There are lots of misconceptions about Africa, especially in relation to how African herbs are used in treating the sick. However, Africa is one of the oldest continents that practice medicine next to Asia. Have you ever wondered how African traditional healers healed the sick before the introduction of Western medicine?
In many parts of Africa, the prescription of African herbs by traditional healers has become the go-to source for healing due to its availability (high doctor-to-patient ratio), the resistance of some diseases to orthodox medicine and affordability, making it a fundamental component of the African healthcare system. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 80% of Africans use herbal medicine, thereby implying that the reliance on alternative healthcare in Africa is immense. Geographical records have shown that Africa has an enormous biodiversity and estimated to contain between 40 and 45,000 plant species with potentials contained within its 216 million hectares of forest. This portrays the fact that the African continent is just scratching the surface and has a whole lot of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries ahead, which will be of great benefit to the global healthcare system.
Plants primarily contain mixtures of different natural-occurring chemicals that work together catalytically and synergistically, to produce a combined effect that surpasses the total activity of the individual constituents. For example, a single plant may contain bitter substances that stimulate digestion, possess anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce swelling and pain, encompass antibacterial and antifungal tannins that act as natural antibiotics, rich alkaloids that enhance mood and give a sense of well-being, amongst other numerous health benefits. These healing peculiarities and combination of health benefits are dependent on the ailment and herb consumed.
The most question people ask when it comes to African herbs is if they are safe for consumption. The answer to this depends. Yes, some herbs are safe for consumption and there are some which are harmful to take especially during pregnancy. Below is a list of some African herbs and their practical applications in combating present-day diseases.
1. Acacai Senegal (Gum Arabic)
Gum Arabic is a plant-based medicine that originated in Senegal. It is a medicine used in west Africa, northern Nigeria, and northern Africa. This medicinal-based plant has been used for centuries and certain parts of the plant can be used to treat typhoid fever, gonorrhoea, bleeding, and even upper respiratory tract infection. The gum Arabic is used in the production of essential oil, binding pills as well as sweets added to drinks. The gum Arabic is safe to consume.
2. Aloe Forex (Bitter Aloe)
Aloe forex is one of the most common aloe species in South Africa. It is a medicine used in both Africa and Europe. This species of aloe acts as a laxative which has 130 medical agents with bitter tonic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-cancer properties. It is popularly applied to the skin, eyes, and mucous membrane. This African plant-based herb is believed to be able to treat modern illnesses like cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegeneration, and diabetes. It is safe to say the Aloe forex is safe to use.
3. Artemisia herba-alba (Worm wood)
The Wormwood is a greyish strongly aromatic perennial dwarf shrub native to Northern Africa. Wormwood is a traditional medicine use to treat diabetes, bronchitis, diarrhoea,
hypertension, and neuralgias. The herbal tea made from this traditional medicine is analgesic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and hemostatic agents in folk medicines. The African herb herba- alba is a safe herb.
4. Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos)
Aspalathus linearis popularly known as Rooibos originated from South Africa. The traditional medicine is cultivated to produce a well-known caffeine-free herbal tea that is low in tannin status and has potential health-promoting properties. The Rooibos has an antioxidant property that has contributed greatly to its popularity.
The African herb is used in Africa in many ways which include beverages. Traditional medicine is safe and healthy for babies to consume and daily intake of the alkaline extracts of the red rooibos tea could suppress HIV infection.
5. Centella asiatica (Centella)
The plant-based herb has been in use since prehistoric times. The use of Centella as medicine has been documented as far back as 1887. This herb is used in treating many modern ailments which includes; ulcer, tuberculosis, leprosy, hypertension, epilepsy, asthma, and mental illness. The Centella can be taken as a spice with edible vegetables.
6. Catharanthus roseus (Madagascan Periwinkle)
This traditional herb originated from Madagascar hence the name. It is a well-known medicinal plant that can be found in the roots of the African continents. This herb contains anticancer alkaloids whose complexity renders them impossible to mass-produce in a laboratory.
It is commonly used by traditional healers as a bitter tonic and to treat a skin disorder. This plant has a high effect on glucose and blood sugar level.
7. Cyclopia genistoides (Honeybush)
Honeybush is an African-based herb common in South Africa. It is a leaf/ flower which is fermented and dried to prepare a healthy tea that has no harmful substance such as caffeine. The plant base herb can be used to treat the urinary system and to aid weak digestion. Honeybush increases appetite alleviates heartburn and also nausea. Honeybush is a safe herb.
8. Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw)
The devil’s claw is a native herb known to South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. It has been used medically for centuries in treating childbirth difficulties, malaria, blood diseases, indigestion, skin cancer, skin ulcer, amongst others. The devil’s claw is one of the most commercialized traditional medicine from Africa.
9. Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon)
Bitter lemon is a vegetable grown throughout Africa. The juice extracted from bitter lemon is a remedy for diabetes.
10. Pelargonium sidoides ( Umckaloabo)
This African herb is a herbal remedy for the treatment of acute respiratory infections. The herb originated in South Africa. This herb can be used in alleviating cold symptoms in adults and acute bronchitis in adults and children.
In conclusion, herbal medicines are in wide use around the world today and Africa has been geographically positioned to be a pacesetter of groundbreaking healthcare discoveries. Hence there is the need for government agencies, researchers and other stakeholders to work together to change the rhetoric and beam Africa to the world as a beacon of alternative healthcare haven.
Written by: Esohe Braimah
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.