Jessamyn Wead researches medicinal plants in rural Cambodia.
Jessamyn Wead is a first‐year master’s student in UC Berkeley’s Public Health Nutrition program and a 2018 RIFA Fellow at the Royal University of Agriculture in Cambodia (RUA). From mid-May through mid-August, Wead will be researching the medicinal uses of local plants in four different rural Cambodian villages with the goal of narrowing the knowledge gap between agriculture and nutrition. Her work will also continue University of California’s long-standing partnership with RUA. This collaboration, which began in 2011, has primarily focused on assisting Cambodian small-landholder farmers by better linking farm production to market demand.
Wead became interested in the RIFA program after hearing about the experience from a prior RIFA fellow who studied food systems in Vietnam. Although the listed RIFA project at RUA didn’t completely fit her area of expertise, she was able to work with her UC mentor and host in putting together this medicinal plant project, which fits both her host’s needs and her area of interest and expertise. She cites her past work experiences designing a cultural-based survey for a community in the Crow Reservation in Montana during her undergraduate years, as well as her 5 years working with a non-profit focused on providing nutritional supplements to pregnant women and children worldwide, as inspiration for the project.
Her research will take a qualitative approach to studying traditional medicines by conducting personal interviews in four rural Cambodian villages to understand the cultural context of indigenous plants that are used as medicines. Wead is most interested in discovering how people have learned about medicinal uses of plants over time and how modern science supports these traditional ways of viewing the environment.
Wead cites the extractive nature of the project as the most pressing challenge she will face abroad, since the nature of the research involves in-depth questioning of villagers about ancestral knowledge. As any researcher, she plans to conduct her interviews with respect and sensitivity towards her subjects, especially since this is her first time working in Cambodia. The Cambodian team she is working with at RUA have assured her that this work will be helpful for the Cambodian community she will be studying.
Outside of her research, Wead expressed her excitement in getting to know the Cambodian people and visiting family in the region. As a long time traveler, she is also extremely eager to complete research and study in a new part of the world. Wead hopes to continue pursuing her interest in food systems and its impact on nutrition as she works toward completing her master’s degree and graduates from UC Berkeley in 2019.