili, and R. E. Hart. 2016b. Medicinal and food plants of Svaneti and Lechkhumi, Sakartvelo (Republic of Georgia), Caucasus. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, 5: 266.
Bussmann, R. W., N. Y. Paniagua Zambrana, S. Sikharulidze, Z. Kikvidze, D. Kikodze, D. Tchelidze, M. Khutsishvili, K. Batsatsashvili, and R. E. Hart. 2017a. Plant and fungal use in Tusheti, Khevsureti and Pshavi, Sakartvelo (Republic of Georgia), Caucasus. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae, 86(2): 3517. https://doi.org/10.5586/asbp.3517.
Bussmann, R. W., N. Y. Paniagua Zambrana, S. Sikharulidze, Z. Kikvidze, D. Kikodze, D. Tchelidze, K. Batsatsashvili, and R. E. Hart. 2017b. Ethnobotany of Samtskhe-Javakheti, Sakartvelo (Republic of Georgia), Caucasus. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 16(1): 7–24.
Bussmann, R. W., N. Y. Paniagua Zambrana, S. Sikharulidze, Z. Kikvidze, D. Kikodze, D. Tchelidze, and R. E. Hart. 2018. Unequal brothers—plant and fungal use in Guria and Racha, Sakartvelo (Republic of Georgia), Caucasus. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 17(1): 7–33.
Byg, A. and H. Balsev. 2001. Diversity and use of palms in Zahamena, eastern Madagascar. Biodiversity and Conservation 10: 951–970.
Conklin, H. C. 1961. The study of shifting cultivation. Current Anthropology 2: 27–61.
Dudney, K., S. Warren, E. Sills, and J. Jacka. 2015. How study design influences the ranking of medicinal plant importance: A case study from Ghana, West Africa. Economic Botany 69(4): 306–317.
Egea, T., M. A. Signorini, L. Ongaro, D. Rivera, C. Obón de Castro, and P. Bruschi. 2016. Traditional alcoholic beverages and their value in the local culture of the Alta Valle del Reno, a mountain borderland between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (Italy). Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 12(29). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-016-0099-6.
Faruque, M. O., S. B. Uddin, J. W. Barlow, S. Hu, S. Dong, Q. Cai, L. Xiaohua, and X. Hu. 2018. Quantitative ethnobotany of medicinal plants used by indigenous communities in the Bandarban District of Bangladesh. Frontiers in Pharmacology 9(4). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00040.
Ford, A. and R. Nigh. 2009. Origins of the Maya forest garden. Journal of Ethnobiology 29: 213–236.
Fuller, D. Q., T. Denham, M. Arroyo-Kalin, L. Lucas, C. J. Stevens, L. Qin, R. G. Allaby, and M. D. Purugganan. 2014. Convergent evolution and parallelism in plant domestication revealed by an expanding archaeological record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111: 6147–1652.
Gaoue, O. G., M. A. Coe, M. Bond, G. Hart, B. C. Seyler, and H. McMillen. 2017. Theories and major hypotheses in ethnobotany. Economic Botany 71(3): 269–287.
Garnatje, T., J. Peñuelas, and J. Vallès. 2017. Ethnobotany, phylogeny, and “Omics” for human health and food security. Trends in Plant Science 22(3): 187–191.
Güzel, Y., M. Güzelşemme, and M. Miski. 2015. Ethnobotany of medicinal plants used in Antakya: A multicultural district in Hatay Province of Turkey. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 174: 118–152.
Hadjichambis, A. C. H., D. Paraskeva-Hadjichambi, A. Della, M. E. Giusti, C. De Pasquale, Cinzia Lenzarini, E. Censorii, M. R. Gonzales-Tejero, C. P. Sánchez-Rojas, J. M. Ramiro-Gutiérrez, M. Skoula, C. Johnson, A. Sarpaki, M. Hmamouchi, S. Jorhi, M. El-Demerdash, M. El-Zayat, and A. Pieroni. 2008. Wild and semi-domesticated food plant consumption in seven circum-Mediterranean areas. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 59(5): 383–414.
Hamilton, A. C. 2004. Medicinal plants, conservation and livelihoods. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 1477–1517.
Harris, D. R. 1989. An evolutionary continuum of people-plant interaction. In: Foraging and farming, eds. D. R. Harris and G. C. Hillman. London: Routledge.
Hayta, S., R. Polat, and S. Selvi. 2014. Traditional uses of medicinal plants in Elazıǧ (Turkey). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 154: 613–623.
Hoffman, B. and T. Gallaher. 2007. Importance indices in ethnobotany. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 5: 201–218.
Khan, M. A., M. K. Islam, M. A. Siraj, S. Saha, A. K. Barman, K. Awang, M. M. Rahman, J. A. Shilpi, R. Jahan, E. Islam, and M. Rahmatullah. 2015. Ethnomedicinal survey of various communities residing in Garo Hills of Durgapur, Bangladesh. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 11(1): 44.
Larson, G., D. R. Piperno, R. G. Allaby, M. D. Purugganan, L. Andersson, M. Arroyo-Kalin, L. Barton, C. Climer Vigueira, T. Denham, K. Dobney, A. N. Doust, P. Gepts, M. T. Gilbert, K. J. Gremillion, L. Lucas, L. Lukens, F. B. Marshall, K. M. Olsen, J. C. Pires, P. J. Richerson R. Rubio de Casas, O. I. Sanjur, M. G. Thomas, and D. Q. Fuller. 2014. Current perspectives and the future of domestication studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(17): 6139–6146.
Mahmood, A., A. Mahmood, R. N. Malik, and Z. K. Shinwari. 2013. Indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants from Gujranwala district, Pakistan. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 148(2): 714–723.
Medeiros, M. F. T., O. S. Silva, and U. P. Albuquerque. 2011. Quantification in ethnobotanical research: An overview of indices used from 1995 to 2009. Sitientibus série Ciências Biológicas 11: 211–230.
Morvin Yabesh, J. E., S. Prabhu, and S. Vijayakumar. 2014. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants used by traditional healers in silent valley of Kerala, India. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 154: 784–789.
Nunkoo, D. H. and M. F. Mahomoodally. 2012. Ethnopharmacological survey of native remedies commonly used against infectious diseases in the tropical island of Mauritius. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 143(2): 548–564.
Phillips, O. L. 1996. Some quantitative methods for analyzing ethnobotanical knowledge. In: Selected guidelines for ethnobotanical research: A field manual, eds. M. Alexiades and J. W. Sheldon, 171–197. New York: New York Botanical Garden Press.
Phillips, O. L. and A. H. Gentry. 1993. The useful plants of Tambopata, Peru: I. Statistical hypothesis tests with a new quantitative technique. Economic Botany 47: 15–32.
Pinheiro, J., D. Bates, S. DebRoy, D. Sarkar, and R Core Team. 2018. nlme: Linear and nonlinear mixed effects models. R package version 3.1–137. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package = nlme.
Polat, R., U. Cakilcioglu, K. Kaltalioğlu, M. D. Ulusan, and Z. Türkmen. 2015. An ethnobotanical study on medicinal plants in Espiye and its surrounding (Giresun-Turkey). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 163: 1–11.
Quave, C. and A. Pieroni. 2015. A reservoir of ethnobotanical knowledge informs resilient food security and health strategies in the Balkans. Nature Plants 14021. https://doi.org/10.1038/NPLANTS.2014.21
R Core Team. 2018. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. https://www.R-project.org/.https://www.R-project.org/
Ramakrishnappa, K. 2002. Impact of cultivation and gathering of medicinal plants on biodiversity: Case studies from India. In: Biodiversity and the ecosystem approach in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, FAO, 12–13. Rome: FAO.
Ramirez, C. R., 2007. Ethnobotany and the loss of traditional knowledge in the 21st century. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 5: 245–247.
Reyes-García, V., N. Martí, T. Mcdade, S. Tanner, and V. Vadez. 2007. Concepts and methods in studies measuring individual ethnobotanical knowledge. Journal of Ethnobiology. 27(2): 182–203.
Rossato, S. C., H. F. De Leitão-Filho, and A. Begossi. 1999. Ethnobotany of Caiçaras of the Atlantic forest coast (Brazil). Economic Botany 53(4): 387–395.
Rowly-Conwy, P. and R. Layton. 2011. Foraging and farming as niche construction: Stable and unstable adaptations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 366: 849–862.
Samoisy, K. A. and F. Mahomoodally. 2016. Ethnopharmacological appraisal of culturally important medicinal plants and polyherbal formulas used against communicable diseases in Rodrigues Island. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 194: 803–818.
Sargin, S. A. 2015. Ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants in Bozyazı district of Mersin, Turkey.
Sargin, S. A., S. Selvi, and V. López. 2015. Ethnomedicinal plants of Sarigöl district (Manisa), Turkey. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 171: 64–84.
Schippmann, U., D. Leaman, and A. B. Cunningham. 2002. Impact of cultivation and gathering of medicinal plants on biodiversity: Global trends and issues. In: Biodiversity and the ecosystem approach in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, FAO, 142–167. Rome: FAO.
Silva, V. A., L. H. C. Andrade, and U. P. Albuquerque. 2006. Revising the cultural significance index: The case of the Fulni-ô in northeastern Brazil. Field Methods 18: 98–108.
Smith, B. D. 2011. General patterns of niche construction and the management of “wild” plant and animal resources by small-scale pre-industrial societies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366: 836–848.
Sõukand, R., Y. Hrynevich, J. Prakofjewa, T. Valodzina, I. Vasilyeva, J. Paciupa, and R. Kalle. 2017. Use of cultivated plants and non-plant remedies for human and animal home-medication in Liubań district, Belarus. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 13(54). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-017-0183-6.
Telli, A., M. Esnault, and A. Ould El Hadj Khelil. 2016. An ethnopharmacological survey of plants used in traditional diabetes treatment in south-eastern Algeria (Ouargla province). Journal of Arid Environments 127: 82–92.
Thomas, E. and P. Van Damme. 2010. Plant use and management in homegardens and swiddens: Evidence from the Bolivian Amazon. Agroforestry Systems 80(1): 131–152.
Turner, N. J. 1988. The importance of a rose: Evaluating the cultural significance of plants in Thompson and Lillooet Interior Salish. American Anthropologist 90(2): 272–290.
Umair, M., M. Altaf, and A. M. Abbasi. 2017. An ethnobotanical survey of indigenous medicinal plants in Hafizabad district, Punjab-Pakistan. PLOS ONE 12(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0177912.
Vitalini, S., M. Iriti, C. Puricelli, D. Ciuchi, A. Segale, and G. Fico. 2013. Traditional knowledge on medicinal and food plants used in Val San Giacomo (Sondrio, Italy)—An alpine ethnobotanical study. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 145(2): 517–529.
Yaseen, G., M. Ahmad, S. Sultana, A. Suleiman Alharrasi, J. Hussain, M. Zafar, and S. Ur-Rehman. 2015. Ethnobotany of medicinal plants in the Thar Desert (Sindh) of Pakistan. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 163: 43–59.
Zahoor, M., Z. Yousaf, T. Aqsa, M. Haroon, N. Saleh, A. Aftab, S. Javed, M. Qadeer, and H. Ramazan. 2017. An ethnopharmacological evaluation of Navapind and Shahpur Virkanin district Sheikupura, Pakistan, for their herbal medicines. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 13:27. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-017-0151-1.
The authors thank all participants in the Republic of Georgia for their generous hospitality and friendship. We are hopeful that the project this paper is based upon will help the communities meet their needs and aspirations. This work was supported by NSF DBI 1559962 (“REU Site: Botany and Conservation Biology Research at the Missouri Botanical Garden”).
Received 27 January 2019; accepted 7 May 2019.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Zenderland, J., Hart, R., Bussmann, R.W. et al. The Use of “Use Value”: Quantifying Importance in Ethnobotany. Econ Bot 73, 293–303 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-019-09480-1