2022-2023 - Dr Shahina Ghazanfar - Medicinal plants of the Middle East from antiquity to the present
My research focuses on the most commonly used plants used for medicinal purposes in the Middle East from ancient times to the present. I am documenting their origins, vernacular names, distribution, and uses, with the aim of establishing how traditional plant-based medicinal potions and medical knowledge have evolved and changed over time in the Middle East.
My research starts with cuneiform sources since the history of herbal medicine is believed to have begun in classical antiquity. Cuneiform texts on clay tablets reveal that ancient Mesopotamians knew about health care and used plants to cure diseases and other health conditions more than 5,000 years ago. Several plant names in Akkadian and Sumerian (the languages of ancient Mesopotamia) are identified as medicinal plants that exist (and some are still used) in present-day Iraq.
I am particularly interested in researching plants used in diagnosis in the Greco-Arab medical system, or Unāni Ṭibb. Unāni Ṭibb, which was developed by Muslims in the Middle East and Iran, using the Hippocratic and Galenian principles of diagnosis is still practiced in several countries of the Middle East. I have adopted my research method by visiting herbal shops selling traditional plant-based medicines, and conducting interviews with sellers about where the plants come from, how popular these preparations are, and what section of society purchases them. I have also visited and interviewed individuals (mostly elderly mothers) at their homes to learn about their knowledge of medicinal plants. Countries that I have visited include the Sultanate of Oman, Jordan, and Cordoba. I have studied one of the earliest collections of medicinal herbs from Iraq, Syria, and Palestine made by Leonhard Rauwolff in 1574–75 and a collection from Iraq made by Aucher-Éloy in the early 19th century.
I have started writing my findings in book form to describe 200 plants as they are known to be used now and have been in ancient times.