Traditional uses of plants

At one with the desert and its wildlife, the bedu of the UAE were familiar with medicinal properties of many plants. Even today local people make good use of medicinal herbs. Seeds of Cassia italica , the senna plant, are used as a laxative and the bedu claim it will heal any kind of stomach pain. Seeds of the desert squash, Citrullus colocynthis , are highly acclaimed as a cure for diabetes.The bitter sap of the milkweed Calotropis procera was even dried and used to fill aching hollow teeth, while the woody parts of this plant were burned to make charcoal, which was an ingredient for gunpowder in the old days. Poultices made of the leaves were applied to joints to heal rheumatism. The leaves also served as fertilizer - dug into the ground around the roots of an ailing palm tree, they help to make the tree more vigorous. Salsola imbricata and several Suaeda species were dried and powdered to be used as snuff to clear the sinuses. The best known cosmetic use of a plant is that of henna to dye hair and to beautify hands and feet on special days like weddings and Eid celebrations. To make the henna paste, crushed dried berries and leaves are mixed with medicinal herbs, including one containing a blue dye, and applied to the skin in intricate designs. Poultices of the henna plant leaves are also used to calm down headaches. The poisonous plant Rhazya stricta is used in small quantities to settle gastric upsets in people. An important plant for combating fevers is Teucrium stocksianum, a most fragrant herb, similar to a sage. The seeds of garat (Acacia nilotica ) are ground to a powder to dry out second degree burns.

Today this traditional knowledge has become the basis for scientific investigation of local plantlife andtheir biochemical properties. Research is carried out at the UAE University in Al-Ain.

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