Botanical Component in Traditional African Medicine

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For centuries Africa has been subject to unwarranted invaders, imposters and thieves which consequently led to the unethical depletion of numerous natural resources. What is most liberating about these atrocities are the documented intellectual and forward discoveries of pre-historic innovation by the African people. Inclusive of technology, art and fashion to respectfully name a few, the primary focus of the articles: Traditional Medicines in Africa; An Appraisal of Ten Potent African Medicinal Plants and Herbal Medicines in African Traditional Medicine provide profound information in regard to the development and use of indigenous plants in traditional medicinal practice.

With Africa’s rich and abundant “biodiversity resources estimated to contain between 40 and 45,000 species of plant”, Africa has historically been considered the mecca for botanical medicine. Since Africa is located within a tropical and subtropical climate in addition to its “unfair share of strong ultraviolet rays,… numerous pathogenic microbes (in addition to)… several species of bacteria, (data) suggest that African plants could (potentially) accumulate chemo-preventative substances more (so) than plants from the northern hemisphere.” 

The earliest documentation of indigenous African plant use for medicinal purposes dates back to the first Egyptian Dynasty (3400 B.C.); although, some due believe the use of traditional African medicine has a historical background that corresponds to the Stone Age. Also worth mentioning is Ludwig Pappe, an herbalist who studied medicine at the University of Leipzig and arrived in Cape Town in 1831. Pappe began documenting and later publishing a paper on the South African economic botany which included 60 indigenous plant remedies, some of which are listed herein.

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The traditional form of African medicine is a form of holistic health care encompassing divination, spiritualism and herbalism. Healers were often dressed in cultural attire including head bands, feathers and painted eyes with chalk. In order to learn traditional African medicine, one was required to be initiated into a secret society. The teachings “relied on past experiences and observations handed down from generation to generation ….verbally, (and) frequently in the form of stories, or spiritually by ancestors.” In specific sub cultures, healers went by local names such as “Sangoma” or “Inyanya” which have roots in South African heritage.

African traditional medicine also encompasses the notion that humans are made of physical, spiritual, mental and social aspects. Furthermore it is believed that in order for individuals to live healthy lives, all of the stated components need to work harmoniously. A handful of the plants that serve as “phytopharmaceutacals” include Aloe Ferox Mill, Centella Asiatica and Cyclopia Genistoides. Aloe Frox Mill is native to South Africa and was one of the few plants pictured in the San Rock Paintings. Aloe Frox Mill has remained a key export since 1761 and was widely used for its antioxidant, anti-flammatory, antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties. 

Centella Aisiatica is also a popular botanical component in traditional African medicine, the first reported use of C. Asiatica was in 1852 for the treatment of Leprosy. C. Asiatica is believed to aid in wound healing, burns, eye diseases and asthma treatment. Traditionally, C. Asiatica has been consumed as a vegetable or spice. Furthermore, Cyclopia Genistoides, an indigenous herbal tea of South Africa which was used early on as a remedy that aided in weak digestion. Colonists raved about Cyclopia Genistoides and its ability to aid in weak digestion while also alleviating heartburn and nausea, eventually it became one of few indigenous plants that transitioned from the wild into the commercial market.

The Western invasion of Africa initially resulted in the banning of traditional African medicine since it was considered witchcraft. However some odd centuries later these traditional practices are being noticed and appreciated for their long standing use as medicine within the continent of Africa. The articles, Traditional Medicines in Africa; An Appraisal of Ten Potent African Medicinal Plants and Herbal Medicines in African Tradition have broadened my understanding about the continent of Africa. 

I have been enlightened with factual knowledge about the thriving intellect of Africa’s indigenous people and how their exemplary use of resources resulted in a creation of their own traditional health care. It is humbling to conceptualize the notion that Africa has historically been the epicenter for innovation. Even more prolific is the rebirth of interest in these facets specifically in African traditional medicine and how they can potentially still foster positive health benefits in the modern world. As an academia, this paper has contributed to my growth by realizing that ancient remdies and practices of African sub cultures are not necessarily out of date.   

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