Plants Fruits And Herbs On The Continent As Alternative Sources Of Medicine
Africa is blessed with various herbs, plant extracts and fruits which can harnessed and used as alternative sources of medicine, here we explore those varieties.
Africa is richly blessed with other forms of natural resources apart from the obvious Crude oil, farm produce, diamonds, tin, iron ore amongst others. A relatively overlooked aspect of the continents resource its is rich plant variety containing an enormous flora of medicinal plants, fruits and herbs as a means of medicine to other conventional westernised methods of medicinal treatment. This is not to say the regular and currently used mode of treatment is non - effective, rather this article aims to outline other natural ways of treating certain common sicknesses and diseases with plants and herbs seen in Africa we see today on the continent and world over.
Without further ado, below are the plants and herbs that can be used for various health challenges.
ALOE FEROX (CAPE ALOE)
This branch of the aloe vera family is exclusively native to South Africa and has been largely used in the culture such that the plant is depicted in San rock paintings. This plant is considerably bitter and is used as a laxative medicine, it also has anti - inflammatory and antimicrobial properties with the ferox gel reportedly having 130 medicinal agents. Ingesting or applying the bitter sap can also aid against arthritis, sinusitis and conjunctivitis related issues, and juice from the cut leaves has been proven to treat burns, by detoxifying the damaged area and promoting new tissue formation and filling the wound.
ACACIA SENEGAL (GUM ARABIC)
Is a well known medicinal remedy by the natives that goes back centuries, gum arabica, derived from an exudate of the bark, has been wildly used for the treatment of numerous infections including bronchitis, bleeding, diarrhoea and respiratory infections to name a few. It is also a natural emulsifier, it is as well used to bind various pills, also sweets and added to soft drinks as it has the consistency of glue, but is safe for consumption. It is also used to treat ailments of the skin such as bacterial and fungal infections, burns and even said to treat leprosy.
This strongly aromatic and obviously greyish dwarf shrub is native to the North African terrain and has been used in the region for thousands of years. In the country of Tunisia, it is used to treat hypertension, diabetes, bronchitis and neuralgias, while herbal teas made from the bark are used as antibacterial agents. In Moroccan stories passed down orally, it is said to be used to prevent hypertension, while the nomadic desert Bedouin tribe have used it to cure stomach disorders. It has also been an important addition to the fodder of sheep and livestock in the Algerian plateau where it grows in abundance.
CENTELLA ASIATIC (PENNYWORT)
Used since prehistoric times in many parts of the world, including African folk medicine. It can be eaten as a vegetable or used as a spice to treat a wide range of ailments including asthma, rheumatism and skin and eye diseases, as well as having a prominent effect on cognitive functions such as memory and disorders such as epilepsy. It’s use as a treatment for leprosy has been documented as far back as 1887.
This leaf is also native to South Africa, where it is used to make its distinctive and naturally caffeine free tea that is low in tannins and a natural antioxidant. In a case, after an infusion of rooibos was given to a colicky baby, it was discovered that it had an effect on the baby’s chronic restlessness, vomiting and stomach cramps, after which it became known as a medicinal drink. Even till today, rooibos is mixed with milk or made as a weak brew to help babies’ ailments. It is also used to ease symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, by increasing the glucose uptake in muscles and insulin secretion, as well as lowering blood pressure and assisting with nervous tensions, allergies and various digestive problems.
A well known plant, noted for its anti - cancer alkaloids and amazingly also for the fact that it cannot be synthesised in a lab, inhibiting its large - scale production and making the leaves of this plant the only source. Traditionally it is used by healers as a bitter tonic and emetic for rheumatism, skin disorders and venereal diseases, it also has a significant effect on glucose and blood sugar levels.
Another indigenous South African leaf, it is a traditional health drink; its shoots and leaves are fermented and dried to make tea. It provides numerous benefits to the stomach and urinary tract without affecting the heart. Unlike most teas it is naturally caffeine - free, it has in recent times gone from wild to commercial produce in the last 100 years due to its uses as an expectorant for catarrh and pulmonary tuberculosis. The modern tea is prepared as an infusion and sometimes combined with rooibos as well as dried fruits and leaves to create a distinct honeybush tea.
Primarily native to the red sand areas of the transvaal: comprising South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, this plant has in time spread to the Kalahari regions due to its adaptation to dry desert areas. It has been In use for centuries by the San and Koi people, devil’s claw can be used to alleviate allergies, for diabetes, blood diseases, as a topical ointment, it can be used on boils, also used for heartburn, gastrointestinal disorders, skin injuries and ulcers, back pain and headache. It is primarily used for joint related problems.
Moringa tree is also known as the ‘miracle tree’ and there is a good reason why. The leaves, fruit, sap, oil, roots, bark, seeds, pod and flowers of the tree have medicinal properties. The products from the tree have many uses. It is also known as the ‘drumstick tree’. It is found mostly in Asia, Africa, and South America. Moringa is rich in various nutrients and minerals from vitamins A, C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 and Folate. They are also rich in magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. One cup of moringa leaves will contain 2 grams of protein, magnesium (8 per cent of the RDA), Vitamin B6 (19 per cent of the RDA), Iron (11 per cent of the RDA), Riboflavin (11 per cent of the RDA) and Vitamin A (9 per cent of the RDA). The benefits are numerous ranging from lowering blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, protects the liver, protects against arsenic toxicity, proves bone health, boost immunity and also used as an antiseptic amongst other benefits.
SOUR SOP FRIUT AND LEAVES
Soursop is a tropical fruit found in Africa as well as other parts of the world which has a thick prickly flesh with sweet soar taste (hence the name sour sop). Most Nigerians pronounce it as “shawa chop”, it is eaten in its raw form by most people. It's leave when dried and grinder into powder form is ingested as tea. This fruit has many health benefits such as used for various eye problems as it is rich in antioxidants, used for infections caused by bacteria and parasites, the acetogenins contained in sour sop boosts kidney and liver health, reduces stress, treats ulcer improves hair and skin health as well as improves the immune system.
NB These are not an excuse to let go of conventional methods of medicine, as natural forms of medicine such as these takes longer to achieve desired results, it can and should be used when other forms of medicine seems unproductive as well as used as a method of detoxifying the body system from conventional medicine.
Africa as well as other parts of the world are blessed with these plants, Fruits and herbs for our sustainance and health only if we apply and make them a part of our lives, after all our fore fathers used these herbs for there health challenges before the advent of modern day medicine.