Newsletter 2001

Herbal the Rainforest and Across Town
Arnica, for aches and bruisesMy interest in studying the uses of herbal medicines began last spring as I prepared for my research in Costa Rica with Drs. Gorka and Niesenbaum. There, I would spend two weeks studying and interpreting the uses of herbal medicines in Costa Rica as compared to the current increase in their use in the U.S. today. Through my research, I was able to combine my interest in Latin American culture and in speaking Spanish to my interest in medicine. I went to Costa Rica expecting to see some formal practice of traditional herbal medicines. Instead, as I spoke to various locals and health professionals, I soon learned that just as in the U.S., the uses of herbal medicines in Costa Rica do not go far beyond their traditional uses that are passed down within families. Hence, my research not only showed me that Costa Rican medicine is highly similar to that in the U.S., but it sparked my interest in social attitudes towards medicinal plants.

Upon my return to Muhlenberg this past fall, I decided to continue my study of attitudes towards herbal medicines by working with Drs. Niesenbaum and Morling to looking at the views of people predominantly living, working, or studying here in Allentown. Through my surveys, I am looking at how factors such as profession, race, gender, and age may influence people's trust, past --and future-- use, and their definition of what constitutes or defines an herbal medicine.

My use of Spanish and my interest in the views of the Latin American community did not end with my return from Costa Rica. With the time and help of Dr. Sutherland, we distributed a Spanish version of my survey at several events through the Grupo de Apoyo e Integración Hispanoamericano, thus incorporating a significant representation of Latin American or Hispanic Americans from Allentown into my survey sample.

As I look through the data, I am very excited about comparing the responses of various cultural and professional groups. I hope to understand how our socioeconomic backgrounds cause differences in our beliefs about medicinal herbs.

Diana Bharucha, '03