Distribution of Herbal Remedy Knowledge in Tabi, Yucatan, Mexico
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Hopkins, A.L. & Stepp, J.R. Econ Bot (2012) 66: 249. doi:10.1007/s12231-012-9202-7
Distribution of Herbal Remedy Knowledge in Tabi, Yucatan, Mexico. The distribution of herbal remedy knowledge among a group of people is studied for two main reasons: (1) to identify plants that are promising for pharmacological analysis, and (2) to examine the factors that lead to herbal remedy knowledge erosion as opposed to dynamism in the acquisition of knowledge. The goal of this particular study, which is aligned with the second reason, is to establish the variation in herbal remedy knowledge among the Yucatec Maya in Tabi, Yucatan, Mexico. Free listing and cultural consensus analysis revealed that knowledge about a few medicinal plants and herbal remedies was distributed widely among the Yucatec Maya in Tabi, whereas the majority of knowledge was idiosyncratic. This finding was consistent with other studies of herbal remedy knowledge distribution among indigenous groups in Latin America and Africa. Assessing patterns in the distribution of herbal remedy knowledge is an important next step in determining the degree of dynamism or erosion in knowledge acquisition and transmission in Tabi.
Key WordsYucatan Mexico Yucatec Maya traditional medicine medicinal plants herbal remedies knowledge distribution socially acquired knowledge cultural consensus analysis
Distribución del conocimiento de los remedios herbales en Tabi, Yucatán, México. La distribución del conocimiento de remedios herbolarios entre grupos de personas se ha estudiado por dos razones principales: primero, para la identificación de plantas prometedoras en el análisis farmacológico y segundo, para examinar los factores que contribuyen a la erosión del conocimiento de estos remedios en lugar de la adquisición dinámica del conocimiento. El reto de este estudio, el cual esta alineado con la segunda razón, es establecer la variación en el conocimiento de dichos remedios entre los mayas yucatecos de la comunidad de Tabi, Yucatán, México. El listado libre y el análisis de consenso cultural revelaron que el conocimiento de pocas plantas medicinales y remedios herbolarios se distribuyó extensamente entre los mayas yucatecos de Tabi, mientras que la mayoría del conocimiento de los remedios fue idiosincrásico. Este resultado fue consistente con otros estudios de la distribución del conocimiento de remedios herbolarios entre grupos indígenas de América Latina y África. La evaluación de los patrones en la distribución del conocimiento de estos remedios será el próximo paso para determinar el grado de dinamismo o erosión en la adquisición y transmisión del conocimiento en Tabi.
There are two common reasons for studying the distribution of herbal remedy knowledge in a community: (1) to identify plants that are considered efficacious and thus promising for pharmacological analysis, and (2) to elucidate the factors that lead to herbal remedy knowledge loss, transformation, and/or persistence. In the first group of studies the usual approach is to identify the plants with more consensus regarding their application (Friedman et al. 1986; Johns et al. 1990b; Trotter II and Logan 1986). In the second group of studies the goal is to understand consensus, variation, and patterns of knowledge across the population (Alexiades 1999; Barrett 1995; Casagrande 2002). Dynamism and erosion in ethnobotanical knowledge can then be assessed, ideally through replicated studies over time. The goal of this particular study, which is aligned with the second group, is to establish the variation in herbal remedy knowledge among the Yucatec Maya in Tabi, Mexico. By focusing on a systematic assessment of variation in knowledge among non-healers, this study provides an important addition to the medical ethnobotanical research, especially from the Yucatan Peninsula (cf. Anderson 2003, 2005; Ankli et al. 1999a, 1999b, 2002; Arellano Rodríguez et al. 2003; Garcia et al. 1999).
Previous studies of the distribution of medicinal plant knowledge from a small number of locations in other areas of Latin America and Africa have largely found that medicinal plant knowledge varies in distribution from a large number of idiosyncratic responses to a more limited number of responses that are shared among a group. For example, Barrett (1995) determined that the medicinal uses of some plants are widely distributed among the six ethnic groups living in the Atlantic Coastal Region of Nicaragua, and the majority are reported by only a few individuals. This demonstrates what he coined as a pattern of “consensus within diversity.” Among the Tzeltal Maya in Chiapas, Mexico, Casagrande (2002) also found that a core number of herbal remedies were shared widely, while a larger set of herbal remedy knowledge was idiosyncratic. Friedman et al. (1986) noted a similar distribution pattern among the Bedouins in the Negev Desert, and Johns et al. (1990b) found that most herbal remedy knowledge among the Luo of the Siaya District of Kenya was idiosyncratic. Data from an ethnomedical survey of the Ese Eja of the Bolivian and Peruvian Amazon also showed a wide distribution of responses with a large amount of idiosyncrasy (Alexiades 1999). The consistency in this pattern of “consensus within diversity” led to development of the following research questions in this study: What is the distribution of herbal remedy knowledge among the Yucatec Maya in Tabi? How does this distribution compare to other places?
This study was carried out from April 2007 through April 2008 in Tabi, a Yucatec Maya rural community located in the central part of the state of Yucatan, Mexico. The community consists of 698 people residing in 122 households. Practically all men and women in Tabi continue to participate in traditional subsistence livelihood activities and spend the majority of their time outdoors. Most adults attended school, although only 26 % completed sixth grade and almost a third are illiterate. A few adults are monolingual Yucatec Maya (9.5 %) or Spanish (1.5 %) speakers, while the vast majority are bilingual (89 %). Although Catholicism is still the most common religion (46 %), increasing numbers of people are joining the many Protestant-based religions now available in Tabi (34 %) or choosing to have no religious affiliation. Herbal remedies continue to be the most commonly used treatment for frequently occurring illnesses; however, families are increasingly choosing to utilize pharmaceuticals prescribed by medical interns at the state-run health care clinical in Tabi. The presence of conditions that typically impact the distribution of socially-acquired knowledge, such as access and use of modern services (e.g., the school and health care clinic) and embracing new forms of knowing (e.g., bilingualism and religious conversion), suggest that Tabi is an appropriate location to study variation in herbal remedy knowledge.
Free listing was used to capture the variation in herbal remedy knowledge in a manner that was comparable with previous studies and to inform the selection of items used in a cultural consensus analysis (CCA) questionnaire (cf. Weller and Romney 1988). As reported in more detail in Hopkins (2011), the free list method consisted of asking 30 women and 10 men of varying ages from different households to list all the herbal remedies they knew. We asked about herbal remedies, instead of the more commonly used medicinal plants, because participants preferred to report the plants and the illnesses they were used to treat as one entity. We used ANTHROPAC to analyze the data and produce the frequency with which each herbal remedy was reported. We also parsed each remedy into the illness and plant(s) that composed it and calculated the frequency of each, which allowed us to make comparisons with other studies.
We gathered voucher specimens of the plants reported by at least three participants in the free listing interviews after receiving permission to collect under the plant collection permit FLOR-0025 from the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT). The plant specimens were dried and identified at the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán (CICY). A duplicate of each voucher was deposited in the herbaria at CICY, Florida Museum of Natural History (FLAS), University of Georgia (GA), Missouri Botanical Garden (MO), and also in the Ethnobiology Laboratory at the University of Florida.
Since the large number of idiosyncratic responses reported in previous studies may be a product of free or prompted recall inherent in free listing, we also administered a dichotomous response questionnaire that relies on participant recognition of herbal remedies as opposed to recall. The data from the questionnaire were analyzed using cultural consensus analysis (CCA) to determine if there was one shared domain of herbal remedy knowledge and to measure individual agreement in herbal remedies (Borgatti 1996; Weller and Romney 1988). The details of this procedure can be found in Hopkins (2011), but briefly, we created a questionnaire that consisted of 43 questions in the form “Can plant x cure illness y?” in which we substituted various plant names for plant x and their corresponding illnesses for illness y. Half of the questions consisted of plausible remedies that were not reported in the free listing exercise nor are known in the literature to avoid response bias (Weller 2007). The questionnaire was administered to 116 people in different households that were considered the most knowledgeable about medicinal plants. The data were analyzed in UCINET by calculating the proportion of matches between pairs with a statistical adjustment for guessing, and then a minimum residual factor analysis was run on the corrected matches (Borgatti 1996; Borgatti et al. 2002; Romney et al. 1986).
Results and Discussion
Species composing remedies free listed by three or more participants.
Manfreda petskinil R. Orellana, L. Hern. & G. Carnevali
Allium schoenoprasum L.
Spondias purpurea L.
Malmea depressa (Baill) R.E. Fries
Tabernaemontana amygdalifolia Jacq.
Thevetia gaumeri Hemsley
Artemisia vulgaris L.
Pluchea carolinensis (Jacq.) G. Don
Crescentia cujete L.
Tecoma stans (L.) Juss. ex Kunth
Heliotropium angiospermum Murray
Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britton & Rose
Carica papaya L.
Dysphania ambrosioides L.
Momordica charantia L.
Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (Mill.) I.M. Johnston
Croton humilis L.
Euphorbia gaumeri Millsp.
Jatropha curcas L.
Jatropha gaumeri Greenm.
Ricinus communis L.
Mentha x piperita L.
Ocimum basilicum L.
Ocimum campechianum Mill.
Origanum vulgare L.
Orégano de Castilla
Aloe vera (L.) Burm. f.
Dandruff, Hair loss
Abelmoschus moschatus Medik.
Gossypium hirsutum L.
Trichilia hirta L.
Cissampelos pareira L.
Maclura tinctoria (L.) D. Don ex Steud.
Musa x paradisiaca L.
Schoepfia schreberi J.F. Gmelin
Ximenia americana L.
Argemone mexicana L.
Plantago major L.
Diarrhea, Stomach fever
Cymbopogon citratus (DC. ex Nees) Stapf.
Zacate de limón
Zea mays L.
Diarrhea, Kidney stones
Antigonon leptopus Hook. & Arn.
Flor de Santiago
Coffea arabica L.
Citrus aurantium L.
Chill in the stomach, Colic, Diabetes, Stomach gas
Citrus limonia Osbeck
Ruta graveolens L.
Manilkara zapota (L.) van Royen
Solanum lycopersicum L.
Urera baccifera (L.) Gaudich. ex Wedd.
Lippia graveolens Kunth
The findings in this study were consistent with other studies of herbal remedy knowledge distribution among indigenous groups in Latin America and Africa. Identifying existing patterns in knowledge distribution is the first step to understanding processes of cultural knowledge sharing and the factors that influence these processes. A next step is to determine patterns in the distribution of herbal remedy knowledge based on characteristics of the community members. Once these patterns are identified they can provide a greater understanding of changes in knowledge exchange over time. It is important to note that although these findings are consistent with previous studies, the described pattern of knowledge distribution may not be the same in all rural indigenous communities nor when using different methods. Varying access to modern services and new forms of knowing are likely to influence the distribution of knowledge throughout a community. Comparative studies designed to test differences in the distribution of knowledge across communities with different levels of access to modern services and contact with diverse groups of people are needed to fully understand how these factors influence the distribution in knowledge.
The authors are grateful for the support provided by the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant (BCS-0719053) to carry out this research, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health grant (T32AT001287) to write the article. A special thanks to Juan Jimenez-Osornio, Armando Inurreta Díaz, Guadalupe Chan Poot, Layda Chan Ku, Germán Carnevali Fernández-Concha, and José Luis Tapia Muñoz for the local logistical and technical support they provided, and to the people of Tabi who participated in the study.