Herbalism: a window of opportunity to build community health

The people and communities are the guardians of this knowledge, so we must not only protect them, but also encourage them to continue practicing traditional medicine.

Traditional knowledge is the body of wisdom and practices related to nature that rural and/or indigenous communities possess or people of a given nation. According to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional medicine is the sum of knowledge and practices based on the beliefs and experiences of different cultures.

This knowledge has been transmitted from generation to generation in an oral and empirical manner, which has allowed them to survive and adapt to new needs and contexts (CBD, 2011).

 

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Mexico has 315 languages and is considered a megadiverse and multicultural country. It has been documented that places with high cultural diversity coincide in being places with wide biological diversity and many of them are also places where natural protected areas are located (Toledo, 2006). 

The people and cultures of our country were able to leave a historical and biocultural legacy that is expressed in the diversity of products from domesticated plants such as corn, beans, chili and squash because they developed immersed in nature. They are also expressed in peasant knowledge, gastronomy, clothing and traditional medicine. In Mexico, 64 varieties of corn are reported, originating from the millenary domestication of the teocintle (Sánchez et al., 2000). 

The use and selection of plants during millennia has allowed us to find today, not only great agricultural species, but most probably wild plants that not only develop their functions in nature, but also have been transformed to become medical objects of the Mexican people. These plants not only grow in the ecosystems of our territory, they are also cultivated in agroforestry family gardens, and are part of the living pharmacy of the families. 

 

Herbal medicine refers to the use of plants that have healing properties because they contain active principles. And if we are talking about Mexican herbal medicine, it is considered that Mexico also has an ancient tradition in the use of medicinal plants; it is even speculated that even before the arrival of the Spaniards. 

 

 

It is considered that after China, our country has the largest number of inventoried medicinal plants: the Herbarium of the Mexican Institute of Social Security has a record of 3,000, but it is estimated that there are up to 4,500 (Conabio, 2020). Of these plant species, only 250 are commercialized on a daily basis (Bye et al. 1995). Now imagine the curative possibilities knowing that 27,332 vascular plants have been described in Mexico, but more than 31,000 are estimated (Conabio, 2012).

It should not surprise us that so few healing plants are commercialized, it is considered that since a couple of decades ago, the knowledge about traditional herbal medicine has not been used anymore and therefore has been lost. Fortunately, the rise of alternative medicine and the efforts of various Mexican and foreign researchers have managed to rescue this treasure. Can you imagine if we set out to study all the plants in Mexico? How many diseases could we not be treating in a better way?

 

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Perhaps while reading this text you feel inexperienced in the subject of herbal medicine, and you possibly think that you have never used it and let me tell you that you are probably wrong. If we think back, since we were children our mothers and grandmothers filled us with various infusions to overcome fever, stomach pains, diarrhea, indigestion and flu using herbs such as chamomile, eucalyptus, arnica, peppermint and many others. 

You may already feel more familiar with these plants, but what would your reaction be if I mentioned plants such as jarilla, tecalixtle, poleo y pericón? Many of the plants used in Mexican herbal medicine are of Asian and/or European origin. When the Spaniards arrived in America, not only a cultural miscegenation occurred, but also a natural one, because in their ships they brought  seeds, bulbs and plants that sought to be incorporated into the idiosyncrasy of the natives, displacing the domestic ones. At the same time, many codices were destroyed with the aim of eliminating pre-Hispanic knowledge of medical-spiritist botany (Meneses, 2012).

How much knowledge we have lost! For these reasons, we must insist on using our herbs as a way to resist in time and rescue our biocultural legacy. The people and communities are the guardians of this knowledge, so we must not only protect them, but also encourage them to continue practicing traditional medicine. This includes bonesetters, pray-makers, shamans, midwives and yerberas

You can now understand that the scarcity of local traditional doctors leaves the people vulnerable to not receiving immediate attention to their illnesses, which can even worsen and cause them to go to the hospital. It is for this reason that efforts should be redoubled to carry out ethnobotanical studies and projects that recover traditional knowledge and practices, encourage the use and cultivation of our Mexican plants and stop with that propaganda that demerits the work of traditional doctors.

So how are you going to prepare your tea? 

Sources:

  1. Bye R., Linares E., y Estrada E. 1995. Biological Diversity of Medicinal Plants in México. In: Arnason J.T., Mata R., Romeo J.T. (eds) Phytochemistry of Medicinal Plants. Recent Advances in Phytochemistry (Proceedings of the Phytochemical Society of North America), vol 29. Springer, Boston, MA. 
  2. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad. 2012. Capítulo 4. Biodiversidad. Informe sobre la Biodiversidad. Semarnat. En: https://apps1.semarnat.gob.mx:8443/dgeia/informe_12/pdf/Cap4_biodiversidad.pdf. Revisado el 26 de enero de 2021. 
  3. Convenio sobre la Diversidad Biológica: ABS. Tema: Conocimiento tradicional. Secretaría del Convenio sobre la Diversidad Biológica. Montreal, Canadá. 2011. (https://www.cbd.int/abs/infokit/revised/web/factsheet-tk-es.pdf). 
  4. Meneses, T. 2012. El desastre de la documentación indígena durante la invasión-conquista española en Mesoamérica. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. Colegio de Bibliotecología. 
  5. Sánchez, J., Goodman, M., y Stuber, C.W. 2000. Isozymatic and morphological diversity in the races of maize of México. Economic Botany, 54 (1), pp. 43–59. 
  6. Toledo, V.M. 2003/ 2006. Ecología, espiritualidad y conocimiento: de la sociedad del riesgo a la sociedad sustentable. México: Editorial Jitanjáfora/ Universidad Iberoamericana/ PNUD
  7. CONABIO 2020. Plantas medicinales https://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/diversidad/medicinal/plantas. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, Cd. de México. México. 
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Herbalism: a window of opportunity to build community health

The people and communities are the guardians of this knowledge, so we must not only protect them, but also encourage them to continue practicing traditional medicine.