Plants that pack a punch

2012-12-02 10:00
Zinhle Mapumulo
Want a cure for your sore throat?

Plagued by a stomach ache or chronic toothache?

A new book suggests that one way of tackling these everyday aches and pains – and more serious diseases, including cancer, hypertension, TB and malaria – lies not in our medicine cabinets, but in our own back yards.

South African and Norwegian scientists used Norwegian doctor Henrik Greve Blessing’s notebooks, which he filled during his time in KwaZulu-Natal between 1901 and 1904, to compile a list of the 98 plants featured in the book South African Traditional Medicinal Plants from KwaZulu-Natal.

Blessing documented how residents and traditional healers used plants to ease symptoms and treat various ailments.

City Press has chosen 10 of the plants in the recently released book to show how medical science and traditional knowledge meet in respect of some of KwaZulu-Natal’s plants.

Iboza: ginger bush
» Traditional use: To treat coughs, sore throats, stomach ache and symptoms of malaria.

» Scientific documentation: Studies have proved the plant’s effectiveness as a painkiller and found that it has moderate anti-malarial properties.
Ijigijolo: South African blackberry

» Traditional use: Roots are used for chronic diarrhoea, acidity, convulsions and diarrhoea in children.

» Scientific documentation: Compounds called anthocyanins, which are known to be effective in treating diarrhoea, are present in these plants.

Um-Kangele: Cape teak or Chaka’s wood
» Traditional use: The root bark – literally, bark taken from the root of the tree – treats stomach cramps.

» Scientific documentation: Scientists have isolated alkaloids that show muscle relaxant effects, which would explain why it eases stomach cramps.

Umzityane: Wild olive
» Traditional use: Treating bladder and urinary infections.

» Scientific documentation: Scientists are investigating particular molecules in the plant for possible anti-cancer properties. No definitive findings yet.

Igqeba-Elimhlophe: Wild camphor tree
» Traditional use: Treating headaches and relieving toothache.

» Scientific documentation : Extracts have been tested for repellent activity, and for their effect on pain and fever. These tests have had positive results.

Umdumo: African holly
» Traditional use: Bark paste used to treat rashes and sores on the face.

» Scientific documentation: Several compounds isolated from this plant are used in skin cosmetics.

It also helps relieve allergies.

Um-dungamuzi: Natal ebony
» Traditional use: Used as blood purifier and also to treat bilharzia.

» Scientific documentation: Compounds from the plant have proved to be effective in killing bacteria as well as treating bilharzia.

Umhlokotyane: Red currant
» Traditional use: Treating heart-related complaints.

» Scientific documentation: Studies have shown fluids extracted from the stem bark can help relieve pain and inflammation. Tests indicate it may lower blood sugar levels.

Umqaloti: Coffee bean strychnos
» Traditional use: Bark was used to treat nausea, intestinal worms and pain.

» Scientific documentation: Organic compounds found have been tested in mice and guinea pigs, where they stimulated the central nervous system, causing uncontrollable shaking.

This suggests it is not safe for human use.

Umuqandane: Bluebush
» Traditional use: Twigs were used as toothbrushes and to maintain oral hygiene.

» Scientific documentation : Preliminary studies have shown that menthanol extracted from the stem prevents the growth of germs in the mouth and has anti-inflammatory properties.