Ethnobiology of saps, resins, and latexes

William Balée
Steven A. Weber


The ethnobiology of saps, resins, and latexes--from diverse trees in forests worldwide--concerns how people use and classify these species, and whether they are domesticated or not. The uses are not unlimited: they include food and gums (edible saps, resins, syrups, and gums); sealants (from resins in the Burseraceae and saps in the Anacardiaceae); and as generalized polymer with multiple uses (as with Hevea brasiliensis and numerous species of Moraceae and Sapotaceae). In many cases, the raw materials produced exhibit allergens, as in the case of the rubber tree (Euphorbiaceae), the fig tree (Moraceae), and the lacquer tree (Anacardiaceae).  The uses of many of these trees diverge, a fact that is more salient depending on the particular species and its characteristics, suggesting the possibility of probably universally important and useful properties among diverse phyla of plants. Comparison can yield insights into the most suitable methods for helping maintain cultural traditions (as with traditional commodities produced from saps, resins, and latexes) as well as the most likely means of preserving the diversity of the relevant tree species themselves.