The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

5
HERBAL AND SYMBOLIC FORMS OF TREATMENT IN THE MEDICINE OF THE LOWLAND MIXE (OAXACA, MEXICO)

MICHAEL HEINRICH

One of the central aspects of any culture is its medical system. In nonWestern cultures, "indigenous," "traditional," or "non-western" forms of treatment are still of enormous importance. There are estimates that "perhaps 80% of the . . . inhabitants of the world rely on traditional medicines for their primary health care, and it can safely be presumed that a major part of traditional therapy involves the use of plant extracts or their active principles" ( Farnsworth et al. 1985).

Although there are numerous studies that document Mexican medicinal plants from a botanical point of view (e.g., Amo 1979; INI 1994) and studies that describe and analyze the Mexican indigenous medical systems (e.g., Rubel 1960; Young 1981; for two examples of specific aspects of medical systems in Mexico, Aguirre Beltran 1986; Foster 1976; Greifeld 1982; Logan 1977), the integration of these two approaches is still scarce ( Ramirez 1978). But, an integrated study ought to be a principal focus of anthropologically oriented ethnopharmacological research (cf. Etkin 1988, 1993). Thus, the goal should be twofold: to comprehend the sociocultural basis for indigenous therapies and to evaluate these therapies for their medical and pharmaceutical potentials and risks. The approach to the latter goal will then be interdisciplinary in itself, requiring collaboration between pharmaceutical biologists, pharmacologists, botanists, phytochemists and anthropologists.

In our research, we attempt to achieve this by combining methods of anthropological and botanical fieldwork with a subsequent phytochemical and pharmacological-microbiological evaluation of the plants most commonly used ( Heinrich et al. 1992a, 1992b, 1992c; Hoer et al. 1995; Kuhnt et al.

An earlier form of this chapter was published in Anthropos 89 ( 1994): 73-83. Permission to include that material here granted by Anthropos Redaktion, Sankt Augustin, Germany.

-71-

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