Below find useful information on African herbs and the uses thereof.
The use of medicinal plants as a fundamental component of the African traditional healthcare system is perhaps the oldest and the most assorted of all therapeutic systems. In many parts of rural Africa, traditional healers prescribing medicinal plants are the most easily accessible and affordable health resource available to the local community and at times the only therapy that subsists.
African traditional medicine (ATM) has been used by African populations for the treatment of diseases long before the advent of orthodox medicine and continues to carry a part of the burden of health for the majority of the population. South Africa, as a member state of the World Health Organization, has been set on the path of institutionalizing African traditional medicine.
Herbalism, divination, and spiritualism often combine in traditional African medicine, perhaps the oldest and most varied therapeutic system in the world. This holistic health care system has many practitioners and followers and despite its decline for a period of time, traditional African medicine has resurged across the continent in recent years.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been estimated that “about 80% of the population in developing countries depends on traditional medicine or “CAMS” (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) for their Primary Health Care (PHC) needs.
Traditional African medicine is a range of traditional medicine disciplines involving indigenous herbalism and African spirituality, typically including diviners, midwives, and herbalists. Practitioners of traditional African medicine claim to be able to cure a variety of diverse conditions including cancer, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, cholera, most venereal diseases, epilepsy, asthma, eczema, fever, anxiety, depression, benign prostatic hyperplasia, urinary tract infections, gout, and healing of wounds and burns and even Ebola.
Southern Africa is an important focal point of botanical and cultural diversity but only a few African herbs plant species have hitherto become fully commercialized as medicinal products. In recent years there has been an upsurge in research and development activity, resulting in new products and new crops.
The first systematic account of the medicinal plants of South Africa were published by Pappe, 1847, who described all the most important traditional herbal medicines known at the time. The Flora Capensis (a colonial flora) started by Harvey and Sonder (1860, 1862, 1864) included anecdotal information about the medicinal uses of several species and was probably intended as a plant use catalogue to facilitate the British imperial trade in plant products. A historically important book on medicinal plants is that of Smith (1888, revised in 1895) which provides insight into the most popular traditional medicine of the Eastern Cape region at that time. The Flora of South Africa published in six volumes by Marloth (1913–1932) also included information about commercially relevant plants. Marloth was a trained pharmacist with a special interest in medicinal plants.
An important milestone in the documentation of medicinal plants was the detailed and comprehensive work of Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), “The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa”, which is still regularly cited in scientific publications. Van Wyk et al. (1997) further conceptualized and popularized the field of medicinal plants in South Africa with the book entitled “Medicinal Plants of South Africa”, which included short scientific monographs of 132 of the most popular and widely used medicinal plants. An updated and expanded edition, now including 150 monographs, is available (Van Wyk et al., 2009). Van Wyk and Gericke (2000) presented detailed information on a large number of medicinal plants in Part 2 of the book “People’s Plants”, which includes chapters on general medicines, tonic plants, mind and mood plants, women’s health, wounds, burns and skin conditions, dental care, perfumes and repellents, and soaps and cosmetics. A comprehensive list of southern African medicinal plants (with literature references) is that of Arnold et al. (2002).
Several other books provided valuable information on a regional level, especially those on Zulu medicinal plants by Hutchings et al. (1996), useful Namibian plants by Von Koenen (2001) and Sotho medicinal plants by Moffett (2010). Especially relevant in the context of new product development is the book edited by Diederichs (2006), entitled “Commercializing medicinal plants. A South African guide”. The various chapters cover many aspects of research and development, including sustainable harvesting, conservation, trade regulations, economics, propagation, cultivation, chemistry and pharmacology, processing and packaging, marketing, business development and benefit-sharing.
Under apartheid and colonial South Africa, the practice of TM was deemed unscientific and illegal. It was considered to be uncivilized, suspect, scientifically unfounded, backward and superstitious. The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 and the Witchcraft Suppression Amendment Act of 1970 declared TM unconstitutional and prohibited practitioners of TM from doing their business. Cooperation between conventional health practitioners (CHPs) and THPs was outlawed by the Medical Association of South Africa in 1953. The prohibition of TM was somewhat based on the conviction that the concept of disease and illness in Africa was generally rooted in witchcraft.
An attempt to regulate the practice of THPs was made in 1982 through the promulgation of the Associated Health Service Professions Act of 1982, as amended . This Act set up a registration and licencing scheme for herbalists, chiropractors, homoeopaths, osteopaths and naturopaths, but prohibited their use of the title ‘Medical Practitioner’. The province of KwaZulu-Natal was the exception and had a different law on the licencing and control of THPs, which was covered by the KwaZulu Act on the Code of Zulu Law (CZL) of 1981. The CZL allowed for the practice of THPs who were licenced and allowed for them to claim a fee for services rendered.
Before the first democratic government in South Africa in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) submitted in its health plan that THPs would become an integral and recognised part of the health care system in South Africa. It claimed that patients would be granted the right to choose their preferred health care practitioner. At the same time, the ANC realised the need to regulate the practise of THPs in order to protect patients from harmful practices. The ANC health plan further stated the need to promote cooperation and liaison between THPs and allopathic health practitioners.
To date African herbs still fall under traditional medicine and are therefor not scheduled nor able to be overseen by SAHPRA.