Botanical Collections


Plant specimens are preserved in botanical collections, also known as herbaria, to allow for the study of plant taxonomy and a better understanding of the world’s flora. Specimens are preserved by:

  • Drying and pressing
  • Storing in a chemical fluid preservative, such as ethanol or formalin
  • Applying residual pesticides/chemicals

Botanical specimens may also be found in anthropology collections as examples of ethnobotany, used to study the relationship between people and plants. These specimens are generally preserved in the same manner as those found in herbaria.

Despite the types of collections, botanical specimens may have inherent hazardous attributes in addition hazards associated with to the chemical preservatives.


Because of the possible use of chemicals to preserve the botanical specimens, care should be taken during handling. Monitor the collection for evidence of residual pesticides and improper storage of fluid-preserved containers. See the sections on Residual Pesticides and Fluid Preservation for more information on detection.


See the sections on Residual Pesticides and Fluid Preservation for more information on symptoms caused when contaminated by chemicals.


See the sections on Residual Pesticides and Fluid Preservation for more information on the proper responses to protect staff and collections.

Additional Resources

Several universities and museums house herbaria to use as study collections and offer information on the collections on-line, including:

The Science Museum of Minnesota houses a collection of ethnobotany specimens and has created Oh No! Ethnobotany-- a hazard communication-training program that addresses health and safety issues inherent in the handling and storage of hazardous ethnobotany.

As part of this training program, the Science Museum of Minnesota also has created ethnobotany material safety data sheets (EMSDS) that provide information on the hazards, proper first-aid, proper handling and storing, and a description of each type of material. EMSDS available through the museum include:

  • Curare [Curare EMSDS pdf]
  • Ayahuasca [Ayahusca EMSDS pdf]
  • Barbasco [Barbasco EMSDS pdf]
  • Damar Resin Incense [Ceylon drug bundle EMSDS pdf]
  • Clavo Huasca Vine [Clavohuasca EMSDS pdf]
  • Curare [Curare EMSDS pdf]
  • Kava [Kava EMSDS pdf]
  • Opium [Opium EMSDS pdf]
  • Quinine [Quinine EMSDS pdf]
  • Tibetan altar bottles [sacred tibetal EMSDS pdf]
  • Tobacco [tobacco EMSDS pdf]
  • Yoco [Yocovine EMSDS pdf]

Additional information on this initiative was published in the following:

“Oh No! Ethnobotany. The Safe Handling and Storage of Hazardous Ethnobotanical Artifacts” by Rose Kubiatowicz and Lori Benson inCollections Forum2003:18(1-2). pp. 59-73 [ Collection Forum OhNo ]

Kubiatowicz, Rose. Danger! One Prick Can Cause Instant Death: The Results of Chemical Testing for Pharmacological Activity in Ethnobotanical Objects.  Collections, A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, Volume 4, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 281-294.