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

Alqethami, A., Hawkins, J. A. and Teixidor Toneu, I. (2017) Medicinal plants used by women in Mecca: urban, Muslim and gendered knowledge. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 13. 62. ISSN 1746-4269

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1186/s13002-017-0193-4


Background: This study explores medicinal plant knowledge and use among Muslim women in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Ethnobotanical research in the region has focused on rural populations and male herbal healers in cities, and based on these few studies, it is suggested that medicinal plant knowledge may be eroding. Here, we 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. Methods: Free-listing, structured and semi-structured interviews were used to document the extent of medicinal plant knowledge among 32 Meccan women. Vernacular names, modes of preparation and application, intended therapeutic use and emic toxicological remarks were recorded. Women were asked where they learnt about medicinal plants and if and when they preferred using medicinal plants over biomedical resources. Prior informed consent was always obtained. We compared the list of medicinal plants used by these Meccan women with medicinal plants previously documented in published literature. Results: One hundred eighteen vernacular names were collected, corresponding to approximately 110 plants, including one algae. Of these, 95 were identified at the species level and 39 (41%) had not been previously cited in Saudi Arabian medicinal plant literature. Almost one half of the plants cited are food and flavouring plants. Meccan women interviewed learn about medicinal plants from their social network, mass media and written sources, and combine biomedical and medicinal plant health care. However, younger women more often prefer biomedical resources and learn from written sources and mass media. Conclusions: The fairly small number of interviews conducted in this study was sufficient to reveal the singular body of medicinal plant knowledge held by women in Mecca and applied to treat common ailments. Plant availability in local shops and markets and inclusion in religious texts seem to shape the botanical diversity used by the Meccan women interviewed, and the use of foods and spices medicinally could be a global feature of urban ethnobotany. Ethnobotanical knowledge among women in Islamic communities may be changing due to access to mass media and biomedicine. We recognise the lack of documentation of the diversity of medicinal plant knowledge in the Arabian Peninsula and an opportunity to better understand gendered urban and rural knowledge.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:73928
Additional Information:See also correction at:
Publisher:BioMed Central


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