Skip to main content

Survey on medicinal plants and spices used in Beni-Sueif, Upper Egypt



This study was conducted to identify medicinal plants and spices used for medicine by the community of Beni-Sueif, Upper Egypt.


Ethnobotanical data from local people was collected using direct interviews and a semi-structured questionnaire.


Forty-eight plant species belonging to twenty-seven families and forty-seven genera were encountered during the study. Their botanical and vernacular names, plant parts used and medicinal uses are given. Results of the study were analyzed using two quantitative tools. The factor informant consensus indicated the agreement in the use of plants and the fidelity level indicated the ratio between the number of informants who independently suggested the use of a species for the same major purpose and the total number of informants who mentioned the plant for any use. The results of the factor informant consensus showed that the cardiovascular category has the greatest agreement, followed by the immunological, gastrointestinal and respiratory categories. The most important species according to their fidelity are: Hibiscus sabdariffa L. for the cardiovascular category; Trigonella foenum-graecum L. for the immunological category; Mentha piperita L. for the gastrointestinal category and Pimpinella anisum L. for the respiratory category.


Medicinal plants are still used for treatment in Beni-Sueif community despite the availability of prescribed medications. Documentation of this ethnomedicinal knowledge is important. Evaluation of pharmacological activity for the promising medicinal plants is suggested.


The use of medicinal plants has occurred in Egypt since Pharaonic times [1, 2]. This constituted an integral part of the practiced medicine at that time. Nowadays, Egyptians still depend of medicinal plants for treatment. In a recent study conducted by the Information and Decision Support Centre in Egypt [3], it was found that 23% of the Egyptian use medicinal plants as a remedy; 52% of them are living in urban areas and 48% are living in countryside. It is important to document these uses and perform studies about their pharmacological activities to assure their efficacy and safety.

Beni-Sueif is situated in the north of Upper Egypt and occupies a land area of approximately 10954 km2. The governorate has a total inhabitancy of 1369.41 km2. It boasts a population of over 2315512. The language of inhabitants is Arabic. Biomedical facilities and prescription medication are available in the towns of the governorate in addition to the herbalist shops. The latter represents the main healthcare facility in the countryside. Beni-Sueif has different phytogeographical regions; the desert regions of the western and eastern sides of the Nile and the Nile-valley characterized by its fertile soil [4]. Beni-Sueif governorate is producing 25% of medicinal and aromatic plants produced in Egypt. This is mainly because of the presence of suitable climate, fertile soil and availability of irrigation water from the Nile. Pelargonium roseum L., Ocimum basilicum L., Artemisia herba-alba Asso., Mentha piperita L., Coriandrum sativum L., Anethum graveolens L., Origanum majorana L. and Jasminum officinale L. are the most important medicinal and aromatic plants produced in the governorate. Table 1 shows the production figures for these plants.

Table 1 Medicinal and aromatic plant production in Beni-Sueif, Egypt

The present study aims to review traditional ethnomedicinal knowledge of the local people in Beni-Sueif governorate, focusing specifically on the medicinal uses of plants. These types of studies are urgent considering the loss of traditional knowledge accompanying alteration of the physical and biological environment.


Data collection

Direct interviews with the people living in Beni-Sueif governorate (Figure 1) were conducted during the period March-August 2009, using a semi-structured questionnaire [5]. The participants in the interview were chosen from those who declared to know and/or use medicinal plants by a random sampling technique. Recruiters visited participants in their homes and asked them the questions in the questionnaire. Examples of some commonly used medicinal plants were given to make the idea of the study easier for the participants. The participants were asked whether they prefer treatment with medicinal plants to conventional drug therapy. The interview was done in Arabic, the language spoken by the people living in the governorate. The information was collected from 57 persons (44 men and 13 women) whose age ranged from 30-70 years. This includes questions about the plants they use against diseases, parts of the plants used, methods of preparation and sources they obtain these plants. People interviewed are representing urban and rural life styles. The plant materials were obtained from their sources, botanically identified [4, 6] and voucher specimens were stored in CAIM herbarium, Flora & Phyto-taxonomy Researches Department, Horticultural Research Institute, Agricultural Research Centre, Ministry of Agriculture, Egypt.

Figure 1
figure 1

Map of Egypt. A map of Egypt showing the location of Beni-Sueif governorate in north part of Upper Egypt.

Quantitative ethnobotany

The factor informant consensus (FIC) [7] was used for the analysis of the general use of plants. The illnesses were classified into broad disease categories (several diseases based on the organ system in one category) using the following categories: (1) urological (inflammation, calculi, infection), (2) gastrointestinal (mal digestion, ulcer, flatulence, constipation, colic), (3) respiratory (cough, congestion), (4) neurological (anxiety), (5) cardiological (hypertension), (6) dermatological (infection, wounds), (7) immunological (susceptibility to infections), (8) cultural (spices, condiments, heath drink), (9) diabetes, (10) women's health (menstrual pain, hair growth). The FIC was calculated as the number of use citations in each category (nur) minus the number of species used (nt), divided by the number of use citations in each category minus one [7]:

The fidelity level (FI), which is the ratio between the number of informants who independently suggested the use of a species for the same major purpose and the total number of informants who mentioned the plant for any use, was calculated for the most frequently reported diseases or ailments for the categories with the highest FIC

Where Np is the number of informants that claimed a use of a plant species to treat a particular disease, and N is the number of informants that used the plant as a medicine to treat any given disease [8].

Number of uses mentioned (Um) refers to the mentions for one plant given by all of the informants for a specific disease.

These tools helped us to determine which illness categories had higher representation (using the FIC) and the plants with major fidelity (using the FI).


General analysis of the data

The results of the study are presented in Table 2, in which the plants are arranged in alphabetical synopsis. For each species, the following information is provided: botanical name, plant family, local name, part used, method of preparation or administration and ailments treated. Forty-eight plant species distributed over twenty-seven families and forty-seven genera were discovered to be used by local people of Beni-Sueif. Apiaceae, Fabaceae and Lamiaceae were the most dominant families.

Table 2 Medicinal plant species, plant parts used and ailments treated by local people of Beni-Sueif, Egypt

The informants in this study use plants for three main reasons: (1) medicinal plants are safer than prescribed medications (81%), (2) medicinal plants are cheaper than prescribed medications (11%) and (3) medicinal plants are easier to get from herbalist shops widely available in rural areas (8%). Only 3% of the informants were against the use of medicinal plants as remedy because of their unknown composition, prescribed medications are more effective and faster in their actions or medicinal plants are not prescribed by the physicians. The plants with the highest number of uses mentioned for any disease were Hibiscus sabdariffa L. (37), Pimpinella anisum L. (34), Mentha piperita L. (32) and Trigonella foenum-graecum L. (25). The complete data are presented in Table 2.

Factor informant consensus and fidelity level

The results of the FIC showed that the cardiovascular category had the greatest agreement with an FIC of 0.88, followed by immunological disorders (0.80), gastrointestinal disorders (0.78), respiratory disorders (0.78) and neurological disorders (0.50). Within the cardiovascular category, the main reported ailment was hypertension (36 reports). Within the gastrointestinal category, there were 28 reports of colic. Within the respiratory category, there were 19 reports of cough.

We analyzed the categories with the major agreements to indicate the most important plants in each category. For the cardiovascular category, we found that the most important species, according to fidelity, was Hibiscus sabdariffa (FI = 97.3). Trigonella foenum-graecum (FI = 36) was the most important species for the immunological category. The most important plants in the gastrointestinal category were Mentha piperita (FI = 87.5), Trigonella foenum-graecum (FI = 56) and Pimpinella anisum (FI = 32.4). Pimpinella anisum (FI = 55.9) was the most important plant in the respiratory category.

Correlation between number of uses mentioned and fidelity level

The categories of the plants with higher number of uses mentioned (for one purpose) were correlated with their fidelity level (Table 2). The plants with higher number of uses mentioned for all categories were Hibiscus sabdariffa with 36 mentions for hypertension (FI = 97.3), Mentha piperita with 28 mentions for colic in gastrointestinal tract (FI = 87.5), Trigonella foenum-graecum with 14 mentions for colic in gastrointestinal tract (FI = 56) and Pimpinella anisum with 19 mentions for upper respiratory tract problems (FI = 55.9). Some plants showed a high fidelity level (FI = 100) for one ailment such as Ambrosia maritima L. for renal colic (4), Boswellia carterii Birdw. as expectorant (4), Cassia acutifolia Delile. for constipation (6) and Tilia sylvestris Desf. for cough (4). The following plants were mentioned once that is considered of low fidelity: Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam. as diuretic, Capsicum annum L. as a condiment, Cladium mariscus (L.) Pohl for colic in gastrointestinal tract, Coffea arabica L. for healing of wounds, Commiphora myrrha Engl. for cough, Cyperus longus L. for decreasing hair growth, Myristica fragrans Houtt as a condiment, Orchis hircine Crantz. for peptic ulcer, Piper nigrum L. as a condiment and Plantago afra L. as antiseptic for skin.


Documentation of ethnobotanical knowledge is important to study/understand human-plant relationships [9], implement general policies about the use of natural resources [10] and assess potential livelihood and monetary benefits [11, 12].

In this work, we used two quantitative tools to study the main medicinal plants and spices used by the local people in Beni-Sueif governorate. With the FIC, the main categories of health conditions for which plants are used, are detected, and with the FI, we selected the most important species from these categories. The cardiovascular, immunological, gastrointestinal and respiratory categories used the most plants.

The FI and the number of uses mentioned support the FIC. This is indicated by the observation that the cardiovascular category has the highest FIC. This means that the cardiovascular illnesses have the greatest agreement among the informants for being treated by medicinal plants. Hibiscus sabdariffa, the most used plant in the cardiovascular category, has the highest FI and number of uses mentioned among all of the plants. Therefore, the FIC is a good analytical tool to select categories of illness when analyzing the data as they are presented here.

If we consider FI and the use mentions to analyze the most important plants, we get the following plants: Hibiscus sabdariffa for hypertension, Mentha piperita for colic in gastrointestinal tract, Trigonella foenum-graecum for colic in gastrointestinal tract and Pimpinella anisum for upper respiratory tract problems. These plants are cultivated plants and widely used in the Egyptian folk medicine [13]. There are a lot of studies about the pharmacological activities of these plants; Hibiscus sabdariffa [1418], Mentha piperita [19], Trigonella foenum-graecum [20, 21] and Pimpinella anisum [22, 23]. We have decided to present here the most significant and important studies related to the uses mentioned in our study. The uncommon ethnopharmacological uses of Glossostemon bruguieri Desf., Lupinus albus, Orchis hircine and Portulaca oleracea L. deserves phytochemical and pharmacological studies to examine the reported activities. Some of the uses mentioned are in agreement with those previously reported in the Mediterranean region [24]. For example, Portulaca oleracea was reported to be used in muscular-skeletal diseases and for nutritional purposes in Albania, Ammi visnaga for kidney and respiratory diseases in Algeria and Egypt, Coriandrum sativum as digestive in Algeria, Foeniculum vulgare as digestive in Algeria and Cyperus, Solenostemma argel for kidney diseases in Egypt, Mentha piperita for mental-nervous disorders in Algeria, Hibiscus sabdariffa for cardiovascular disorders in Egypt.


The current study targeted the medicinal plants used by local people of Beni-Sueif, Upper Egypt. Beni-Sueif is a biodiversity area rich of wide-variety of plant species. The calculated FIC and FI values were used as a tool to understand which illnesses are preferentially treated with medicinal plants. Gastrointestinal problems, cough and hypertension were the main illnesses treated by medicinal plants in Beni-Sueif governorate. People may use medicinal plants as an adjuvant therapy to treat these illnesses due to the common occurrence of the former two illnesses and the chronic nature of the latter illness. This may be the reason for why these illnesses have high agreement values. The preservation of the traditional knowledge is an essential requirement for maintaining traditional Egyptian medicine as a cultural resource.


  1. Kamal H: A Dictionary of Pharaonic Medicine. 1967, Cairo: The National Publication House

    Google Scholar 

  2. Manniche L: An Ancient Egyptian Herbal. 1999, Texas: University of Texas Press

    Google Scholar 

  3. The Information and Decision Support Center. []

  4. Boulos L: Flora of Egypt. 1991, Cairo: Al Hadara Publishing Inc

    Google Scholar 

  5. Martin GJ: Ethnobotany: A Method Manual. 1995, London: Chapman and Hall

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  6. Bedevian AK: Illustrated Polyglottic Dictionary of Plant Names. 1994, Cairo: Madbouli bookshop

    Google Scholar 

  7. Heinrich M, Ankli A, Frei B, Weimann C, Sticher O: Medicinal plants in Mexico: healer's consensus and cultural importance. Soc Sci Med. 1998, 47: 1859-1871. 10.1016/S0277-9536(98)00181-6.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Friedman J, Yaniv Z, Dafni A, Palewitch D: A preliminary classification of the healing potential of medicinal plants, based on a rational analysis of an ethnopharmacological field survey among Bedouins in the Negev desert, Israel. J Ethnopharmacol. 1986, 16: 275-287. 10.1016/0378-8741(86)90094-2.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Alcorn JB: Factors influencing botanical resource perception among the Huastec: Suggestions for future ethnobotanical inquiry. J Ethnobiol. 1981, 1: 221-230.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Alcorn JB: Development policy, forest and present farms: Reflections on Huastec managed forest's contribution to commercial production and resource conservation. Econ Bot. 1984, 38: 389-406. 10.1007/BF02859077.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dobriyal RM, Singh GS, Rao KS, Saxena KG: Medicinal plant resources in Chhakinal Watershed in the north western Himalaya: Traditional knowledge, economy and conservation. J Herbs Spices Med Plants. 1997, 5: 15-27. 10.1300/J044v05n01_04.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Botha J, Withowski ETF, Shackleton CM: Market profiles and trade in medicinal plants in the Lowveld, South Africa. Environ Conserv. 2004, 31: 38-46. 10.1017/S0376892904001067.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Hammoda F: Medicinal Plants and Herbs. 1993, Cairo: Al-ahram centre for translation and publication

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kim JK, So H, Youn MJ, Kim HJ, Kim Y, Park C, Se-Jin Kim SJ, Ha YA, Chai KY, Kim SM, Kim KY, Park R: Antihypertensive effect of an aqueous extract of the calyx of Hibiscus sabdariffa. Fitoterapia. 2007, 78: 292-297. 10.1016/j.fitote.2007.02.011.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ajay M, Chai HJ, Mustafa AM, Gilani AH, Mustafa MR: Mechanisms of the anti-hypertensive effect of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. calyces. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 109: 388-393. 10.1016/j.jep.2006.08.005.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Herrera-Arellano A, Flores-Romero S, Chávez-Soto MA, Tortoriello J: Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardized extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomized clinical trial. Phytomed. 2004, 11: 375-382. 10.1016/j.phymed.2004.04.001.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Odigie IP, Ettarh RR, Adigun SA: Chronic administration of aqueous extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa attenuates hypertension and reverses cardiac hypertrophy in 2K-1C hypertensive rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003, 86: 181-185. 10.1016/S0378-8741(03)00078-3.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Faraji MH, Tarkhani AHH: The effect of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on essential hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999, 65: 231-236. 10.1016/S0378-8741(98)00157-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Grigoleit HG, Grigoleit P: Gastrointestinal clinical pharmacology of peppermint oil. Phytomed. 2005, 12: 607-611. 10.1016/j.phymed.2004.10.006.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Eidi A, Eidi M, Sokhteh M: Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L) seeds on serum parameters in normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Nutrit Res. 2007, 27: 728-733. 10.1016/j.nutres.2007.09.006.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Amin A, Alkaabi A, Al-Falasi S, Daoud SA: Chemopreventive activities of Trigonella foenum graecum (Fenugreek) against breast cancer. Cell Biol Int. 2005, 29: 687-694. 10.1016/j.cellbi.2005.04.004.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Tirapelli CR, de Andrade CR, Cassano AO, De Souza FA, Ambrosio SR, da Costa FB, de Oliveira AM: Antispasmodic and relaxant effects of the hidroalcoholic extract of Pimpinella anisum (Apiaceae) on rat anococcygeus smooth muscle. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007, 110: 23-29. 10.1016/j.jep.2006.08.031.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Lee R, Balick MJ: Flu for you? The common cold, influenza, and traditional medicine. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2006, 2: 3252-3255.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Gonz'alez-Tejero MR, Casares-Porcel M, S'anchez-Rojas CP, Ramiro-Guti'errez JM, Molero-Mesa J, Pieroni A, Giusti ME, Censorii E, de Pasquale C, Della A, Paraskeva-Hadijchambi D, Hadjichambis A, Houmani M, El-Demerdash M, El-Zayat M, Hmamouchi M, ElJohrig S: Medicinal plants in the Mediterranean area: synthesis of the results of the project Rubia. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008, 116: 341-357. 10.1016/j.jep.2007.11.045.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research work was supported by a research grant from the International Foundation for Sciences (Project No. AF/19300).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sameh F AbouZid.

Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

SA carried out the fieldwork, analysis of the data and drafting the manuscript. AM authenticated the plant samples. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Authors’ original submitted files for images

Below are the links to the authors’ original submitted files for images.

Authors’ original file for figure 1

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

AbouZid, S.F., Mohamed, A.A. Survey on medicinal plants and spices used in Beni-Sueif, Upper Egypt. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 7, 18 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: