Maghreb Voices – Tunisian Days: Traditional Home Health II

Maghreb Voices – Tunisian Days: Traditional Home Health II

“Ethnobotany, as a research field of science, has been widely used for the documentation of indigenous knowledge on the use of plants and for providing an inventory of useful plants from local flora . . . Plants that are used for traditional herbal medicine in different countries are an important part of these studies. However, in some countries in recent years, ethnobotanical studies have been used for the discovery of new drugs and new drug development.”
Pei Sheng-ji

Healing from the Hills

There are a number of wild herbs found in the mountains of Tunisia, known for centuries to have remarkable medicinal properties. While further research is pending, many of these show promise of being useful against a number of common maladies in the world at large.

Value of Folk Medicines to Medical Research

There’s a complementary relationship between allopathic and folk medicines. Many of the drugs we use today were first synthesized from plant sources after scientists tested folk wisdom in the lab.

As is often found in the west, Tunisian home cures can bring more positive results and fewer side effects than cures prescribed by allopathic doctors. For this reason the Tunisian scientific community has been conducting research to gauge the medicinal and health benefits of folk medicines.

Also, as in the west, Tunisian scientists lack the resources to test the efficacy of every known folk medicine in a controlled environment. However, some excellent research has been documented by the University of Monastir in the Faculty of Pharmacy’s Laboratory of Pharmacognosy. They have given solid evidence of the efficacy of the roots, stems, fruit, and seeds of Citrullus colocynthis (a Southern Tunisian vine bearing small, bitter, watermelon-like fruit) used as a home remedy to treat many inflammatory diseases, infections, and candida.

The same laboratory has found in the common myrtle (Myrtus communis) a capacity to hunt out and remove free radicals, rendering it a suitable candidate for further research in cancer prevention. In other studies, tree germander (Teucrium ramosissimum) was found to have some effect in treating infectious diseases, which is how it was traditionally used in Tunisia.

But the greatest antibacterial activity was found in leaf and flower extracts of the rockrose (Cistus monspeliensis), yellow fleabane (Inula viscosa), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum crispum), the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare), and Phoenecian juniper (Juniperus phoenicea). Each of these plants was shown to be effective in targeting specific bacteria, which indicates that each has distinct chemical properties that can be isolated and put to use in treating a wide range of infections.
For a traditional medicine with a broader range of treatment, look to African sumac (Rhus tripartitum). It’s been used mostly to treat stomach ailments like diarrhoea and dysentery, and a recent study has shown it effective against a wide variety of bacteria. Against certain bacteria it has been proven to have an even greater impact than typical antibiotics.

Everyday Healing

It’s always good to have external validation for the medicinal knowledge that Baba Mustafa (the Tunisian Everyman) has handed down to you. But one of the best healers in evidence is conversation.

How? Well, let’s imagine You’re suffering from a migraine. When you get up in the morning you’ll mention this to someone and they’ll either suggest you take something or they’ll make you a drink (often a combination of herbs, spices, grains, lemon juice, olive oil, or all of the above) and urge you to drink it. Then, if you go out and your neighbors ask you how you are, you can say ?Alhamdulillah? (all praise and thanks to Allah) and then mention that you’ve been suffering from a bad headache. They’ll no doubt give you advice or even bring you something that they swear will fix you up in no time.

When you return home, they’ll again ask you how you are. They’ll have discussed your problem while you were gone. They may have prayed for you. They’ll sprinkle scented water on your head. Someone comes up with another solution and insist you try that, too. Soon your headache will be gone. You may not even know which solution worked; You’re just grateful that the pain is over.

don’t believe me? All I can say is what I’ve witnessed. Nobody here stays sick for long. And even if nothing works but a visit to the pharmacy, the fragrance of the ubiquitous mock-orange scented water is a sweet consolation.

“But what,” you ask, “if I get hit by a car?” The same process that found you the migraine cure will also find you the doctor with the best reputation. And if you need it?and if they can?they’ll chip in to help you pay for your hospital stay. When you get home you’ll be visited by well-wishers all day.

Now That’s real healing.

Informal interviews with Tunisians