Friday, September 4, 1998
LebEnv # 56
VIAGRA CRAZE THREATENS LEBANON'S NATURAL HERITAGE
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
(Some of the information used here was obtained from an Associated Press article.)
The Associated Press recently reported that a wild Lebanese plant of the parsley family, Shirsh Zallouh (Ferula Hormonis), has long been known to be a stimulant similar to the recently introduced Viagra. Shirsh Zallouh, Arabic for ``hairy root,'' grows above 6,000 feet. It can be picked from August to October, after its roots mature and before the snowy season begins.
It is now being called the "Lebanese Viagra." Suddenly, the mountains of eastern Lebanon, including Mount Hermon, are swarming with amateurs looking for the plant. Scientists are worried that this may lead to the plant's extinction. Moreover, Pierre Malychef, an ecologist and former professor of pharmacology at two Lebanese universities, found six harmful plants that were mistaken for the herb. One of them contained the poison that killed the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Malychef said, ``I am afraid an ecological disaster will ensue if the uncontrolled harvesting continues.'' Some doctors are skeptical of the plant's medicinal value. The plant is demand from Arab countries where Viagra has been banned and from other countries such as Australia and Japan, and its price has risen.
Whatever its benefits, the tragedy is that Lebanon's environment, already under assault by more traditional threats like pollution, bulldozers, fires and tree cutting, now faces a new threat caused by short-sighted people's desires for sexual gratification or quick profits. The areas being threatened are far from the built-up areas and are relatively untouched (by Lebanese standards).
The government needs to put an immediate halt to the gathering of Shirsh Zallouh, similar to the ban on bird hunting. This plant needs to be studied for its medicinal benefits. If it is proven to have positive effects, ways should be found to cultivate it. This way, it can prove to be a sustainable resource for the Lebanese economy while natural areas are left alone.
Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at http://members.aol.com/fdadlion/