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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