An Anthropological Approach to Therapeutic Strategies for Ethnopharmacology: The case of southwestern Madagascar

Lefevre, Gabriel
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Ethnopharmacological investigations typically assume that most remedies of traditional medicine reflect empirical knowledge of the pharmacological properties of plants, although anthropologists generally deny this. Traditional medicine, they claim, mainly obeys social constraints rather than biological ones. Three ethnopharmacological approaches to traditional medicine can be distinguished, corresponding to three operational views of traditional medicine: A selection of pharmacologically interesting plants; 1. the plants used in traditional medicine against a particular illness were selected by the population precisely because they were effective against it. A pre-selection of pharmacologically interesting 2. plants; the plants can have a use in pharmacy even though the latter may not correspond to their local use. An anti-selection of pharmacologically interesting 3. plants; the plants have been identified as being toxic. I argue that an anthropological study of therapeutic practices is needed to evaluate whether these practices are likely to reflect empirical knowledge, and if so, which kind of knowledge. The latter point is illustrated with examples drawn from research in southwestern Madagascar. Given a particular therapeutic practice, some ethnopharmacological approaches will be more relevant than others. I conclude that ethnopharmacology should rely on an anthropology of therapeutic practices more often that it typically does.
ethnopharmacology, Madagascar, therapeutic practices
Lefevre G. 2008. An anthropological approach to therapeutic strategies for ethnopharmacology: the case of southwestern Madagascar. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 6:029-034.
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