Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 1060-68. 2009.
Ethnopharmacological Survey of Endemic Medicinal Plants in Paphos District of Cyprus
Charalampos Dokos1,*, Charoula Hadjicosta1, Katerina Dokou2, Niki Stephanou3
1Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
2School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece
3Pharmaceutical Private Sector, Paphos, Cyprus
*Author for Correspondence: Charalampos Dokos, Magnisias 4, Paphos, Cyprus, P.O Box 8025,
Issued August 1, 2009
Paphos district is an unexplored area in the field of ethnopharmacology. Traditional medicine combines a mix of superstitions and beliefs with the therapeutic use of medical plants that grow wild. In this report we discuss the ethnopharmacological, historical and medical aspects of the use of endemic medical plants in the area of Paphos of Cyprus. Paphos is cited in the east region of the island, characterized by its unique flora.. Many plants were used in an unusual way for therapeutic purposes by local people, comprising a significant part of their tradition that accompanies them up to today in their daily life.
Keywords: Paphos; Cyprus; ethnopharmacology; ethnobotany; traditional medicine; herbs.
Cyprus is the birthplace of goddess Aphrodite, a crossroad of three regions (Europe, Asia, Africa) and a rapid expanding economical and technological country. As an island, cited in the eastern site of the Mediterranean sea, it has a unique climate that favours many plants to grow all the year. According to Aristotle’s script (It was found that there is a big and high mountain in Cyprus, higher than all its mountains, called Troodos, where many different plants grow, which are useful in medicine. If I try to describe them separately, time will not be enough for me to narrate) Cyprus’ land triggers the interest as it regards the exploration of its flora.
In antiquity, Paphos was progressive in medical therapeutics. “Thermophores”, mud pots that was filled with hot water placed in body parts and “Asclipeios” temples devoted to the god of medicine are just few of the signs indicating a long tradition in therapeutics. In Roman times, Paphos was the capital of the island and an important commercial hub station. Goods and plants were carried out from the east coasts to western Europe. Historically, conquerors (Assyrians, Egyptians, Francs, Veneticians, Turkish, Englishmen) imported their herbs and plants in Cyprus. This partially explains the existence of some exotic plants that grew in Cyprus.
Although there are few in numbers of ethnobotanical surveys in Cyprus, no ethnopharmacological survey has been accomplished yet in the district of Paphos. Paphos area is an interesting field for ethnopharmacological and ethnomedical survey because of its unique geophysical characteristics. It belongs to the 1st phytogeographical zone with vine villages to enclose the biggest part of human population surrounding Paphos home town. Slippery hills, semi-rock fields and topical microclimates are composing a distinct agrogeophysical identity that distinguishes Paphos area from other districts of Cyprus. Therefore, it represents an exciting field for ethnopharmacological study for medical plants and their therapeutic use.
Material and methods
For this survey 73 personal interviews were accomplished in the period 2005-2006 (December, April-May, July-September). The selection of the villages was according to the population status, the accessibility to interviews (personally) so as to validate the authenticity of the interview. The villages that were included in this survey are: Pano Arodes, Kato Arodes, Kathikas, Stroumpi, Theletra, Kritou Terra, Tsada, Mesogi, Mesa Chorio, Geroskipou, Anavargos, Choulou, Phiti, Pegeia and Kallepia (Fig. 1). Most of the interviewers were women (n=57) with mean age 61 years old. All applicants were Greek speaking with Cypriot dialect and Paphian idiom. It is estimated that 60000 people live in Paphos and the number of interviewers is sufficient enough to investigate traditional medicine in Paphos region.
No personal data was recorded by the authors according to the Laws of Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Cyprus. Parallel with the interviews, it was purposed to search among local manuscripts, books from local school libraries and churches, press articles in order to identify the medical plants and their use noted previously by interviewers. A great majority of the interviewers still use many of these medical plants as noted for their therapeutic purposes.
Questionnaires were cited ordered and not personal oriented, with the basic information that was needed, taken during the conversation. The local-paphian idiom of the medical plants, the places of cultivation (plus period or season), their therapeutic use and the parts of the plants used were noted. Although questionnaires were structured based, direct questions were avoided. Botanical names and families were cross-identified according to Flora of Cyprus (Meikle RD. 1977/1985) and related textbooks (Kyriakou-Zanettou P. 1998, Arnold N. 1985). If there was any doubt about the origin of data, it was purposed to collect the specimens of plants, be identified by the interviewers and described by Biologist Mrs. Katerina Dokou. Most of the interviewers have still traditional agricultural activities and this helped us to identify with more accuracy the local medical plants.
Results and Discussion
Paphos district presents a great interest in the field of Ethnopharmacology and Ethobotany (Della A. et al. 2006). This study is a preliminary report of a wider study in the area of Paphos and its medicinal plants that are used by the habitats of the district. Local people were tremendously helpful with their questionnaires and explained in detail the use of each medicinal plant, their local names, therapeutic uses and any unwanted effects (Table 1). Notice that many of them are grown outside the yards and gardens of their house, a fact that reveals the untouched natural heritage of this part of the island. Also it is known that Paphos area has many ecological zones protected by environmental organizations and societies such as the Akamas’ peninsula and the Paphos’ forest.
Salvia fruticosa Mill. Cyprus or else Spatsia (local name) of Lamiaceae family, Salvia ssp. is a widely used medicinal plant by the local people (Figure 2). The three-lobe sage is used as a herbal tea in the local coffee shops and usually after a heavy meal with carbohydrates during the day. Analyzing the results from the study, interviewers stressed out the beneficial effects of Salvia fruticosa in patients with mild diabetes and sometimes on severe hyperglycemia cases. Long ago, local people knew the existence of diabetes condition and its consequences in human organism and tried to find medicinal plants that could reduce the high glucose levels.. A daily drink of sage, as a breakfast tea for diabetics helped to restore pancreatic dysfunction. Studies indicate the hypoglycemic effects of this medicinal plant extracts (Perfumi M, et al. 1991, Mironidou-Tzouveleki M et al. 2008). Salvia fruticosa that grows in Cyprus has ~0.1% percentage of thugione but Salvia officinalis which is used worldwide has the greatest percentage of thugione (~30-40%). Thugione is an extremely toxic substance when used in large doses (Ministy of Agriculture 2000, 2002). Among other medicinal plants, Salvia fruticosa’s infusion was drunk by men to reduce persistent coughs, colds, sore throats and tonsilitis.
Origanum majorana L. var Tenufolium or else Sapsi(ch)ia belongs to the Lamiaceae family and is used for decreasing nervous-related pain (migraines, insomnia, headaches). Local people appreciate its arterial blood hypotension effect which is exerted through reduction of the diastolic blood pressure (Figure 3). Also Cyprus majorana is used in several villages for tooth ache.
Taraxacum cyprium belongs to the Compositae family (Figure 4). It was studied broadly in both ethnobotanical and pharmacological level and it is one of the most common plants that anyone can see in Paphos area (Barnes J, et al. 2007, Bisset NG. 1994, Guarerra PM 2005, Kim HM et al. 1999). This plant was used as a rehabilitation-recovery medicinal plant after insect or animal bite. Also Cyprus dandelion was used for its stimulating effect on gastrointestinal system.
Malva sylvestris L. was used as a culinary herb by local people but also as a remedy against cough and infection (Figure 5). Recent studies reveal its precious pharmacological properties (Conforti F. et al. 2008, Zanettou-Panteli K 1997, 1998). Indeed the soup made by this plant represents a part of traditional cooking with impressive therapeutic effects. Cyprus cedar is only grown in the area of Trifyllos located in Paphos’ forest. Its parts were used for hemorrhoids treatment and upper respiratory viral croup.
Paphos remains one of the most important areas of untouched natural beauty with important ethnobotanical and ethnopharmacological aspects. Local people are familiar not only with the medicinal plants that surround their environment but also with their therapeutic uses. Further studies will reveal new data about the use of medicinal plants in this area of the island.
The authors would like to thank Mrs Fotoulla Stephanou and Mrs Paraskevi Liasidou for their contribution in the interviews from local residents of villages Kathikas, Anavargos, Stroumpi, Geroskipou, Tsada, Arodes and the collection of bibliographic material.
Table 1: Pharmaceutical plants, origin and therapeutic properties
Place of origin: W wild country (rock-side, hills, mountain areas), E endemic (water-enriched areas), F Paphos forest (Τrifyllou area).
Part of plant used: Frl fresh leafs, Drl dried leaves, Rot root part, Cor plant core section.
Application: Inf infusion, Sou soup-boiled, Spi spice, Pos per os, Eso essential oil.
Therapeutic uses: Nut nuts, seeds, Τοp top part of the plant, flower of the plant, Tar tar.
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Figure 1: Map of Paphos District