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


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.

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