Beyond Plants Professionals & Parchments: The role of home-based medicinal plant use and traditional health knowledge in primary health care in Ethiopia

Hareya Fassil


This paper is concerned with the use of medicinal plants
and the related lay traditional health knowledge and practices
among rural communities in the Bahir Dar Zuria
Wereda (district) of Gojam located in the northwestern
highlands of Ethiopia.

Much of the research on Ethiopian traditional medicine
and medicinal plants to date has been carried out in a
compartmentalized manner, with researchers from various
disciplines pursuing their interests in the subject in
relative isolation. Most studies have been driven by a
specific interest in the properties of particular medicinal
plants, focusing on two main sources of information, i.e.,
the knowledge of professional traditional health practitioners
and the ancient medico-religious herbal manuscripts
with which, the religious traditional health practitioners or
debterra, in particular, are closely associated. Focus on
the professional realm of traditional health has detracted
attention from others in the community who may also be
knowledgeable about plant-derived treatments and cultural
health practices. Due to the resulting overall ‘plantfocus’,
relatively little attention has been paid to the local
socio-cultural context in which many medicinal plants continue
to be used by ordinary local people and knowledge
about them developed and passed on over generations.
The preliminary findings of a study seeking to address
this research gap by focusing on lay community members
are presented here. Qualitative and quantitative analysis
of the data gathered through the main phase of the field
research (carried out over the period August-December,
2000) is still underway. Nevertheless, this presentation offers
an opportunity to discuss some of the general trends
and preliminary findings of the household surveys and interviews
held with members of five rural farming communities
in Bahir Dar Zuria and to revisit the central hypothesis
and objectives of the research in light of these findings.

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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