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South African Herbs

south african herbs

South African Herbs 

South African Herbs, history, and their medicinal uses.

South Africa is home to an extensive and diverse collection of medicinal African herbs. The Khoisan people have used some of these herbs for thousands of years and introduced them to the early settlers.

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 most parts of rural Africa, traditional healers prescribing medicinal plants are not only easily accessible and affordable but at times the only option available.

It doesn’t matter if someone is wanting healing herbs for your skin, herbs to treat erectile dysfunction or even herbs for cancer, it seems there is an African herb that can help!

Let’s have a look at some of these South African medicinal plants and their uses:

  1. African Dream Root. African dream root is traditionally used to induce vivid lucid dreams during the initiation process of shamans. A small amount 1/2 a gram of the root is pulverized with water or milk to produce a white froth. This froth is then drunk one or two hours before bed.
  2. Wild Ginger. African Wild Ginger – isiphepheto, or Natal Ginger is not only one of the most aromatic of the African herb collection, it also has great medicinal use. In addition, African ginger can be used as an anti-inflammatory. It can be effective in the treatment of dyspepsia, migraine headache, morning sickness, nausea (chemo-induced), post-operative nausea and/or vomiting, osteoarthritis, respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis, and SSRI taper/discontinuation.
  3. African Potato. African Potato Extract is rich in plant sterols, which are abundant in plants but are highly concentrated in the African Potato. Researchers have found that plant sterols greatly enhance the functioning of T-cells, which control and regulate the immune system, and possess potent anti-inflammatory properties similar to cortisone, but without the side effects. Because of these properties, African potato is used by a number of people with HIV/AIDS.
  4. Buchu. In the 1700s the Khoisan people introduced Buchu to the European settlers, who in turn, introduced the plant to Europe in the late 1700s. Buchu leaf preparations have a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine as a urinary tract disinfectant and diuretic. Buchu was used by herbalists to treat urinary tract infections and inflammation, as well as inflammation of the prostate. In Europe, it was also used to treat gout.
  5. Devils claw. Devil’s claw contains chemicals that might decrease swelling. Because of this, it is often used to treat conditions that involve both pain and inflammation. This is a plant from South Africa long valued by the native people to support the inflammatory response, help manage the pain response, and tonify digestion. The plant was taken to Europe from South Africa in the 1800’s by colonists and used specifically as a plant medicine.
  6. Mondai Whitei. The roots of Mondai white is usually crushed into powder and used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness or infection. One its main uses though is as an aphrodisiac. to increase libido and treat erectile dysfunction.
  7. Pelargonium sidoides. Pelargonium sidoides is a herb that has been used in traditional medicine in South Africa for centuries to treat infectious respiratory disease, dysentery, and diarrhea.
  8. Pepper-bark tree. Pepperbark powder is used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, cold, cough, and sore throat; fever or malaria, respiratory and odontological ailments. It is also used as a snuff to treat inflamed nasal passages and fresh leaves are also used in some African dishes.
  9. Rooiwortel. Locally known as ibhucu (Zulu), rooiwortel (Afrikaans) is widely distributed in the eastern and northern parts of South Africa. The leaf sap is widely used in the management of wounds, burns, rashes, itches, ringworm, and cracked lips. The dried powder is taken by mouth to boost testosterone, increase muscle mass, to increase sexual stamina, as an aphrodisiac.
  10. uQonsi. uQonsi is a versatile and magical herb that is popular as an aphrodisiac in traditional herbal remedies to boost libido and sex drive.
  11. Sceletium. Sceletium has a documented history of use as a medicinal herb in this region that dates back to the mid-1600s. It is today used mostly to treat anxiety and depression and as a weight loss aid.
  12. Wild Dagga. Wild dagga, also known as Lion’s tail, has an amazing array of applications and a very strong connection with South African people. The roots are used to treat stings and bites, including snake bites. External mixtures are applied to remedy boils, itches, and other skin complaints, as well as muscular cramps. Wild dagga mixtures are also consumed to help with high blood pressure, jaundice, hemorrhoids, dysentery, fever, headaches, influenza, asthma and coughs. Leaves are also smoked to help treat epilepsy and partial paralysis.
  13. Aloe Vera. Aloe vera is well known for its skin-nourishing properties. Due to its soothing, moisturizing, and cooling properties, aloe vera is often used to treat burns and is also used in the cosmetics industry. It is also used for digestion and other stomach issues such as inflammation.
  14. Tribulus terrestris. Traditionally, people used this plant for a variety of potential effects, including enhancing libido, keeping the urinary tract healthy and reducing swelling. Today, Tribulus terrestris is widely used as a general health supplement, as well as in supplements that claim to increase testosterone levels, boost sex drive as well as treat erectile dysfunction.
  15. Rooibos. Rooibos. The Khoisan introduced this herb to early Dutch settlers at the Cape who started drinking Rooibos as an alternative to the very expensive black tea from Europe. Rooibos is great for the skin and as a beverage boast anti-oxidant properties.
  16. Sutherlandia. Also known locally as cancer bush, is a medicinal plant with a long history of traditional use in South African medicine for numerous conditions including cancer.

South African herbs have a bright future that can be achieved through collaboration, partnership, and transparency in practice, especially with conventional health practitioners.

Such collaboration will increase service and health care provision too, and increase economic potential and poverty alleviation. Research into traditional medicine will also help scale up local production of scientifically evaluated traditional medicines and improve access to medications for the rural population. It will also provide stock and avoid the overexploitation of some species which are on the red list due to over-harvesting.

Next time you have sunburn try using some fresh aloe gel, or if you are suffering from low libido then try Mondai whitei or Tribulus terrestris, and if you are just looking for something new to spice up your African themed menu then what about buying Pepperbark powder?

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medicinal plants of south africa pdf


African Herbs

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 [20]. 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.


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