Tag Archives: ethnomedicine

Review of Traditional Medicinal Plants Used to Treat Malaria in Ethiopia

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Systematic review on traditional medicinal plants used for the treatment of malaria in Ethiopia: trends and perspectives

Alebie G, Urga B, Worku A
Malar J. 2017 Aug 1;16(1):307
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5540187

Investigators at Jigjiga University conducted a systematic web search analysis and review of research literature pertaining to medicinal plants used for traditional malaria treatment in Ethiopia.

Writing in Malaria Journal, the authors note that antimalarial ethnomedicinal research in Ethiopia remains limited:

“Despite the remarkable historic success of traditional medicinal practices and abundance of indigenous medicinal plant resources, anti-malarial ethno-pharmacological research in Ethiopia remains at primitive stage, with scope limited to evaluating crude extracts from various anti-malarial plants against Plasmodium berghei. A prominent gap is evident with regard to research geared towards identifying plant bioactive entities, and establishing the efficacy and safety of medical plants through in vitro assays using human Plasmodium parasites, in vivo assay involving higher animal models and randomized clinical trials. Absence of favourable medicinal plant research and development impedes optimum exploitation of potential economic benefits. Thus, despite holding one of the richest (diversity and quantity) resources in the continent, large-scale production and export of medicinal plants has remained limited in Ethiopia. Prevailing scenarios underscore a pressing need for enhancing pre-clinical and clinical research aimed at developing safe, effective and affordable alternative anti-malarial agents from indigenous plant resources. This requires collaborative engagement involving government bodies, researchers, traditional healers, and prospective business investors.”

Tamarindus indica
Tamarindus indica [Photo: WAH]
Collecting data from 82 studies identifying a total 200 different plant species used in traditional malaria treatments throughout Ethiopia, the team highlighted a rich diversity of indigenous medicinal plants commonly used for traditional treatment of malaria in Ethiopia. The most frequently cited species included Allium sativum, Carica papaya, Vernonia amygdalina, Croton macrostachyus, Lepidium sativum, Justicia schimperiana, Phytolacca dodecandra, Dodonaea angustifolia, Melia azedarach, Clerodendrum myricoides, Aloe sp., Azadirachta indica, Brucea antidysenteric, Calpurnia aurea, Eucalyptus globulus, Ajuga integrifolia, Carissa spinarum, Artemisia afra, Moringa stenopetala, Ruta chalepensis, Salvadora persica, and Tamarindus indica.

Decoction, concoction, eating/chewing, infusion, and pounding represented the most common methods of preparation. Some of the medicinal products were prepared from mixtures of two or more different plant species and various other additives were also used in some of the treatments:

“Additives were mostly used to moderate the power and/or improve the taste and enhance the efficacy and healing conditions of the remedy. This could possibly be attributed to synergistic effects of the mixtures that might contain a range of pharmacologically active compounds potentially augmenting the chance of the drug interacting with numerous, varied biological targets. Their interaction might influence selectivity, availability, absorption and displacement (distribution) of the remedy, and bioactivity, including enzyme activities. Thus, such traditional practices could provide the opportunity to understand drug interaction and mechanisms of actions, and pave the way to discovering lead structures for the development of novel anti-malarial drugs.”

Many of the species identified in the study have previously demonstrated promising antimalarial potential in preclinical and clinical investigations, among them Artemisia annua, Ajuga remota, Azadirachta indica, Argemone mexicana, Vernonia amygdalina, Asparagus africanus, Uvaria leptocladon, and Gossypium spp. In addition, promising candidate antimalarial compounds have been identified from some of the plants.

In their conclusion, the authors recommend coordinated multidisciplinary research to further develop the therapeutic potential of anti-malarial compounds from plant species used for the treatment of malaria in Ethiopia:

“Ethno-medicinal research on distribution and usage pattern of anti-malarial plants shows substantial variability across a spectrum of geographic and social strata in the country. Baseline information gaps are evident in key geographic settings, such as the Beshangul Gumuz and Gambella regions. Divergent preparation and use patterns of anti-malarial herbal remedies, as well as associated toxicity risks and countermeasures, generally demand deeper, exhaustive investigations. Experimental research and advanced chemical analysis are required to identify and validate the therapeutic potential of anti-malarial chemical compounds from promising plant species, with due consideration to efficacy and safety issues. Sustainable development and exploitation of indigenous medicinal plant resources entails coordinated multidisciplinary research programmes that give due credit to traditional practitioners and engage with commercial investors.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Integration of Traditional Herbal Medicines among the Indigenous Communities in Thiruvarur District of Tamil Nadu

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Integration of traditional herbal medicines among the indigenous communities in Thiruvarur District of Tamil Nadu, India

Krupa J, Sureshkumar J, Silambarasan R, Priyadarshini K, Ayyanar M
J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2018 Aug 14
PubMed: 30120054

Thiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu, India
Thiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu, India [Source: BishkekRocks, WikiMedia Commons]
Investigators at AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Autonomous) explored and documented folk medicinal plant knowledge among the local people in Puliyankudi village of Thiruvarur District, Tamil Nadu, India.

The team recorded 116 plant species used in the Siddha medicinal system, one of the traditional medical systems practiced by Tamil people. Information was collected from traditional healers, traders, local vendors, and other local people with knowledge of medicinal plants.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) [Photo: WAH]
Limonia acidissima was reported by all the interviewed informants, followed by Achyranthes aspera, Celosia argentea, Aristolochia bracteolata, Ocimum basilicum, Mangifera indica, Lantana camara, and Physalis minima. Reported medicinal uses included kidney problems, dental care, and respiratory problems, among others.

From the conclusion:

“The study exemplifies the vast diversity of medicinal plants which are used for primary health care system and this is the first report from ethnobotanical point of view. Local people (informants) in the study area utilizing a number of plants for preparation of folk medicines with proper training acquired from their forefathers and also from some ancient text book resources. However, some of the plant species such as Acalypha indica, Annona squamosa, Aponogeton natans, Azima tetracantha, Basella rubra, Cardiospermum halicacabum, Coccinia grandis, Digera muricata, Ipomoea aquatica, Phyllanthus emblica are used along with their food in day-to-day life. The plants with highest use values in this study indicates possible occurrence of valuable metabolites. There is an urgent need for exploiting frequently used ethnomedicinal plants for the development of potential new drugs to treat various ailments.”

Read the complete article at PubMed.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Natural Compounds from Mexican Medicinal Plants as Potential Drug Leads for Anti-Tuberculosis Drugs

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Natural Compounds from Mexican Medicinal Plants as Potential Drug Leads for Anti-Tuberculosis Drugs

Gómez-Cansino R, Guzmán-Gutiérrez SL, Campos-Lara MG, Espitia-Pinzón CI, Reyes-Chilpa R
An Acad Bras Cienc. 2017 Jan-Mar;89(1):31-43

Investigators at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa reviewed the ethnobotany, chemistry, and pharmacology of 63 species used in the treatment of respiratory conditions possibly associated with tuberculosis in Mexican Traditional Medicine for antimycobacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Persea americana
Persea americana (photo: WAH)

Species with extracts showing the most potent antimycobacterial activity included Amphipterygium adstringens, Aristolochia brevipes, Aristolochia taliscana, Chrysactinia mexicana, Citrus sinensis, Larrea divaricata, Olea europaea, Persea americana, and Phoradendron robinsoni.

Read the complete article.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Medicinal Plants Used by Traditional Medical Practitioners in Dega Damot District, Amhara, Ethiopia

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Ethnopharmacologic survey of medicinal plants used to treat human diseases by traditional medical practitioners in Dega Damot district, Amhara, Northwestern Ethiopia

Wubetu M, Abula T, Dejenu G
BMC Res Notes. 2017 Apr 18;10(1):157
PubMed Central: PMC5395840

Amhara Region of Ethiopia
Amhara Region of Ethiopia [Source: TUBS, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators at Debre Markos University and Addis Ababa University conducted an ethnopharmacologic survey of medicinal plants used to treat human diseases by traditional medical practitioners in Dega Damot district, in the Amhara region of northwestern Ethiopia.

Writing in BMC Research Notes, the authors note that although about 90% of the population in the district relies on traditional health products for primary health care, no studies have previously been conducted on the use and practice of traditional medicine in the region.

Allium sativum
Allium sativum [Source: William Woodville: “Medical botany” (London: James Phillips, 1793), Wikimedia Commons]
Working with 45 traditional medical practitioners chosen with the help of community leaders and local authorities, the team documented 60 species of medicinal plants used for the treatment of 55 disorders including evil eye, malaria, wounds, peptic ulcers, and rabies. Important medicinal plant species included Allium sativum (for evil eye), Phytolacca dodecandra (for rabies), and Croton macrostachyus (for malaria).

The authors note that drought, overgrazing, and firewood collection are among the threats to sustainability of medicinal plants in the area:

“According to the results of this study, drought is the most serious threat to medicinal plants followed by overgrazing. This is in conformity with the survey conducted in Gemad district and Kilte Awulalo, but according to a study done in Loma and Gena Bosa, agricultural expansion was the major threat followed by timber and other demands. This is probably due to the increasing number of population. However, study done in Hawasa city indicated urbanization as the most serious threat for medicinal plants.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Where Cultures Meet: An Ethnobotanical Study of a City on the Silk Road

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An ethnobotanical study in Midyat (Turkey), a city on the silk road where cultures meet

Akgul A, Akgul A, Senol SG, Yildirim H, Secmen O, Dogan Y
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2018 Feb 7;14(1):12
PubMed Central: PMC5804065

Investigators at the University of Florida, Mississippi State University, Ege University, and Dokuz Eylul University conducted an ethnobotanical study in Midyat (Mardin Province), in southeastern Turkey, to document uses of local plants and to make an inventory of uncommon plants used ethnobotanically in the area.

Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, the authors describe Midyat’s role as a millennia-old meeting place of cultures:

“Midyat, formerly known as Matiat, was built in the ninth century BCE by Syriac settlers, and a record of it was found written on Assyrian tablets. The Silk Road is an historic route for overland travelers. The town of Mardin in south-eastern Turkey is an attraction of the Silk Road. The Silk Road is more than just a trade route linking Asia and Europe; it is a display of cultures, ethnicities and religions that have settled in the region, and presents 2000 years of historical and cultural wealth. From east to west, it was used in transporting silk, porcelain, paper, spices, and jewels for cultural exchange between continents.”

As far as the authors know, this is the first ethnobotanical study conducted in Midyat.

“Ethnobotanical studies have been on the increase in many regions of Turkey. In Midyat (Mardin Province, Turkey), people benefit from the diversity of flora by using plants as a rich source of medicine. Medicinal plants were used by Anatolian cultures, hence the accumulation of large amounts of remarkable medicinal folk knowledge in the region. Although there are some studies in eastern Anatolia, the southeast region of Anatolia is still a poor area in terms of ethnobotany studies. Midyat has a great diversity of plant species given its climatic variation and different ecological habitats. The different ways of life and rich culture in the districts of Midyat have created diverse ethnobotanical usages. One of the oldest traditional plant usages is medicinal, which depends on knowledge and practical experience of using these natural materials.”

Alcea setosa
Alcea setosa [Source: Wikimedia Commons, Ikram Zuhair]
Among the 92 taxa of traditional plants documented, 35% were used for medical purposes. These included Alcea setosa (cough and flu cure, wound healing, labor pain); Alcea striata (cough and flu cure, wound healing); Anthemis cotula (treatment for stomachaches and flu); Malva neglecta (stomachache cure, weight loss, labor pain, kidney diseases, diuretic); Matricaria aurea (cough and flu cure, stomachache cure, bronchial cure, cardialgia); Salvia multicaulis (wound healing, flu and cough cure, labor pain, anti-inflammatory, antidote); and Teucrium polium (stomachache cure).

In their conclusion, the authors note the importance of conservation, both of the plant species and of ethnobotanical knowledge in the region.

“Our study indicates the importance to document not only medicinal plants, but also edible plants or plants used for fodder, fuel, dyes, and other purposes…. The conservation of this extensive knowledge is crucial, particularly because knowledge is no longer being passed down from older to younger generations. The use of endemic plants is relatively rare, but Centaurea stapfiana, Thymbra sintenisii are used extensively, and their conservation status is compromised by their use as food and fodder plants. Additionally, our findings suggested that Midyat and its vicinity might represent a beginning point for further comparative cross-cultural ethnobotany that can contribute to enhancing the current knowledge of folk medicinal plants and lead to conservation plans for protecting rare plant species.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

The Medicinal Plants of Bhutan’s Lower Kheng Region

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Pharmacological, ethnopharmacological, and botanical evaluation of subtropical medicinal plants of Lower Kheng region in Bhutan

Wangchuk P, Yeshi K, Jamphel K
Integr Med Res. 2017 Dec; 6(4): 372–387
PubMed Central: PMC5741394
Zhemgang Dzongkhag (District), Bhutan
Zhemgang District, Bhutan

Investigators at James Cook University, Wangbama Central School, and the Bhutan Ministry of Health conducted an ethnobotanical study to identify subtropical medicinal plants from the Lower Kheng region in the Zhemgang District of Bhutan, where Bhutanese Sowa Rigpa medicine has been practiced for centuries:

“In Bhutan, while some traditional physicians argue that Sowa Rigpa originated in the 8th century CE with the advent of Mahayana Buddhism, many scholars believe that it was only in 1616 that Lama Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal laid written foundation to this medical system. The Bhutanese Sowa Rigpa medicine (BSM) belong to the larger corpus of the Tibetan scholarly medical (TSM) system, which was derived from Chinese Traditional Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Greco-Roman medicine, and the Persian medicine (Galenos). However, the country’s culture, tradition, local medical practices, geography, and vegetation influenced the way BSM evolved independently over many centuries, making it specific to Bhutan.”

The authors note that theirs is the first ethnobotanical study to be conducted in the Lower Kheng region:

“The criteria and reasons for choosing these areas as our ethnobotanical study areas were: (1) there was unsubstantiated/anecdotal claim about the lush growth of LAMP in the region; (2) no ethnobotanical study has been conducted in this region to date; and (3) Lower Kheng people are poor and their engagement in the medicinal plants collection, cultivation, and marketing programs could help them generate cash income.”

Aquilaria malaccensis
Aquilaria malaccensis [Source: W. Saunders – Illustrations of the botany and other branches of the natural history of the Himalayan Mountains. Volume 2 (Public Domain)]
The research team identified 61 medicinal plants, 30 of which were found in abundance, including Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellirica, and Phyllanthus emblica, together known as “King of Medicine” (Mengi-Pawo) or “Three Powerful Medicines.” Another species, Aquilaria malaccensis, which is considered rare in other parts of the world, was found to be abundantly cultivated in household and community gardens throughout the region. More than 20 species were found in all the villages surveyed. These included Bombax ceiba, Canarium strictum, Cassia tora, Cautleya spicata, Choerospondias axillaris, Cinnamomum impressinervium, Erythrina arborescens, Justicia adhatoda, Knema tenuinervia, Mucuna imbricata, Otochilus lancilabius, Phlogacanthus thyrsiformis, Piper mullesua, Rhus chinensis, Stephania glabra, Symplocos sumuntia, and Tinospora cordifolia.

In their conclusion, the authors recommend further work toward sustainable development and commercialization of the region’s medicinal plants:

“Many plant species have commercial and economic values. While MSP is currently viewed as the sole domestic market for these medicinal plants, many species have international significance (especially applicable to countries that practice Tibetan Sowa Rigpa medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine including India, Nepal, Mongolia, Tibet, Europe, and Northern America). The communities would largely benefit by domesticating or cultivating them in the household gardens or as cash crops in their family orchards. This medicinal plants program has the potential to alleviate poverty in these three Gewog communities and could enhance the happiness, wellbeing and development in Bhutan. Since the communities consume 28 medicinal plants as food grains, spices, herbs, and fruits, it can be assumed that the local people are also deriving health benefits.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Uses, Knowledge & Conservation Status of Plants in Two Quilombolas Communities in the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil

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Local ecological knowledge and its relationship with biodiversity conservation among two Quilombola groups living in the Atlantic Rainforest, Brazil

Conde BE, Ticktin T, Fonseca AS, Macedo AL, Orsi TO, Chedier LM, Rodrigues E, Pimenta DS1
PLoS One. 2017 Nov 28;12(11):e0187599
PubMed Central: PMC5705149

Minas Gerais in Brazil
The state of Minas Gerais in Brazil [Source: TUBS, Wikimedia Commons]
Investigators at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Centro de Ensino Superior de Juiz de Fora, Universidade Federal Fluminense, and Universidade Federal de São Paulo conducted an ethnobotanical and ecological survey to evaluate the uses, knowledge, and conservation status of plants in two Quilombolas (descendants of slaves of African origin) communities in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil: São Sebastião da Boa Vista and São Bento Abade in the state of Minas Gerais.

Writing in PLoS One, the team describes Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest as one of the world’s most biodiverse and most threatened biomes:

“Brazil is one of the world’s megadiverse countries, and the Atlantic rainforest, which stretches from the northeastern to the southern regions of the country, is the most biodiverse biome of Brazil, with up to 476 plant species found in one hectare. Unfortunately, the Atlantic rainforest is also one of the most threatened forest types in the world, with nearly 90% of its original area devastated. As is the case with the majority of Brazilian protected areas, the Atlantic Rainforest is also home to many traditional communities–those that have lived in one location for a long period of time, such as the Quilombolas. According to the Living Report of World Wide Fund for Nature, 90% of tropical forests worldwide are not under formal protection and millions of people living both inside and outside of reserves rely on their resources.”

Through interviews with local Quilombolas experts, the team documented 212 ethnobotanically significant species in São Sebastião da Boa Vista (including 105 native species) and 221 in São Bento Abade (96 native species).

Medicinal and technological uses were the most important uses in both communities. Some of the most culturally important medicinal species were also among the most vulnerable, among them Dalbergia hortensis and Sparattosperma leucanthum.

In their conclusion, the authors strongly recommend “development of a sustainable management plan that considers local knowledge about management and use of plants”:

“These data illustrate the rich ethnobotanical knowledge and heritage of the communities. However, our results also suggest that more than 50% of local useful species in both communities (those ranked in Category 1 for conservation priority) may be at risk if there are no plans for the management and replanting of them. Of these plants, Dalbergia hortensis is a special conservation priority because of its great cultural significance. Other species such Sparattosperma leucanthum, Lygodium volubile in SSBV, Cecropia glaziovii in SB, and Croton urucurana in both communities rank high for cultural significance and conservation priority. Based on our results, the development of a sustainable management plan that considers local knowledge about management and use of plants is essential. Developing programs to increase populations of those species at risk, including agroforestry programs can help meet the needs of producing culturally important species and of biological conservation. It is urgent that the government demarcate Quilombolas land for cultural maintenance, quality of life and preservation of nature.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Medicinal Plants Used in Kel, Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan

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Ethnopharmacological studies of indigenous plants in Kel village, Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan

Ahmad KS, Hamid A, Nawaz F, Hameed M, Ahmad F, Deng J, Akhtar N, Wazarat A, Mahroof S
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2017 Dec 1;13(1):68
PubMed Central: PMC5709976

Investigators at the University of Poonch Rawalakot; University of Agriculture, Multan; University of Agriculture, Faisalabad; Guizhou Education University; and G.C. Women University conducted the first published explorative study of indigenous knowledge used in the preparation of herbal medicines in Kel village in the Upper Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan.

Kel Village, Pakistan
Kel Village, Pakistan [Source: Furqanlw, Wikimedia Commons]
Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, Khawaja Shafique Ahmad and coauthors note that theirs is the first effort to provide quantitative ethnobotanical data employed by indigenous people in this region, which is “characterized by its remoteness, long distance from urban centers, difficult mountainous terrain, and a lack of government services, including modern health care facilities”:

“The area has poorly developed road and other infrastructure. The people of the area rely on sustainable agriculture. Main crops include corn (Zea mays L.), turnip (Brasica rapa L.), and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) in an integrated system. A high proportion of local people are associated with livestock. A number of the main occupations are associated with summer tourism, including rest house managers, tour guides, shop keepers, restaurant workers, and jeep drivers. In light of these demographic changes, it is vital to document the local knowledge of medicinal plant usage in this area before such information declines or is lost completely.”

Achillea millefolium
Achillea millefolium [Source: Petar Milošević, Wikimedia Commons]
Working with informants well known in the region for their medicinal expertise and knowledge about medicinal plants, the team documented 50 medicinal plants used locally, including Achillea millefolium, Ageratum conozoides, Artemisia scoparia, Berberis lycium, and Impatiens glandulifera. Newly documented ethnomedicinal uses were recorded for several species: Ailanthus excelsa (fever), Betula utilis (Jaundice), Bistorta amplexicaulis (tonic), Dryopteris ramosa (ulcer), Dryopteris stewartii (tuberculosis), Fumaria officinalis (skin allergies), Galium boreole (skin problems), Hedera nepalensis (ulcer), Impatiens glandulifera (joint pain), Inula grandiflora (liver pain), Jurinea dolomiaea (bone fracture), Plectranthus rugosus (skin allergies and diarrhea), Podophyllum emodi (cancer), Prunella vulgaris (heart diseases), Quercus ballota (dysentery), Rubus ellipticus (wound healing), Saussurea lanceolata (typhoid), and Swertia petiolata (liver pain).

In their conclusion, the authors note the importance of these often-endangered plant species for the people living in the region, and the potential for establishing their sustainable use:

“This study will help us to link ethnobotanical and chemical knowledge to understand the use of medicinal plants by traditional communities. The information obtained from this study will encourage native communities in trading off locally prepared herbal products. As a result of expanding interest, new income-generating opportunities will be available for poor rural household. Moreover, sustainable uses of plant resources will promote biological and cultural diversity which in return will promotion of local biocultural diversity through ecotourism initiatives.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.




The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Ethnobotany of the Nakuan People: Past & Present Medicinal Uses of Plants

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Naukan ethnobotany in post-Soviet times: lost edibles and new medicinals

Jernigan KA, Belichenko OS, Kolosova VB, Orr DJ
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2017 Nov 17;13(1):61
PubMed Central: PMC5693499

Investigators at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, European University at St. Petersburg, and Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted an ethnobotanical study of health-related plant use among speakers of the critically endangered Naukan language in the Russian Far East, as part of a larger project to document and compare edible, medicinal, and spiritual plant use among the Naukan and Chukchi peoples of Chukotka, Russia, and the Central Alaskan Yup’ik.

Cape Dezhnev
Detail of a USCGS chart from 1937 showing Cape Dezhnev (East Cape) and the historical villages Tunkan, Uelen (Ugelen), Naukan (Nuokan), Enmitahin, and Dezhnevo (Port Dezhnev). [Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]
Writing in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, the authors begin by describing the history of the Naukan people, which is marked by forced relocation under the Soviet regime:

“The village of Naukan (originally called Nevuqaq) was built on Cape Dezhnev, at the extreme eastern end of Eurasia. Subsistence practices focused on hunting sea mammals including the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), spotted seal (Phoca largha), and bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus). This was supplemented by hunting of land mammals and gathering of plants and smaller marine organisms. During the Russian Imperial and early Soviet period, the site served as an important center for commercial and cultural exchange between the Chukchi on the Russian side and the Iñupiat on the Alaskan side of the Bering Strait. Intermarriages were common between the people of Naukan and the islands of Big and Little Diomede, in the Russian and US territories, respectively.

In 1958, the Soviet government closed Naukan as part of a larger program of consolidation of local population centers, and residents were forced to move to the neighboring Chukchi villages of Nunyamo and Uelen. Nunyamo, in turn, was closed in 1977, and local people moved from there to the villages of Lavrentiya and Lorino, where most reside today.

Following relocation, the Naukan people and their culture experienced significant changes in spiritual worldview, subsistence practices, social structure, and language proficiency. Waves of military and civilian migrants from other parts of the Soviet Union also contributed to these broad changes through direct personal interaction, including intermarriages. Although Naukan people did not experience the acculturative influences of missionary activity that were widespread on the Alaskan side of the Bering Strait, shamans were persecuted and the accompanying spiritual practices were greatly challenged by the dominance of materialism under Soviet rule.”

Artemisia tilesii
Artemisia tilesii, Denali National Park and Preserve [Source: Wikimedia Commons, NPS / Jacob W. Frank, Public Domain]
Working with Naukan speakers in Russia and Alaska, the team documented 42 ethnobotanically useful species with Naukan names. While participants reported a decrease in the number of edible species harvested from what they recall from their youth, the number of species considered to be medicinal increased significantly. These medicinal plant species included Alaria marginata, Angelica gmelinii, Artemisia tilesii, Empetrum nigrum, Epilobium latifolium, Laminaria saccharina, Petasites frigidus, Polygonum tripterocarpum, Rhodiola integrifolia, Rhododendron tomentosum, Rubus chamaemorus, Salix pulchra, and Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

In their conclusion, the authors note a broadening in focus from the specifically therapeutic to include more preventative applications of medicinal plants by the Naukan-speaking people who have survived into the modern era:

“The most surprising result of this research is the direction of change in medicinal plant use. The Naukan present an interesting case where acculturative forces appear to have significantly expanded the botanical pharmacopeia through the borrowing of ethnic Russian traditions. Older Naukan participants often said that their original concept of medicine emphasized prevention. For example, the leaves of willows (Salix pulchra Cham.) and willow herb (Epilobium latifolium L.) aid the digestive system and help prevent stomach upset when they are eaten as part of a meal. This traditional emphasis on staying healthy reflects findings by researchers working in some other parts of the arctic as well.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Women’s Knowledge of Medicinal Plants – Mecca

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Medicinal plants used by women in Mecca: urban, Muslim and gendered knowledge

Alqethami A, Hawkins JA, Teixidor-Toneu I
J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2017 Nov 17;13(1):62
PubMed Central: PMC5693532

Investigators at the University of Reading and Umm Al-Qura University explored medicinal plant knowledge and use among Muslim women in the city of Mecca, to “document lay, female knowledge of medicinal plants in an urban centre, interpreting findings in the light of the growing field of urban ethnobotany and gendered knowledge and in an Islamic context.”

With the participation of thirty-two Meccan women, the team collected more than a hundred vernacular names corresponding to approximately 110 plants, thirty-nine of which had not been previously cited in Saudi Arabian medicinal plant literature.

Trigonella foenum-graecum
Trigonella foenum-graecum [Source: Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, WikiMedia Commons]
The most cited medicinal plants included helba (Trigonella foenum-graecum), kamun (Cuminum cyminum), yansun (Pimpinella anisum), qurfa (Cinnamomum verum) and zanajabil (Zingiber officinale). More than half of the plants were not native to Saudi Arabia, and 41 percent of the plants cited by the Meccan women was not found in a review of the existing literature.

Ailments treated with medicinal plants included digestive, general and unspecified and respiratory issues along with gynecological problems (e.g., menstrual cramps and other menstrual disorders, polycystic ovaries, pregnancy and postpartum issues). Most of the women preferred to use medicinal plants rather than allopathic biomedicines, but roughly a third of the women (many of them younger women) preferred allopathic biomedicines, which could lead to the erosion of medicinal plant knowledge.

“Meccan women may learn about medicinal plants from their family and social networks, but increasingly, written sources and mass media are becoming important sources of knowledge. This, along with a higher preference for biomedical services amongst the younger generation, could result in the erosion of medicinal plant knowledge. Ethnobotanical knowledge erosion has been observed in the Middle East both among herbalists and the general population. The diffusion of non-local knowledge about medicinal plants through mass media is characteristic to urban settings and has a homogenizing effect on oral pharmacopoeias. Mass media often disseminates information on the uses and properties of commercial plants, increasing their visibility and, alongside availability factors, could also contribute to explain the high proportion of food and spices used among the Meccan women interviewed.”

The authors urge continuing documentation efforts for the preservation of the diversity of medicinal plant knowledge in Saudi Arabia, particularly studies of women’s use of medicinal plants, which has been largely overlooked until now.

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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