Description of the traditional taboo associated with the harvesting of medicinal plants by local people
In the past, the taboo described related to menstruation and the touching, collection and preparation of home remedies based on the use of medicinal plants in the Franco rural community may have been important for local adaptative values, helping to preserve women’s fertility. According to research participants’ perceptions, hygiene and body care conditions when the local women were menstruating were very different from current conditions, there were no sanitary pads and/or many personal hygiene products in the past.
Initially, at individual level, this taboo is structured as a trait and/or maladaptive cultural information in the local culture. Traits with these characteristics are behaviors that apparently do not contribute positively to the biological and/or cultural fitness of a population. In the Franco rural community, women are attributed the role of “caregivers” or “caretakers”. It is a social construction, and in many ways, it can show patriarchal biases . Therefore, when someone in the family is sick in this community, the woman is the first to act and seek an available cure strategy, generally based on the use of medicinal plants .
Family health is strongly dependent on the role played by women. The structuring of this taboo around menstruating women decreases their ability to care for others and their own health, establishing a maladaptive behavior. This constitutes a risk scenario if we consider the past environment of the community and the configuration of the local medical system some decades ago, in which local people, most of the time, used medicinal plants to treat their illnesses. Allopathic medicine was inexistent and inaccessible due to low economic resources in this region.
In addition, this taboo is strongly linked to the association of two pieces of information that do not have any causal relationship and/or dependence, as is often the case with cultural traits linked to superstitions . Thus, the circumstance of superstition is associated with the learning of observation of coincidence (associative learning) . The phenomenon that menstruating women touch, collect and prepare home remedies from the use of medicinal plants does not imply that these plants lose their effectiveness and/or die. Plants do not discriminate between who is and who is not menstruating .
When asked about the origin of the taboo, the research participants (both men and women) reported that they do not precisely know its origin, only that it comes from older people, from past generations, although it is associated with religious customs and local perceptions regarding menstruation. According to their local perception, when a woman is menstruating her body is completely open, a situation that can allow bad energy to enter. In these contexts, the contact with plants can transfers these energies from the woman's body to the plant.
Based on these ideas, our hypothesis is that this taboo has a strong relationship with the origin of superstitions in general. In past times, in stressful environments and totally different from today's biocultural landscapes, it may be that some menstruating woman has witnessed the death of plants after an interaction, touching and collecting these medicinal resources, or that she has prepared a home remedy based on the use of medicinal plants during menstrual periods, and it has not been effective on the therapeutic target.
Subsequently, she, her husband or someone in the family circle has made the association between menstruating and the observed consequence (e.g., the plants die and/or the medicine was not effective). Our suggestions described are supported by the idea presented by Abbott & Sherratt (2011, ) associated with superstitions, that “if an outcome occurs after performing an action, then this might suggest to the agent that the action increases the probability that the outcome occurs” [45, p. 85-6].
In fact, the understanding of taboos in human societies is complex, as they may have ecological, social, religious origins and show variation according to the function of each taboo [11, 13]. In Franco rural community, the herein described practice of prohibition has a strong relationship with religious and social customs, perceptions of menstruation, and patriarchal biases. The last issue needs to be further investigated in future research on bioculturality and menstruating taboos.
In view of this scenario, our purpose here is not to scientifically validate or seek scientific bases for this taboo but to treat it as an informal institution that can determine the human behavior related to the touching, harvesting, and preparing of home remedies from medicinal plants.
This taboo is considered a maladaptive behavior at the individual level, but this situation is reversed when considering its benefits at group level. It has serious implications for maintaining local bioculturality, sustainability of local medical systems, and women's health. In the next subtopic, we discuss these implications and the role of the menstruating taboo described as an adaptive behavior at group level.
Implications of the taboo related to menstruation and harvesting of medicinal plants
The taboo described for the Franco rural community has serious local implications. Remarking it, according to the perception of research participants, as a cause of touching, harvesting, and preparation of home remedies by women in the menstrual period, plants tend to die and/or lose their bioactive properties. Additionally, it makes the manure where the species are growing unusable.
Despite being widely disseminated among research participants and recognized by both men and women, two female participants reported having violated this taboo in emergency situations. This represents 9.52% of the overall total of women interviewed. In this aspect, when the people deviate from a taboo, or when they consider such a deviation, they indirectly weaken the taboo. The strength of a taboo is a discrete function of the percentage of individuals who violate it . Thus, this taboo has great strength and acceptance among research participants in the Franco rural community. Breaking this taboo can have social costs and its users prefer not to incur them.
The attitude of not violating the local taboo is of great importance among users. This situation favors trust between local people, strengthens the feeling of group. People tend to follow behaviors that are followed by their peers and/or similar.
Menstrual taboos are present in many cultures around the world. For exampling it, in South Africa and Swaziland, menstruating women are prohibited from collecting medicinal plants. They believed that this would avoid reducing the plant medicine's healing power ; this traditional prohibition is similar to the taboo described in the Franco rural community. However, this taboo on the African continent regulates the traditional use of medicinal species locally, reducing the anthropogenic pressure on these plant species [see 49].
In the Franco rural community, this taboo does not necessarily lessen the anthropogenic pressure on medicinal plant species, because men and women who are not menstruating can collect plants when menstruating women are prohibited from doing this activity. Despite this, it can decrease the pressure on vegetal species, when women use another cure option available, such as allopathic medicine, animal products, prayers and blessings, among several others.
The reported taboo, although apparently presenting only negative consequences in violation events (such as social isolation, physical aggression and disagreements, and others), also assumes positive characteristics and/or traits. The contribution in increasing the interaction between humans and the plant resources of this community is clear, expressed in biocultural attitudes and/or behaviors by both men and women living in this area. Although in this community the role of the female gender stood out in the collection and preparation of home remedies based on the use of medicinal plants [29, 31, 32], the men play an important role when women and/or adolescents are in menstruating period.
In the Franco rural community, it has been reported that in this period of menstruation, men can collect plants in the forests, homegardens and prepare home remedies. This scenario contributes to the maintenance of bioculturality associated with the use of medicinal plants locally. Women who are not menstruating, when in situations of need and/or urgency, can also collect and prepare home remedies for women who are following the practice of prohibition.
Young adults belonging to the male gender of this community know several harvesting techniques, medicinal plant species, and methods of preparing various home remedies, as well as the therapeutic targets and other cosmovisions involved (see Fig. 7 again). During the collection, these young people usually never go alone to the forests, mostly carrying out this activity accompanied by local children and/or adolescents, helping them to also learn the practices associated with this biocultural information.
From these scenarios described above, the structuring and establishing of the taboo promotes processes of knowledge transmission, contributing to the conservation of biological and cultural diversity . In this context, from a group level perspective, it is structured as an adaptive behavior, increasing survival and cooperation among its users. As pointed out by Boyd & Richerson (2009, ), cooperation was a key element in human evolution, with culture also playing a significant role. Social cooperation is motivated by several factors, such as the possibility of suffering social costs and losing several benefits at group level, such as mutual help when someone is sick .
The behavior of helping others creates conditions for reciprocal help in the future, especially in events of illness. This assumption establishes complex relations of reciprocity in humans [see 51]. People who help others get a good reputation and are more likely to be helped by other individuals in the social group in the future .
Many times, women who are menstruating when sick are faced with complex scenarios that require quick decision making, which include: (1) lack of availability of a non-menstruating female who can prepare a home remedy based on the use of medicinal plants; (2) lack of availability of a male person who can collaborate with the harvesting and execution of medicinal preparations based on the use of plants; (3) the opportunity to violate (uncommon and risky) a practice widespread in the community, collecting the plant(s) and preparing the medicine despite menstruating and; (4) choose another alternative for the treatment and/or cure of the disease.
In the latter case, they would choose an alternative cure/treatment of diseases that did not involve the harvesting and preparation of medicines from medicinal plants. Locally, several hybrid knowledge systems coexist, governed by complementary and/or alternative configurations . Among these options, there would be the use of allopathic medicinal remedies, prayers (local specialists in healing), use of products and/or parts of wild and domesticated animals, human products, and minerals, among others. As reported by Ladio and Albuquerque (2014 ) these systems can coexist in the same space, not necessarily representing processes of homogenization and/or the mixing of these knowledge systems. The structuring of hybridization can follow adaptive patterns , which is very important for the sustainability of local medical systems.
In addition, according to the research participants' perceptions, this taboo is configured as a means of protecting the health of individuals and/or medicinal plants in homegardens and forests. The attitude of administering medicine from a plant prepared by a woman during menstruation, having the belief that, due to this situation the plant would lose its bioactive properties, would be like being faced with a complex situation that involves the urgency for the cure of a human illness, added to the circumstances of wasted time and energy employed in this phenomenon.
Thus, studies involving the perception of health/diseases and taboos as events that modulate human behavior associated with the harvesting and use of medicinal plants are structured as important ways of understanding the dynamics and sustainability of local medical systems. According to Fabrega (1997 ), the behavior associated with caring for oneself and for one’s peers is of great importance in human evolution, taking into account that disease affects the reproduction and survival of human populations. In addition, it can also affect social relationships in human groups , as was evident in the taboo described if violated.