An open door to the Arab world


Country briefing






Special topics


Arts and culture




The Qat page


Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind

Tennyson: The Lotos Eaters



I PASSED the hours listening to the gentle lubalub of the hookah and whispered conversations about dead poets and fine deeds. In Sana'a, qat governs. Each day at three, climbing the steps to a smoky room with a bundle under the arm; then closing the door to the outside world, choosing the leaves, gently crushing them with the teeth and waiting for the drug to take effect. No rush, just a silky transition, scarcely noticed, and then the room casts loose its moorings. "Capturing moments of eternity," someone once called the subtle tinkering with time that qat effects.

After two years I no longer knew if life was good because of Yemen or because of qat.

Kevin Rushby:
Eating the Flowers of Paradise

WE CLIMBED a small, ribbed peak. Hamud pointed down. We were on the lip of a sheer face of rock. Wadi Darr - the Fertile Valley - was nearly a thousand feet below us, a great stretch of vivid green with a steep little city of stucco towers at its head.

‘Here is grown the best qat in Yemen.’

It was an intricate patchwork of smallholdings and irrigation ditches. I had not seen anything like so much green since I had left England. To the Arabs of the desert Wadi Darr must have represented everything that their Arabia lacked. Darr means copiously flowing, productive, rich, lucrative, profitable. So it was.

‘And all that is just qat?’

‘The farmers grow some little corn. Enough for them and for their families. Otherwise it is qat.’

‘Isn’t that a terrible waste of land?’

‘What means waste? The qat is the very best in the whole of Yemen.’

Jonathan Raban:
Arabia Through the Looking Glass

CHEWERS recognise a huge variety of types and are fascinated by its origin: when one buys qat one first establishes its pedigree. Quality is judged by region, by the district within a region, even by the field where the individual tree is grown and by the position of the leaf on it. Qat can be any colour from lettuce-green to bruise-purple. It comes long or short, bound into bundles or loose, packed in plastic, alfalfa or banana leaves. In Sana’a, as a rule of thumb, the longer the branch, the more prestigious it is: less image-conscious chewers - and I am one of them - buy qatal, the pickings from the lower branches.

Just as in the West there are wine snobs, in Yemen there are qat snobs. I once found myself opposite one. Fastidiously, he broke the heads off his yard-long branches and wrapped them in a dampened towel. It was almost an act of consecration. When he had finished, he drew on his water-pipe and appraised my bag of qatal with a look that threatened to wither it. ‘Everything’, he said in an audible whisper, ‘has pubic hair. Qatal is the pubic hair of qat. Besides, dogs cock their legs over it.’

Tim Mackintosh-Smith:
Yemen - Travels in Dictionary Land

WE HAVE three problems in Yemen: qat, sheikhs and water.

A Yemeni from Sana'a

FOR THE consumption of qat in the traditional social setting, the chewers meet in a house some time after noon, usually bringing their own supply. After being welcomed and carefully seated according to their social position, the guests begin to masticate the leaves thoroughly one by one ... After the qat leaves have been chewed, the guests stay on for most of the afternoon, passing their time in animated discussions often devoted to matters of general interest, such as community affairs. From this point of view, qat can be seen as a factor furthering interaction and structuring social life. Besides these traditional forms of consumption, qat is nowadays also chewed by single individuals idling in the streets ... In these regions, qat is also consumed (sometimes along with alcoholic beverages and other drugs) at gatherings which lack the restraint and well-defined social setting described above.

Yemen Times, 7 August, 2000

I AM an American. I have recently researched the events in Somalia of October 1993. Qat is the drug that made the Somalians feel they were invincible to our US Rangers and Delta Forces. The only reason our military was there was to make sure the Somalians overcame the famine they were experiencing. Because of our military, they overcame this famine. However, this drug made the Somalians unappreciative of our efforts to help. They felt as if they could conquer the world. In reality, they only conquered this one battle. Today, their people are still starving. I'm sorry, but we tried. 

The use of qat is a disgrace to my country because the Somalian militamen were fighting while high on this drug. My country does not fight high on drugs but high on the pride of their own country. We fought a sincere battle to help the Somalian people during their time of famine. I hope that you think about the millions of Somalians that died because of the use of that drug during battle at Mogadishu. My heart breaks when I think of the thousands of Somalian women and children that died. 

Please, discontinue the use of this drug. It's not worth it. Ask Aidid's son. He'll tell you. He was there. He was an American marine. Maybe he never experienced this drug. But, I guarantee you, his father and his warlords did, and he now vows to continue the work of his father. What do you think? Is qat your drug of choice? Please tell me. Because if you are, I have absolutely no respect for you. Reflect on your decisions.

Stephen Perkins, 27 January, 2002



The Yemen Times interviews some chewers about the after-effects of qat. (1 March 1999)

Readers are invited to send us more quotations, opinions and qat-induced reveries. From time to time we receive many enquiries about how to cultivate qat outside Yemen. Anyone who has information about this please contact us.



Eating the Flowers of Paradise
Kevin Rushby
(Available from amazon.com or amazon.co.uk)



Yemen - Travels in Dictionary Land
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
(Available from amazon.com or amazon.co.uk)


In the Yemen section


Qat links

Qat consumption in Yemen
Effects on the national economy (Yemen Times)

Qat ban fails in US
A series of failed prosecutions has cast America's anti-qat laws into confusion.

Qat in Yemen
The "Rational Peasant" versus Sustainable Livelihoods,
by Lenard Milich and Mohammed Al-Sabbry

Where the qat is out of the bag
The Guardian, 28 May 2001

Weaning Yemen off qat?
Middle East International

"This evil plant"
Yemen Times poll

Time to combat qat?
Yemen Times poll

Photograph of a qat bundle

Basic facts (1)

Basic facts (2)

The use of qat (Catha edulis) in Yemen
Social and Medical Observations, by Wijdan Luqman and T. S. Danowski

production, distribution and chewing, in Yemen and Africa.

A medical perspective on the Yemen
by Dr Iain Murray-Lyon  (British-Yemeni Society Journal)

Tackling Yemen's Qat Epidemic
By Abdulsattar Hatitah, Asharq Alawsat, 11 August 2009.

Yemen replaces qat with olive trees
By Mahmoud Assamie. Yemen Times, 17 August 2009

Monitoring qat with earth observation data and geographic information system techniques  
A study in the region of Jabal Sabir, Ta'izz, Yemen. By K Leung, SOAS, London, 1999. (PDF file)

Qat farmers: a drain on the nation's water
by Mutahar Zeid Mutahar (Yemen Times, 18.1.99)

Pharmacological aspects of chewing qat
Part 1; Part 2 (Yemen Times, 7.8.00 and 28.8.00)

Qat and your teeth
by a dentist

Qat in Yemen
Annual report of the Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues

Qat in America
Yemenis spend $3 million on qat in the U.S. - by Shaker Al-Ashwal

Scientist says qat chewing raises blood pressure
(The Addis Tribune, Ethiopia, 1.1.99)

Qat chewing spreading rapidly in Yemen
Gulf News, 16 June 2002


View statistics


Last revised on 07 August, 2015