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Medicinal Plants of the Middle East - COMPLETED 2011

Citrullus colocynthis (Image: S.A. Ghazanfar, Kew)

The recorded uses of plants for medicinal applications dates back over 5000 years to the earliest known civilizations, the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). Uses of plants such as laurel, caraway and thyme were described for treating diseases and ailments. The use of castor oil, coriander, garlic, indigo, mint and opium was recorded by the Egyptians from about 1000 BC, the Chinese herbals from about 2700 BC (where an Ephedra species that yields ephedrine is mentioned), and the uses of turmeric were described in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as early as 1900 BC.

Plants (as well as animals and minerals) were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but it was Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – 370 BC) and Galen (AD 129 – 199/217) who developed the principles of diagnosis and the use of plants, which eventually became the basis of modern medicine. Hippocrates based his medical diagnoses on bodily 'humors' which he assigned to a human body. The Hippocratic system of the classification of bodily humors prevailed in the practice of medicine, and was later adopted by the Muslims as the classical Greco-Arab medicine or Unani tibb, which is still taught and practiced today.

In the Middle East herbal medicines are still used to treat common ailments, such as the 'common cold', cough, headache, sun burn, muscular pain, and some digestive problems (e.g. colic, indigestion etc.). Herbal treatments are also commonly used during pre- and post-childbirth.

During this project, Dr Shahina Ghazanfar and her team compiled a list of medicinal plants of the Middle East, their uses and parts used to treat diseases and other conditions.


  • Ghazanfar, S.A. (2011) Medicinal plants of the Middle East. In: Ram Singh (ed) Genetic Resources, Chromosome Engineering and Crop Improvement. Pp. 163–180. CRC Press. Florida. USA (in press)

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