By: Tahani al-Sabri.
For years, Yemen has been known for its rich horticultural environment. Many Yemeni herbs and plants are used for their curative properties. This practice, however, vanished with the advent of modern medicine. Not long ago, Yemenis used only herbs and plants in treating patients. Plant diversity had played an important role in meeting people’s need for medical care, but the situation has changed significantly. Because no one sees plants for their medical benefits, their use as palliative tools has been relegated largely to rural areas.
Yassen al-Khalki is a boy of 13. His father and brother, Abdul Kareem and Mohammed al-Khalki are herb experts, a skill they have inherited from generations of ancestors.
In the story narrated by his father, “Yassen was a hardworking, clever boy in school. When he was young, everyone listened closely to his words. Although he was young, he was very mature. One day we were in the Hamam [sauna] for a wedding party, dancing to amuse the groom. He began to feel sick, and we believed he has ‘Aien’ [“the evil eye,” a condition traditionally believed to be caused by envy of another]. Aien is discussed by the prophet in the Holy Quran.
“We took Yassen to the hospital, where they told us he had cancer. In the beginning, we refused to use chemotherapy and began using a natural cure. Doctors were astonished by the results of this treatment. As his father, though, I could not stand by silently. I wanted to watch my son walk again, so I decided to try chemotherapy. The chemotherapy treatment, however, only made his situation worse. The doctors couldn’t do anything for him. Now I think he’s fine in his grave, free from the torment he faced during his hillness.”
In 2006, an official study revealed that the folk medicine clinics receive about 1775 cases per day, and that there has recently been a significant increase in demand for the traditional treatments. The study also showed that on average 582 of those treated do not hold academic qualifications.
The research and health information center in the ministry of Yemen divided the study into three sections, reproduced here. Herbal medicine was estimated to comprise 84.3% of folk treatments, followed by treatment of fractures and bone disease–10.2% –and cupping and heated irons at 5%.
Regarding the published study, most visitors to these clinics are Yemeni citizens with little education. Of those practicing medicine in these clinics, 58.2% have no formal qualifications, only 4.8% can read or write, and 1.2%, 9.6%, and 15.1% have high, preparatory, and elementary school certificates respectively. 4.8% have post-secondary diplomas, and only 5.5% have a university degree.
Many studies confirm that, the prosperity of herbal medicine in Yemen is related to the variety and abundance of vegetation, where there are three thousand species of plants on land; 415 species of endemic plants and 236 species found only on the island of Socotra, whose vegetation cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Yemen’s environments are improved by the existence of therapeutic plants without a change in their chemical composition.
Yemenis have used many of these herbs for years even though they had not been formally classified. Abdul Qader Maflahi, a specialist in herbal medicine with sixty years experience, said, “there is a big difference between herbs and modern medicine, but using herbs requires extensive experience, significant effort, skill and full knowledge of the nature of the plants and their components as well as knowledge of a disease, its history and its causes”.
Mohammed al-Khalki added: “we have a lot of visitors came from different parts of the country: Aden, Saada, Hodeida and Hadramout. They get a lot of benefits from treatment, otherwise they would not keep returning to Sana’a”.
Al-Khalki explained that he uses different herbs like Calumus Draca (dam al-akwain), which can stop bleeding and treat of colic. Another important her is called “Houf” and is used in treating wounds and eye diseases. The “Ra’a” herb helps in healing deep, open wounds and the Thyme can be used with Black Cumin to treat coughs. These two should be mixed with honey for best results.
These days, al-Khalki is trying to find a cure for the cancer, driven by the painful experience he had in losing his brother.