The sum of knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve, or treat physical and mental illnesses is known as traditional medicine. Complementary or alternative medicine is the traditional medicine adopted by other people outside their indigenous culture.
It was reported by The World Health Organization (WHO) that 80% of the emerging world’s population depends on traditional medicine for therapy. During the past eras, the developed world has also witnessed an emerging trend in the utilization of CAM, particularly herbal remedies. Herbal medicines for treatment include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations, and processed herbal products that contain parts of plants or other plant materials as active ingredients.
90% of the population in Ethiopia use herbal remedies for their primary healthcare, surveys carried out in developed countries like Germany and Canada showed that at least 70% of their populations have tried CAM at least once. It is possible that the profound knowledge of herbal remedies in traditional cultures, developed through trial and error over many centuries, along with the most important cures which were carefully passed on verbally from one generation to another.
The extensive use of traditional medicine in Africa, comprising mainly medicinal plants, has been argued to be linked to cultural and economic reasons. This is why the WHO encourages African member states to promote and combine traditional medical practices in their health care system. Plants originally contain mixtures of different phytochemicals, also known as secondary metabolites that may act individually, collectively, or in synergy to improve health.
Medicinal plants, unlike pharmacological drugs, ordinarily have several chemicals working together catalytically and synergistically to produce a combined effect that surpasses the total activity of the individual constituents. The collective actions of these substances tend to increase the activity of the core medicinal constituent by speeding up or slowing down its absorption in the body
The use of medicinal plants as a vital component of the African traditional healthcare system is perhaps the oldest and the most varied of all therapeutic systems. In many parts of rural Africa, the medicinal plants prescribed by traditional healers are the most effortlessly easy to get affordable health resources available in the local community and at times the only therapy that is available at that moment. However, there is still a lack of efficient comprehensive collection of promising medicinal plants from the African continent.
African Traditional Medicine
African traditional medicine is the oldest, and maybe the most varied, of all therapeutic systems. Africa is considered to be the crib of mankind with a rich biological and cultural diversity distinct by regional differences in healing practices.
African traditional medicine in its diverse forms is holistic involving both the body and the mind. The traditional healer usually diagnoses and treats the psychological origin of an illness before prescribing medicines, mostly medicinal plants to take care of the symptoms.
The continued interest in traditional medicine in the African healthcare system can be vindicated for two major reasons.
The first one is insufficient access to modern medicines and western forms of treatments, whereby most of the people in Africa cannot afford access to modern medical care either because it is too expensive or because there are no medical service providers. Second, there is a lack of efficient modern medical treatment for some ailments such as malaria and or HIV/AIDS, which, although worldwide in distribution, excessively affect Africa more than other areas in the world.
The most regular traditional medicine in common practice across the African continent is the utilization of medicinal plants. In many parts of Africa, medicinal plants are the most easily accessible health care resource available to the community.
Also, they are most often the preferred alternative for the patients. For most of these people, traditional healers proffer information, counseling, and treatment to patients and their families in a private manner as well as having an understanding of their patient’s situation.
Indeed, Africa is blessed with vast biodiversity resources and it is projected to contain between 40 and 45,000 species of plant with a potential for development and out of which 5,000 species are utilized medicinally.
This is not shocking since Africa is located in the tropical and subtropical climate and it is a known fact that plants accrue important secondary metabolites through an evolution as a natural means of surviving in a harsh and unfriendly environment. Because of her tropical conditions, Africa has an excessive share of strong ultraviolet rays of the tropical sunlight and lots of pathogenic microorganisms, including several species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, indicating that African plants could gather chemopreventive substances more than plants from the northern hemisphere
African Traditional Herbs
Artemisia herba-alba known as the white wormwood is a perennial shrub in the genus Artemisia that grows commonly on the dry steppes of the Mediterranean regions in Northern Africa (Saharan Maghreb), Western Asia (Arabian Peninsula), and Southwestern Europe. It is utilized as an antiseptic and antispasmodic in herbal medicine.
For the treatment of diabetes, early research shows that taking an Artemisia herba-alba water extract might reduce blood sugar levels in some people with type 2 diabetes.
For parasitic infections, early research shows that taking an Artemisia herba-alba water extract might suppress some symptoms and help in getting rid of pinworm infections in adults and children after 3 days of treatment.
Precautions & Warnings to take note when using Artemisia herba-alba:
- The use of Artemisia herba-alba during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be avoided.
- In the case of diabetes, there is evidence that Artemisia herba-alba might lower blood sugar, but too much of it should not be taken so as not to reduce the blood sugar level to the state where it will be detrimental to the health.
- Artemisia herba-alba might affect blood glucose levels. This has raised concern that it might disrupt with blood glucose control during and after surgery. The use of Artemisia herba-alba should be stopped at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
#2. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis)
Rooibosis a common South African plant. Rooibos tea, is known as the long-life tea in Africa. African women take rooibos during pregnancy to suppress heartburn and nausea; they take it because of its iron content and give it to their babies to relieve colic.
It is taken in fermented form. Rooibos is gaining recognition for its taste, vitamin, mineral, antidiabetic activity, and antioxidant content. It has antispasmodic properties, it prevents lipid peroxidation, it restores the stress-induced protein degradation, it regulates glutathione metabolism, and modulates changes in the activity of antioxidant enzymes
Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free with low tannin content. It decreases the risk of poor iron bioavailability, a process frequently found in tea drinkers due to the formation of nonheme iron-tannin.
#3. Centella asiatica
Centella asiatica is commonly known as Indian pennywort or Asiatic pennywort. It is an herbaceous, perennial plant in the flowering plant family Apiaceae. It is native to the wetlands in Asia. It is used as a culinary vegetable and as a medicinal herb. It helps in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It can enhance memory and nerve function, which gives it the potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease.