Folkloric therapeutic prescriptions in Western Algeria: A field study
Since the dawn of time, man has tried to treat his diseases and ailments using medicinal prescriptions. He discovered a number of plants from which he extracted highly effective therapeutic elements. Such medicinal prescriptions became popular, and they were passed down from generation to generation. Traditional treatments have deep roots in ancient civilisations such as those of the Pharaohs, the Greeks, Mesopotamia, India, and the Arabs. As Islam spread, many doctors used medicinal plants and natural medicines. The most renowned men include David of Antioch, Avicenna, Al Razi, Moses Maimonides, Al-Biruni, Al-Zahrawi, Ibn al-Baitar, and famous women include Umayma bint Qais Al Afriyah, Umm Saleem, Umm Ayman, Umm Atiyah Al Ansariyyah and Nusaiba bint Kaab Al Mazniyah.
Mohammed Al Juwhari believes that traditional medicine is closely associated with a society’s folkloric heritage and that there is often an overlap and interaction among the different folkloric beliefs and between these beliefs and other schools of thought. This is viewed as distinct to folkloric culture.
Many long-tested medicinal prescriptions have beneficial therapeutic effects, and most medicines are extracted and derived from plants. The low cost of these medicines makes them more accessible to and popular among community members.
International organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have shown an increasing interest in medicinal herbs and have begun to study, assess and emphasise the efficacy of therapeutic practices in treating diseases in some developing countries.
David Warner believes that some medicinal plants help to heal the body, but in some cases, the placebo effect is at play. An individual’s belief in the effectiveness of a certain prescription can help in the healing of certain diseases.
WHO concluded that some traditional therapeutic practices used to treat diseases have proven benefits and their use should be encouraged, while other traditional therapeutic practices should be avoided because they are either useless or harmful.
Due to the growing awareness of the importance of health and the social and economic transformation of Algerian society - particularly the noticeably low rate of illiteracy and the evident improvement in health services offered to citizens - traditional therapies have become scarcer but they have not disappeared entirely. The studies we conducted in Western Algeria show that some mothers still believe that traditional therapeutic prescriptions are effective in the treatment of certain diseases.
Methodology for studying traditional medicine:
Mohammed Al Juwhari describes two methods for studying traditional medicine. The first method consists of listing the names of popular natural medicines and plants and the diseases they treat, the second method examines how diseases are treated using traditional means.
I have used the descriptive method in this study, describing the traditional therapeutic practices in which plants and foods are used to cure diseases. I excluded traditional therapies such as cauterization and wet cupping and focused on medicinal plants and medicines.
We selected a sample of 250 families from different parts of Western Algeria. The sample was randomly generated taking into consideration the total number of families in every district. The sample was also based on population statistics issued by the relevant authorities. We collected data by using questionnaires to interview mothers in their homes and at weekly markets.