Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level





Justin M. Nolan

Committee Member

Peter S. Ungar

Second Committee Member

Jerome Rose


Social sciences, Health and environmental sciences, Asteraceae, Biocultural anthropology, Ecological anthropology, Evolutionary ethnobotany, Human ecology, Medical anthropology


The Asteraceae, or the daisy family, is the largest family of flowering plants in the world, and its ethnobotanical, medical, and economic value is readily apparent cross-culturally. The aim of this thesis is to examine why constituent genera of the Aster family have remained such an integral part of human medicinal plant knowledge, and thereby to reveal any potential physiological, biological, or evolutionary mechanisms underlining human patterns of use regarding the Asteraceae. The present study focuses specifically on Native American plant knowledge made available by the expansive database in the works Daniel Moerman (Moerman 2003). Frequencies of plant use and their corresponding applications for symptoms relating to human physiological organ systems are examined. Bar graph and T-test analyses reveal that gastrointestinal ailments comprise more medical uses for the Asteraceae than any other organ system targeted by taxa within the Asteraceae family. Therefore, it is posited here that the Asteraceae’s biochemical effects on the gastrointestinal tract, including the elimination of intestinal worms and other pathogens, continues to sustain human attraction to medicinal genera within the Aster family. Data also suggest potential evolutionary advantages for human populations able to exploit the Asteraceae for medical purposes. These data exist in extant non-human primates, extinct hominins, Neandertals, and early humans. While this study and the data used in it were limited to Native North America, the conclusion are believed to inform anthropological understandings of human-plant selection, co-evolution, and the continued global use of the Asteraceae in traditional medicine more broadly.