Does the taste matter? Taste and medicinal
perceptions associated with five selected herbal drugs among three
ethnic groups in West Yorkshire, Northern England
Andrea Pieroni1,2 and Bren Torry2
1SCH Group, Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University, Postbus 8060, NL-6700 DA Wageningen, The Netherlands
of Pharmacy Practice, School of Life Science, University of Bradford,
Richmond Bd., Richmond Rd., Bradford, BD7 1DP, West Yorkshire, UK
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2007,
recent years, diverse scholars have addressed the issue of the
chemosensory perceptions associated with traditional medicines,
nevertheless there is still a distinct lack of studies grounded in the
social sciences and conducted from a cross-cultural, comparative
perspective. In this urban ethnobotanical field study, 254 informants
belonging to the Gujarati, Kashmiri and English ethnic groups and
living in Western Yorkshire in Northern England were interviewed about
the relationship between taste and medicinal perceptions of five herbal
drugs, which were selected during a preliminary study. The herbal drugs
included cinnamon (the dried bark of Cinnamomum verum, Lauraceae), mint (the leaves of Mentha spp., Lamiaceae), garlic (the bulbs of Allium sativum, Alliaceae), ginger (the rhizome of Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae), and cloves (the dried flower buds of Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae).
The main cross-cultural differences in taste perceptions regarded
the perception the perception of the spicy taste of ginger, garlic, and
cinnamon, of the bitter taste of ginger, the sweet taste of mint, and
of the sour taste of garlic.
The part of the study of how the five selected herbal drugs are
perceived medicinally showed that TK (Traditional Knowledge) is
widespread among Kashmiris, but not so prevalent among the Gujarati and
especially the English samples. Among Kashmiris, ginger was frequently
considered to be helpful for healing infections and muscular-skeletal
and digestive disorders, mint was chosen for healing digestive and
respiratory troubles, garlic for blood system disorders, and cinnamon
was perceived to be efficacious for infectious diseases.
Among the Gujarati and Kashmiri groups there was evidence of a
strong link between the bitter and spicy tastes of ginger, garlic,
cloves, and cinnamon and their perceived medicinal properties, whereas
there was a far less obvious link between the sweet taste of mint and
cinnamon and their perceived medicinal properties, although the link
did exist among some members of the Gujarati group.
Data presented in this study show how that links between taste
perceptions and medicinal uses of herbal drugs may be understood as
bio-cultural phenomena rooted in human physiology, but also constructed
through individual experiences and culture, and that these links can
therefore be quite different across diverse cultures.