The community of Saint Catherine is settled largely by Bedouins, an ancient group of nomadic Arabs who have roamed the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East since well before the Common Era. Their survival over millennia has quite literally depended on their ability to live in relationship with the Earth in spite of the severity of the region’s terrain. Bedouin ethnobotany evolved as a natural result of their pastoral lifestyle: Living in close proximity to the natural world mandated an intimate understanding of it. Knowledge of plants and their medicinal uses have been passed on from elders to youth in largely informal contexts over many generations, primarily through applied practice and word of mouth.
As in traditional Bedouin ethnobotany, Ahmed’s own medical practice heavily centers the relationship between human bodies and the Earth. He lives in harmony with nature, waking with the sun and resting when it sets. The garden he grows at his farm is entirely organic, uncorrupted by the pesticides present in most commercialized agriculture and protected from the pollutants endemic to urban life. He tends to his plants at regular intervals using water that collects in his well. Because of the abundance of plants he has to work with, a wide variety of species feature prominently in Ahmed’s practice—some of which include sage, moringa, ginger, cinnamon, ginseng, rosemary, Judean wormwood, lemongrass, hyssop, chicory, jaada, dandelion, and parsley. He prepares these plants as tea blends, creams, soaps, oils, and pills, which he then sells in a small two-room pharmacy that sits adjacent to his property. These treatments address a diverse variety of medical conditions: infertility, diabetes, hair loss, impotence, arthritis, AIDS, asthma, acne, kidney problems, emotional and hormonal irregularity, poor circulation, and obesity. In addition to his curative medicines, he manufactures herbal birth control and vends supplements for immune support, both as preventative measures.