Humans have been using plants to support their health for thousands of years. In the Arab world, the first apothecaries, or atareen, were established in Baghdad in 754. Many cultures across the region have continued this practice, passing their understanding from generation to generation. For many, however, the art of herbalism has been lost. These days, finding people with the skills and knowledge of plant medicine is nearly impossible in many modern cities.
Herbal remedies are experiencing a renaissance, and leading the way are Mahdiah El-Jed and Shereen Al-Mulla, the founders of hikma. A herbal apothecary in the Third Line Gallery in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, hikma is becoming the heart of herbalism in the region. Alongside providing herbs and creating small-batch products, the duo also conducts 1:1 herbal consultations where they can address specific concerns and develop bespoke herbal protocols.
The pair are creating a community that celebrates the rituals around plants and botanicals based on science and tradition. Through hikma, they are also helping to raise awareness of the importance of preserving and protecting plant biodiversity, which is vital to our and our ecosystems’ health. Here, El-Jed and Al-Mulla share their journey, inspirations and how herbalism can help you.
Why did you decide to launch hikma?
Mahdiah El-Jed: We founded hikma in Dubai after bonding over our mutual passion for plants and the need to connect to our heritage through nature. Our desire to feel empowered to better care for ourselves and for our families led us to explore regional options for holistic care. As we further connected with the region and its long history of using botanicals for their healing properties, we decided to put our formal training as herbalists to good use, and thus hikma was born.
Shereen Al-Mulla: We created hikma based on our own needs and what we hoped to see in the world: A well-being solution that allows us to reconnect with ourselves, our traditions, and, ultimately the Earth.
Why is heritage important to you?
Shereen: Our brand is imbued with heritage and botanical wisdom; the remembrance of our collective stories and traditions very much inspired us to create hikma. Preserving the knowledge around plants is for us a way to reconnect to our heritage and to do so in a way that honors it.
Mahdiah: It is important for us to honor plants that are native to the region and that have been used for their therapeutic properties for thousands of years, including in traditions around Prophetic Medicine, such as Nigella Sativa (Habat Al Baraka), Thymus Vulgaris (Zaatar) or Ziziphus Spina-Christy (Sidr). By documenting and highlighting the properties of the plants we work with, we aim to not only sustain this traditional knowledge, but also help preserve the diversity of our ecosystems.
How does hikma embrace sustainability?
Mahdiah: We believe that we are interconnected with all life on Earth. Because of this belief, our approach is rooted in sustainability; our aim is to foster and support practices that are regenerative and create a symbiotic ecosystem that protects both the land and the plants.
The suppliers we work with are thoughtful custodians of the Earth: They care for the soil and use regenerative farming methods that nourish rather than deplete the land. By supporting communities and growers that follow this ethos, we are able to create products based on a reciprocal relationship with the land rather than its commodification.
Shereen: As a testament to what our resilient natural environment can produce, we favor incorporating botanicals that are local to the United Arab Emirates. By honoring and documenting the numerous properties of the plants we use, we help to preserve the diversity of our plant world and ecosystems.
What are your most popular formulas?
Shereen: One of our best-selling products is our Calm tincture, which helps with anxiety. It’s a calming formulation with plants such as passionflower, which nurtures the nervous system and helps alleviate stress. It’s great to help wind down before bed, dissolve feelings of stress, and relax a crowded mind.
Mahdiah: Another one of our most popular products is our Focus powder blend, a synergistic blend of mushrooms and botanicals. We’ve blended reishi, cordyceps, and lion’s mane mushrooms to support and enhance cognitive function. Our blend also contains plants that support the gut-brain connection and protect whole-body function.
What happens in a 1:1 herbal consultation?
Mahdiah: Our 1:1 herbal consultations are where we can provide additional guidance and support in regards to specific health concerns, or even for those who wish to optimize their well-being, improve their energy levels, their digestion, sleep, and overall quality of life. Within a session, which initially lasts about 1 hour 15 minutes, we delve deep into your health, discussing not only your most pressing health concerns but also the body systems that intertwine with these.
Shereen: A 1:1 herbal consultation offers a space and a moment for you to tell your story and be listened to compassionately and with understanding. Following an initial session, we can develop a herbal protocol and recommendations.
What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the concept of herbalism?
Mahdiah: Herbalism is the tradition of studying and using herbs for their medicinal properties. Plants have played a central role in improving our health for thousands of years and are still employed by close to 80% of people on Earth as the main healing modality.
Shereen: The advice we would give is to slow down and move away from quick fixes, when it comes to our health and well-being the first step is often to regain confidence in our body’s wisdom and innate ability to heal.