What Samuel Baker, Explorer, Can tell Us about Gum Arabic 1 of 3

Gum arabic, the resin of certain acacia trees, has been an important product of east Africa and the Sahel for millennia.  In addition to being traded as far away as India, it is eaten by local animals and has also been a key tree-crop that has been relied upon by indigenous folk and, in past eras, travelers during periods of drought. It is a key export commodity of The Sudan, and thus was a central  focus of the project work in which I was involved  in western Sudan, as discussed here and here .

In this and several other blogs that are being finished, I want to focus on three 19th century explorers who discuss this important gum – Baker; Burton; Speke. The first, by Baker, will be found below:

Sir Samuel Baker on Safari. Source - images.ookaboo.comSource - images.ookaboo.com

Sir Samuel Baker on Safari. Source – images.ookaboo.com

“A large quantity of gum arabic is collected throughout this country, which sells in Cassala at 20 piastres (4s. 2d.) the cantar of 100 lbs. There are three varieties, produced from various mimosas [Acacia]; the finest quality is gathered in the province of Kordofan, but I subsequently met with large quantities of this species in the Base country… The exports of the Soudan are limited to gum arabic, ivory, hides, senna, and bees’-wax; the latter is the produce of Abyssinia.

“These articles are generally collected by travelling native traders, who sell to the larger merchants resident in Cassala and Khartoum, the two principal towns of the Soudan…

“One of the mimosas yields an excellent fibre for rope-making, in which my people are busily engaged; the bark is as tough as leather, and forms an admirable material for the manufacture of sacks. This business is carried to a considerable extent by the Arabs, as there is a large demand for sacks of sufficient size to contain two hundred and fifty or three hundred pounds of gum arabic (half a camel load). Thus one sack slung upon each side can be packed easily to the animal.

“One of the mimosas (Acacia Arabica) produces a fruit in appearance resembling a tamarind: this is a powerful astringent and a valuable medicine in cases of fever and diarrhea; it is generally used by the Arabs for preparing hides; when dry and broken it is rich in a hard gum, which appears to be almost pure tannin.

“The wild animals have now deserted this immediate neighborhood; the only creatures that are to be seen in numbers are the apes and monkeys: these throng the sides of the river, eating the tamarinds from the few large trees, and collecting gum from the mimosas. These hungry animals gather the tamarinds before they ripen, and I fear they will not leave a handful for us; nothing is more agreeable in this hot climate than the acidity of tamarind water. I remarked a few days ago, when walking along the dry sandy bed of the Till about five miles from the river, that the monkeys had been digging wells in the sand for water.

“Upon one occasion a woman brought me a child of about fifteen months old, with a broken thigh; she had fallen asleep upon her camel, and had allowed the child to fall from her arms. I set the thigh, and secured it with gum bandages, as the mimosas afforded the requisite material. About twenty yards of old linen in bandages three inches broad, soaked in thick gum-water, will form the best of splints when it becomes dry and hard, which in that climate it will do in about an hour.

“We had several times disturbed antelopes during the early portion of the march, and we had just ascended from the rugged slopes of the valley, when we observed a troop of about a hundred baboons, who were gathering gum arabic from the mimosas; upon seeing us, they immediately waddled off. I set Jali’s broken thigh, and employed myself in making splints; …I carefully secured to the long splint with three rows of bandages, the first plain, and the last two layers were soaked in thick gum-water. When these became dry and hard, they formed a case like an armour of paste-board: previous to bandaging the limb in splints, I had bathed it for some hours with cold applications. The immediate neighbourhood was a perfect exhibition of gum-arabic-bearing mimosas. At this season the gum was in perfection, and the finest quality was now before us in beautiful amber-coloured masses upon the stems and branches, varying from the size of a nutmeg to that of an orange.

“So great was the quantity, and so excellent were the specimens, that, leaving our horses tied to trees, both the Arabs and myself gathered a large collection. This gum, although as hard as ice on the exterior, was limpid in the centre, resembling melted amber, and as clear as though refined by some artificial process. The trees were perfectly denuded of leaves from the extreme drought, and the beautiful balls of frosted yellow gum recalled the idea of the precious jewels upon the trees in the garden of the wonderful lamp of the “Arabian nights.

Gum a

Gum arabic Source – Wikipedia

“This gum was exceedingly sweet and pleasant to the taste; but, although of the most valuable quality, there was no hand to gather it in this forsaken, although beautiful country; it either dissolved during the rainy season, or was consumed by the baboons and antelopes. The aggageers [elephant hunters] took off from their saddles the skins of tanned antelope leather that formed the only covering to the wooden seats, and with these they made bundles of gum. When we remounted, every man was well laden…

… “In spite of its unhealthiness and low situation, on a level with the river at the junction of the Blue and White Niles, it [Khartoum] is the general emporium for the trade of the Soudan, from which the productions of the country are transported to Lower [southern] Egypt, i.e. ivory, hides, senna, gum arabic, and bees’-wax. During my experience of Khartoum it was the hotbed of the slave-trade. It will be remarked that the exports from the Soudan are all natural productions. There is nothing to exhibit the industry or capacity of the natives; the ivory is the produce of violence and robbery; the hides are the simple sun-dried skins of oxen; the senna grows wild upon the desert; the gum arabic exudes spontaneously from the bushes of the jungle; and the bees’-wax is the produce of the only industrious creatures in that detestable country.

Source – Samuel W. Baker, The Nile tributaries of Abyssinia and the sword hunters of the Hamran Arabs, 1866.

Posted in Blue Nile, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Gum arabic, Sahel, Samuel Grant, Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Agroforestry in the Sahel – Looking back on Past Project Work – The SRAAD Project

Our socioeconomic and agroforesty work in the eastern and western Sudan was able to verify data on multipurpose use of A. senegal  [now renamed Senegalia senegal] and on  other woody species – as well as on related agroforestry practices and specific problems being encountered.

The project [was] composed of two distinct, yet interrelated components: The Resource Inventory Component and the Resource Rehabilitation Component.

The Resource Inventory Component employed innovative geographic and cartographic techniques, based on satellite imagery, to inventory the natural resources of a large part of Southern Darfur and Southern Kordofan. This effort generates base maps for the area which are used to organize and assess information on woody vegetation and a data base to devise forestry development strategies in these areas. The Resource Rehabilitation Component of the SRAAD project operates in a smaller area corresponding to the administrative region of five Rural Councils in Southern Kordofan.

The second component was based upon utilizing specific information generated by the Resource Inventory Component, combined with the results of a household survey conducted in the five Rural Council areas, to design forest management and development plans and to introduce rehabilitation activities. The rehabilitation activities utilize appropriate reforestation and agroforestry techniques.

The rehabilitation activity includes a detailed study of local conditions and the collection of baseline data from ethnobotanical and socioeconomic surveys. This component and the inventory of the SRAAD Project are designed to provide planning data for reforestation activity in parts of Darfur and Kordofan Province.

Source – Procedures Handbook

Of great concern on the part of local inhabitants were increasing attempts both by government and private persons and groups to take over large swaths of these Acacia-rich lands.

Further details on our work can be found here –

Here is a brief listing of the various uses to which this important Sahelian tree is put:

Gum arabic
The tree is of great economic importance for the gum arabic it produces to be is used as a food additive, in crafts, and as a cosmetic. The gum is drained from cuts in the bark, and an individual tree will yield 200 to 300 grams. Seventy percent of the world’s gum arabic is produced in Sudan.
New foliage is very useful as forage.
Dried seeds are used as food by humans.
[Gum arabic has traditionally been used as a tasty food in the Sahel]
Like other legume species, S. senegal fixes nitrogen within Rhizobia or nitrogen-fixing bacteria living in root nodules.
This nitrogen fixation enriches the poor soils where it is grown, allowing for the rotation of other crops in naturally nutrient-poor regions.
Acacia_senegal_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-004.  Source - Wikipedia

Acacia senegal, in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen-004. Source – Wikipedia

Traditional [medicinal] uses
It is reportedly used as for its astringent properties, to treat bleeding, bronchitis,diarrhea, gonorrhea, leprosy, typhoid fever and upper respiratory tract infections.
Roots near the surface of the ground are quite useful in making all kinds of very strong ropes and cords. The tree bark is also used to make rope.
Handles for tools, parts for weaving looms.

Source – Wikipedia

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A Husband’s Letter to his Decesed Wife – Translation by Wente

Letters to the dead could be long and, perhaps, ease the frustration or fear of the person writing.  The following letter is quite detailed; from the angry husband of a woman who has died:

Wente-Letters 2a

Wente-Letters from ancient  Egypt

Wente-Letters from ancient Egypt


Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ed Wente, Letters | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to Succeed with Letters to The Dead – Translations by Wente

Letters to the dead in ancient Egypt provided one method of seeking success or redress from both the gods and from people who have died.  I will put up a couple that provide a little window to these interesting missives; see this blog for more details:

'Bribing' a god in order to succeed. Source - Wente - Letters from ancient Egypt

‘Bribing’ a god in order to succeed. Source – Wente – Letters from ancient Egypt

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Livingston’s Adventures with Manioc [Cassava] in Southern Africa

Missionary-travels-enYesterday I had for lunch an African dish with fish and cassava [manioc] in a delicious sauce.  This reminded me of the oft negative descriptions of the crop as being something less that wonderful; as written by David Livingston :

The country through which we passed possessed the same general character of flatness and forest that we noticed before. The soil is dark, with a tinge of red—in some places it might be called red—and appeared very fertile. Every valley contained villages of twenty or thirty huts, with gardens of manioc, which here is looked upon as the staff of life.

Cassava was introduced into Africa by way of Portugese slavers.  Source - www.uq.edu

Cassava was introduced into Africa by way of Portuguese slavers. Source – http://www.uq.edu

Very little labor is required for its cultivation. The earth is drawn up into oblong beds, about three feet broad and one in height, and in these are planted pieces of the manioc stalk, at four feet apart. A crop of beans or ground-nuts is sown between them, and when these are reaped the land around the manioc is cleared of weeds. In from ten to eighteen months after planting, according to the quality of the soil, the roots are fit for food. There is no necessity for reaping soon, as the roots do not become bitter and dry until after three years.

Moundng up cassava for egrowth.  Source - stock-photo-start-cultivation-cassava-or-manioc-plant-field-at-thailand-148299962

Moundng up cassava for egrowth. Source – stock-photo-start-cultivation-cassava-or-manioc-plant-field-at-thailand-148299962

When a woman takes up the roots, she thrusts a piece or two of the upper stalks into the hole she has made, draws back the soil, and a new crop is thereby begun. The plant grows to a height of six feet, and every part of it is useful: the leaves may be cooked as a vegetable. The roots are from three to four inches in diameter, and from twelve to eighteen inches long.

Farmer carefully packing harvested cassava tubers for transportation to the market in Bungu, Tanzania. Cassava is a staple food for food security. Photo by Kanju/IITA. (file name: CA_PR_101).

Farmer carefully packing harvested cassava tubers for transportation to the market in Bungu, Tanzania. Cassava is a staple food for food security. Photo by Kanju/IITA. (file name: CA_PR_101).

There are two varieties of the manioc or cassava—one sweet and wholesome, the other bitter and containing poison, but much more speedy in its growth than the former. This last property causes its perpetuation. When we reached the village of Kapende, on the banks of the rivulet Lonaje, we were presented with so much of the poisonous kind that we were obliged to leave it.

To get rid of the poison, the people place it four days in a pool of water. It then becomes partially decomposed, and is taken out, stripped of its skin, and exposed to the sun. When dried, it is easily pounded into a fine white meal, closely resembling starch, which has either a little of the peculiar taste arising from decomposition, or no more flavor than starch. When intended to be used as food, this meal is stirred into boiling water: they put in as much as can be moistened, one man holding the vessel and the other stirring the porridge with all his might. This is the common mess of the country.

Though hungry, we could just manage to swallow it with the aid of a little honey, which I shared with my men as long as it lasted. It is very unsavory (Scottice: wersh); and no matter how much one may eat, two hours afterward he is as hungry as ever. When less meal is employed, the mess is exactly like a basin of starch in the hands of a laundress; and if the starch were made from diseased potatoes, some idea might be formed of the Balonda porridge, which hunger alone forced us to eat. Santuru forbade his nobles to eat it, as it caused coughing and expectoration.

Source – Livingston – Missionary travels and researches in south africa

Cassava here in Burundi is commonly eaten as a snack in times of work or leisure,  often being sold on the street – cleaned and immersed in a bucket or pan of water.

The cassava talked about by Livingston is the bitter variety that requires more processing; having never tasted the bitter type, I cannot comment on his quite negative comments regarding the crop.  However, seldom is he negative about local foods and perhaps his writing took place during one of his debilitating illnesses.

Posted in Africa-General, Crop harvests, Cuisine, David Livingstone | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Penmeru: Director of the Dining Pavilion – 2

Penmeru ‘Director of the Dinning Hall.’  was interred in a curious mastaba – curious, in part because of the multiple pseudo-groups of Penmeru that were contained therein.  The dig that resulted in the discovery of these statues within the mastaba of Penmeru was led by George Reisner  and his team in 1912, on behalf of the The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston :

A psuedo-group statue of PENMERU. Source - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A psuedo-group statue of PENMERU. Source – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A Belgian Egyptologist in the 1920s coined the term “pseudo-group” to describe such sculptures in which the same person was depicted two or more times. Different interpretations have been advanced since then to explain the meaning of pseudo-group statues. Do they reflect the dual nature of Upper and Lower Egypt? Are they representations of a man and his ka? Do they show the same man at different stages of his life? It is clear that by Dynasty 5, ever-increasing numbers of statues were included in tombs. (One tomb owner had up to fifty representations of himself.) Pseudo-group sculptures may reflect that trend. Penmeru’s tomb contained three pseudo-group statues, bringing the total of his depictions to seven. The present example is the only one in which additional family members are shown. The figures are placed inside a frame that mimics the architecture of a door. It is speckled in imitation of granite, a costlier stone than the limestone from which it is actually made. was carved into limestone in Gaza around 2465 BC. Source – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The discovery of the pseudo-groups in  Penmeru’s mastaba is described in George Reisner’s log book; relevant pages of his log book are given below together with photos –

Giza west cemetary plan.  Source  -

Giza west cemetery plan, showing location of G2197, Penmeru’s mastaba. Source – Manuelian  


Location of PENMERU'S tomb, Giza West Cenetary.  Source - Manuwellan

Location of PENMERU’S tomb, Giza West Cenetary. Source – Manuelian


Wednesday, April 10, 1912 (continued) [G 2196] Diary Transcription: mastaba (G 2197). Ordered this cleared. At sunset came on the roof of a chamber apparently a serdab in the eastern part of G 2197. Filled with sand from hole in east wall.

The mastaba of PENMERU, showing corner of serdab.  Source -

The mastaba of PENMERU, showing corner of serdab. Reisner is in upper left of photo. Source –Manuelian

Thursday, April 11, 1912 The night was very bad on account of a fierce warm south wind. I slept none at all between one and four and finally got to sleep inside the house. Breakfast was late and my head felt heavy when a boy came up to say that the roof found last night was clear and I was wanted at once. I said in a quarter of an hour and set to work to clear off morning mail, orders, etc. Before I had finished a second messenger arrived to say the chamber contained six large figures (statues). I hurried down and found a serdab with broken roof filled with sand. The sand had been cleared from the heads of six figures which belonged to two triads [MFA 12.1484, MFA 12.1504]

leads of two pseudo-groups of PENMERU.  Source -

leads of two pseudo-groups of PENMERU. Source – Manuelian

Diary Transcription: microfilm: begin page 93 Thursday, April 11, 1912 (continued) [G 2197 (continued)] [MFA 12.1484 (continued)] with the figures in the niche and an inscription on top and sides (name [GLYPHS] Penmeru). The northern triad [MFA 12.1504] is one piece but the figures are unattached behind. The head of the figure six is gone. Cleared the roof and photographed it. About 5 p.m. the plates were reported good and I had the slabs lifted up and turned over to the west. About 5:45 the sand was out of the chamber but the head of No. 6 was not found. The sand was put in a place by itself for sifting. On the north in front of fig. 6 was a small pair statuette of two men [JE 43753], also of painted limestone. The niche triad [MFA 12.1484] has two small figures one [Seshemnefer] between Nos. 1 [Penmeru] and 2 [Penmeru] and one [Neferseshemes] between Nos. 2 [Penmeru] and 3 [Meretites].

Penmeru's son  Source -

Penmeru’s son Source – MFA

Daughter of Penmeru.  Source -

Daughter of Penmeru. Source – MFA

The niche triad was intended for the niche of an offering chamber. The other triad [MFA 12.1504] seems also to have been intended to be built into a wall. In other words we seem to have here the traces of an ancient family catastrophe. A great tomb was planned with beautifully inscribed walls and statue filled niches. The plan was never carried out and the statue filled niches were used to fill the serdab. The offering chamber itself is smaller than the serdab. On the south side of the entrance to the offering microfilm: end page 93 Diary Transcription: microfilm: begin page 94 Thursday, April 11, 1912 (continued) [G 2197 (continued)] chamber is an unusual inscription part of an ancient decree or contract [GLYPHS] endowing the foundation by which Penmeru,apparently a descendant of Neferhotep [Neferhetep], claimed the funerary priesthood of Seshemnefer [Seshemnefer]. Seshemnefer is the name of the owner of mastaba G 2200 [= G 5080] and of the original of the granite head. Friday, April 12, 1912 All hands clearing G 2196, G 2197 and to the north and east. The serdab was photographed. microfilm: end page 94 End of Diary Transcription Diary Transcription: microfilm: begin page 95                Friday, April 12, 1912 (continued) The chamber of G 2196 was cleared and a burial pit was found in the north west corner. This had been plundered and the chamber was open. The following part is by Mr. Fisher:                      Saturday, April 13, 1912 Dr. Reisner left for Girga at 6 p.m. In the morning the two triads [MFA 12.1484, MFA 12.1504] in the serdab of G 2197 were photographed in situ and then the wall behind them, i.e. west, was taken down, as in no other way could they have been moved. In the afternoon the statues were removed to the house without mishap, although the two pieces were of great weight and awkward size. Heavy wooden stretchers were placed behind them and each triad in turn was inclined backward upon it, and then lifted out of the serdab upon it and carried to house.

Three pseudo-statues were found.  Source -

Three pseudo-statues were found. Source –Mnuelian

Sunday, April 14, 1912 The force left at Pyramid site has been rearranged in five gangs which were placed by lot in the streets between the mastabas in Schiaparelli’s concession, where work had already begun at start of season. To facilitate work I laid out a double line of track with switches, with a third single line to street further west. Also ordered two new switches from Koppel. Monday, April 15, 1912 Several of the foremen were kept busy laying new track so that work could go ahead early Tuesday morning. Mrs. Firth is to start work drawing the wall paintings in the “little statue chamber” [G 2184] and I procured for her some materials. microfilm: end page 95 End of Diary Transcription

Three pseudo-groups of Penmeru in

Three pseudo-groups of Penmeru Source – Manuelian

Throughout Egyptian civilization, artists developed new types of statuary to address the constantly changing needs of tomb and temple. Some types found wholesale acceptance and entered the general repertoire; others flourished briefly but were subsequently abandoned. The latter is the case with the statue type shown here; it is known only from Dynasties 5 and 6. Three adults and two children emerge from inside a rectangular frame. The two on the viewer’s left are clearly male and differ from each other only in their garments. They do not interact in any way. The rest of the figures form a unit, apparently a family group. A woman on the viewer’s right, slightly shorter than the two men, rests her hand on the shoulder of the man in the center, while two diminutive children, a boy on the left and girl on the right, touch his leg. One would expect the figure on the far left to be unrelated to the others. The inscription, however, tells a different story… Source – Pseudo-group statue of Penmeru One of the pseudo-groups of Penmeru. Source -  Wednesday, April 24, 1912 Spent the day in the photography of the triads [from G 2197] [MFA 12.1484, MFA 12.1504] and in getting them under cover in the store room. The false door triad is the heavier. The door is only 80 cm wide. A track of wooden beams was laid … from the triad to the inner corner of the store room. A wooden platform was made the length of the triad and just wide enough to pass through the door.

Largest pseudo-statue is removed.  Source-

Largest pseudo-statue is removed. Source – Boston Museum of Fine Arts

With great difficulty the triad was got on its side edge on the platform, the iron rollers were slipped under the platform and the platform with triad was rolled carefully into the room. The platform was supported on stones, the rollers and beams were withdrawn and the triad was leaned against the wall, face out. The statue triad was moved in a similar manner but standing upright on its base.

Second Pseudo-statue.  Source -

Second Pseudo-statue. Source – Manuelian

One of the pseudo-groups of Penmeru. Inscriptions on the large triad – 

Top: A gift which the king gives to Anubis foremost of the divine booth, one well provided before his lord who performs what his lord desires Pen-Meru Drum: the royal acquaintance director of the dining pavilion, one well provided before his lord who performs what his lord desires, Pen-Meru Left column: the inspector of ka-priests, well provided before the god, possessor of a burial in the western desert, royal acquaintance, controller of the dining pavilion, Pen-Meru Right Column: may an invocation offering come forth for him on the Wag festival (important annual Egyptian festival), the Thoth festival, the first of the month festival, the first half-month festival, the every day festival for the director of the dinning pavilion Pen-Meru and his wife, the meiter, Meretites. Base: Pen-Meru; his son Seshem-Nofer; Pen-Meru; his  daughter Nefer-Seshem Source – MFA, Boston

Director [or Controller] of the Dining Pavilion‘ – appears to be the major  administrative tile of Penmeru.  Another burial in which this title appears is that of Meresankh III – Grand-daughter of Kheops (aka. Khufu, about 2600-2555 BC):

Grand-daughter of Kheops (aka. Khufu, about 2600-2555 BC), wife of Khephren (aka. Khafre, about 2548-2522), the queen’s burial illustrates the importance of the royal sons and daughters in Egypt of the IVth Dynasty, a period at the peak of the Old Kingdom, which saw the craftsmanship of sculpture and painting reaching an extreme sophistication.

Source- Meresankh III , Giza

Osirusnet.net  meresankh3_ch_229 pavillion

Osirusnet.net meresankh3_ch_229 pavillion

Register 1 (top)  From the tomb of Meresankh – not easily read – 

In total the register includes nine men, all facing Meresankh. At the left, two men advance towards her, holding poultry in their hands. The title of the first [man] is partially preserved: “[Director of] the dining pavilion, the funerary priest […]”. The following five men, all musicians, although one is a chanter, squat on the ground with their right knee raised. The first two are playing the harp. The next two are flutists, the first of whom plays a long flute which he holds diagonally across him, held at the lower end with both hands and blowing into the other end. The one behind him plays a short flute. The last of the five is a chanter, who holds his left hand to his ear as he creates an accompanying song. Finally, at the right-hand end of the register, and with no accompanying descriptive text, advances a man who holds a small calf in his arms, and a second man who carries a chest on his shoulder supported by his right hand. The head of the last man is partially destroyed.

Source – Osirisnet, Mastaba of Meresankh

To be continued –

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I’ve planted quite a bit; very hardy, the cats like it – but not the mozzis.

Originally posted on Herbology Manchester:

by Jemma

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a dense, clump-forming grass that is found in tropical and subtropical grassland  throughout southeast Asia. It can reach a height of around 2 metres with leaves that are white on the top and green on the underside. Lemongrass flowers are red to reddish-brown in colour.

Lemongrass Image taken from http://www.gardensonline.com.au/GardenShed/PlantFinder/Show_2229.aspx Lemongrass
Image taken from http://www.gardensonline.com.au/GardenShed/PlantFinder/Show_2229.aspx

Culinary uses

Cymbopogon citratus is abundant in the Philippines and Indonesia, where it is known as tanglad or sereh. Lemongrass leaves are too tough for the body to digest, so they either need to be removed before eating or chopped vary finely. Both the stems and leaves feature in Asian, African and Latin American cuisine in teas, soups and curries. It has a subtle citrus flavour that complements poultry, fish, beef and seafood dishes in particular.

Materia Medica jar containing Cymbopogon citratus  Materia Medica jar containing Cymbopogon citratus

Medicinal uses

Lemongrass is sometimes used in folk medicine, particularly…

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