Academic journal article Trames

Classification of Remedies and Medical Plants of Estonian Ethnopharmacology

Academic journal article Trames

Classification of Remedies and Medical Plants of Estonian Ethnopharmacology

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

There are around 300 000 species of Cromophyta in the world, but only about 5% of the species have been thoroughly tested pharmacologically and pharmacognostically (Soukand, Raal 2005). One of the most important criteria for planning research and choosing its objective is the empirical experience of humankind and ethnomedicine that has been derived from it (Evans 1998). Ethnomedicine can be defined in many ways; one is the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation using oral and literary tradition (Koivupuu 2000). Stored folkloristic data on Estonian culture and more specifically on folk medicine and pharmacology can therefore be viewed as a very important source for future review and analysis on the subject.

The collection of Estonian folklore found at the Estonian Folklore Archives consists of 19th century material studied from the ethnomedical point of view and is one of the most expansive collections in the world. Something comparable can only be found in Finland and Sweden but the material there is more difficult to handle since the geographical area covered by the reports is considerably wider (Tillhagen 1962-1963). So far no remarkable systematical analysis has been made on the stored material. The authors presented a thorough overview of the research done so far, as well as on the collection of the material itself and its origins in the article "Data on medicinal plants of Estonian folk medicine: collection, formation and overview of previous researches" (Soukand, Raal 2005).

The aim of this work is to offer the first overview of material reflecting Estonian ethnomedicine of the 19th century. The authors are analyzing the material represented in the above-mentioned files and classifying the material concerning medical plants according to pharmacological and pharmacognostical quality starting form quantitative analysis. Also, the folk medical data is compared to the usage of medical plants in the Soviet period and nowadays. Based on this research, the authors hope to find potential medical plants to continue to work on.

2. Materials and methods

The first task in the analysis of "Folk Medicine" and "Folk Botany" files was to determine the relative importance of medical plants among the remedies and healing methods used in Estonian folk medicine. Remedies and methods were divided into 5 groups. The diseases or disease categories that were represented with the largest amount of labels in the "Folk Medicine" file were used as research material (Table 1). Separately, the largest group in the "Folk Medicine" file (skin diseases) was studied. Here 500 consecutive labels were analyzed, excluding texts that reflected magical healing methods.

For the classification of the use of medical plants in Estonian folk medicine, information from the files of the Estonian Folklore Archives and from the Pharmacy department of Tartu University was used. The name of the plant and its use was registered and the species identified as indicated in the file or where needed by the folk botanical name (Wallner 1929, Vilbaste 1993). Appropriate sources were used for botanical classification and the number and range of species (Eichwald et al. 1970, Laasimer 1965, Raudsepp 1981, Leht 1999). The table consists of phanerogam families containing at least ten species. Classification by genus could be more detailed, but it is too large--there are more than 500 genera of Magnoliophyta in Estonia (Leht 1999). Classification by pharmacognostical characteristics is based on the officinal division of drugs /materia medica or on the known chemical structure of the agent (Tammeorg et al. 1984, Samuelsson, 1992 Evans, 1998, Bruneton 1999, Murav'eva et al. 2002, Herbal ATC index 2002). This approach, however, has several shortcomings: 1) the drug contains several groups of agents, 2) the classification depends on the part of the plant used, and 3) the information on non-officinal medical plants is often unilateral or lacking. …

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