Leaflets 13: 364-69. 2009.
Medicinal Plants in East and Central Africa: Challenges and Constraints
Hatil Hashim EL-Kamali
Science and Technology, Department of Botany,
Omdurman Islamic University, P.O. Box # 382, Omdurman, Sudan
Issued 15 February
In East and Central
Africa, medicnal and aromatic plants
play an important role in the health of millions of people. Demand for
medicinal plants is increasing as the population grows. Over-use of the
medicinal and aromaticplants cause further
economic, social and ecological deterioration. The traditional knowledge,
uses and economic contribution of medicinal and aromatic plants to the rural
economy in the region were studied. The direct and indirect effects of the
human activities on this region are discussed. This paper also discusses
challenges and constraints in relation to conservation. Strategies for
enhancing the development of a medicnal and
aromatic plants industry are suggestive.
The use of traditional
medicines remains widespread in developing countries while the use of
complementary alternative medicine (CAM) is increasing rapidly in developed countries. Only
a few African phytomedicines are available in the
international market, however, African medicinal plants play a� key role in basic
healthcare , particularly in rural areas due to their accessibility and
� East and central Africa is a region on the
African continent that includes the countries of Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Chad,
Central African Republic, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi , Congo and Rwanda,
��� The revival of interest in the use and
importance of African medicinal plants by the WHO and many developing
countries has led to intensified efforts on the documentation of ethnomedical data of medicinal plants, since most
traditional healers keep no records and their information is passed on ,
mainly verbally , from generation to generation. Research has been geared
towards finding scientific evidence for the claims as to the therapeutic
efficacy of African herbs by traditional healers. Most of the published and
unpublished written ethnomedicine data with
valuable and complementary information are scattered in many documents, some
of which are not easily available. An interdisciplinary systematization,
which certainly help to predict the most promising
candidates for further laboratory or clinical investigations, appears as
�� In continuation of our work to bring up to
date East and Central African ethnomedicine data,
the present paper reports medicinal plants together with some traditional
beliefs about them.
� I have collected and organized selected
information from the literature and from our own ethnobotanical
work. Major local Sudanese, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Rwandan medicinal plants were
then listed with its vernacular name, scientific name, family and uses where
available. Ten plant species that have the greatest number of different
medicinal uses in the region with detailed information were recorded.
Results and Discussion:
�� In the following enumeration, plants are
arranged alphabetically, followed by the local name, family name and uses or
chemical constituents, where available.
Major local Sudanese
Acacia nilotica (L.) Del.ssp. nilotica
(Garad) , Mimosaceae. Fruit for cough, pustular
diseases, catarrh, fever and measles.
Adansonia digitata L. (Gongoleis), Bombacaceae. To
stop diarrhea, as febrifuge.
Ambrosia maritime L. (Damsisa), Asteraceae. To
treat backache , stomach pains, malaria and for
Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Del. (Lalob), Balanitaceae.
As a laxative, anthelmintic, jaundice.
Cassia acutifolia Del., (Senna), Caesalpiniaceae.
Fruit for fever, as a laxative, carminative, as antihelmintic.
Croton zambesicus Muell. Arg. (Um Gleigla),
Citrus colocynthis (L.) Schrad.
For pustules in the skin.
A. Juss. (Haza), Rutaceae. Antispasmodic, decongestant, carminative.
Hibiscus sabdariffa L. (Karkadeh),
Malvaceae. As a mild laxative, cough,
inermis L. (Henna), Lythraceae.
To treat boils and wounds.
Nauclea latifolia Sm. (Karmadoda), Rubiaceae. As
antipyretic in malarial fevers.
Hayne. (Hargel), Asclepiadaceae. Antispasmodic, digestive, to relieve
menstrual pain and as appetizer in puerperium.
Tamarindus indica L. (Aradaeb), Caesalpiniaceae. To
relieve fever, in cases of nausea, as laxative , to
relieve malarial fever.
Major local Kenyan and
Tanzanian Medicinal Plants:
molmol . In Kenya
for the resin , an oral antiseptic.
schimperi. Fruit for worms ,
stem bark for cramps.
abyssinica. Root for arthritis, roasted seed
senegalensis. Root for toothache, venereal
floribunda. Bark for dysentery, fever, snake
Kigelia africana. Parturition, splenitis.
Jateorrhiza palmate. Bronchitis, hypertension,
ciliate. As analgesic as
Morinda citrifolia. Dysentery, hypertension.
Picralima nitida. Fever, hypertension, jaundice, malaria.
Quassia africana. Bronchitis, dysmenorrhea, fever, pneumonia.
liberica. Conjunctivitis, convulsions,
Corydine (Sedative), stephanine.
Tinospora caffra. Fever, tonic.
Trichilia emetica. Bark antidermatitis,
Major local Rwandan
pilosa. Furuncle, hepatitis, otitis, wounds.
scabra. Agalactia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis.
Senecio maranguensis. Cough, otitis, wounds.
mauritiana. Malaria, pneumonia, tonsillitis.
Vernonia amygdalina. Ascariasis, hepatitis, malaria.
Cassia didymobicola. Ascariasis, neuropsychopathy.
Chenopodium ugandae. Eczema, hepatitis, snake bite.
Leonotis nepetaefolia. Hepatitis, pneumonia, wounds.
Entada abyssinica. Ascariasis, fever.
Phytolacca dodecandra. Emetic, otitis, pneumonia.
African Medicinal Plants
in World Trade:
Cassia acutifolia. Senna. The
laxative synergic Sennosides.
sp. Rheumatic ailments.
Jateorhiza palmata . Root.
Phystostigma venenosum. Antiglaucomic, physostigmine.
Pygeum africanum . Prostate remedy.
Rauvolfia vomitoria. Reserpine, yohimbine.
Tamarindus indica. Hydroxycitric
Plants species that have
the greatest number of different medicinal uses in the region
1.Prunus africana (Hook.f.) Kalkm (syn. Pygeum
commonly known as red stinkwood or bitter almond has traditionally been used
for centuries by African traditional healers to treat genitourinary
disorders. In the 1960s Pygeum came
to the attention of French scientists who began to investigate its benefits
in the treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
(BPH). The commercial lipophilic extract of Pygeum is the favourite phytomedicine used to treat prostate cancer, prostatitis and especially BPH in Europe (Van Wyk et al., 1997). P. africana growspreferentially
at a level of 1,000 � 2,500 m in the mountain forests of region in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Eastern
2.Commiphora myrrha :
The genus Commiphora (Burseraceae)
comprise over 150 species, most of which are confined to Eastern
Africa, with few species also occurring in Arabia
and India. Myrrh,
a culturally and commercially important resin product, is derived from Commiphora myrrha
(Nees) Engl., a tree found
in abundance in the dry and arid regions of Ethiopia
and to some extent in northern Kenya
(Vollesen, 1989). The resin is masticated as
antiseptic. A paint is prepared for skin diseases
and pustular complaints. Resins obtained from
various other species of Commiphora are used
as substitute of C. myrrha (myrrh),
and the practice is widespread. This complicates the characterization of
myrrh, because most previous chemical studies reported on the resin were
based on commercial material, and not on a product obtained from properly
is a large and widespread genus with a diversity of ethnobotanical
uses. Monoterpenoids, sesquiterpenoids,
diterpenoids and phenolics
have been reported in species of Plectranthus.
A survey of the ethnobotanical information by
geographical area shows that 45 species are used in African continent (Kokwaro, 1993). In Africa, the
most frequently used species are Plectranthus
barbatus and P. laxiflorus.
barbatus is used to treat a wide range of
diseases ( 13 categories). P. barbatus
is used to treat a wide variety of digestive problems ( stomachache
and as a purgative, for nausea and for gastritis and intestinal spasms.
� In Kenya
and the Democratic Republic of Congo, P. barbatus
is used in the treatment of wounds and ringworms, to reduce swelling on
bruises. P. barbatus is used to treatment a
range of infections including throat and mouth infections, tonsillitis,
gastro-intestinal infections and to break fevers in East Africa.
��� Labdane diterpenoids found in P. barbatus, include forskolin. The fact that foskolin
directly activates adenyl cyclase
and thus the modulation of cAMP could underlie the
diversity of different traditional uses of forskolin-containing
species of Plectranthus , such as P. barbatus.
For example, activation of adenyl cyclase can stimulate gastric secretions and the presence
of forskolin in Plectranthus
barbatus could explain why extracts from the
plant are used for the treatment of digestive disorders (Mukherjee
et al, 2000). Forskolin is a known cardiotonic agent and it is also effective in the
treatment of hypertension (Ghisalberti, 1977);
Valdes et al., 1987). Thus, forskolin could
explain why extracts of P. barbatus are reported to
lower blood pressure of anaesthetized rat due to relaxation of vascular
smooth muscle (Dubey et al., 1981).
laxiflorus is used� in Ethiopia
to treat teeth and gum disorders, as a purgative.�
���� The stem bark is used in Kenya
folk medicine as a remedy for skin diseases, venereal diseases and dysentery.
an infusion from the plant in combination with other plants is used for
treatment of insanity when the patient is noisy, abusive and suicidal
���� A decoction of the root bark is used in Kenya
for sexually transmitted bacterial diseases including gonorrhea while the
juice from the berries used for treatmenting jigger
infestations as well as acne (Kokwaro, 1993).
����� Commonly known as �Tea of Gambia�, is a
plant widely used in Africa as infusion preparation.
In folk medicine in Congo,
it finds extensive use in hepatic insufficiency and fever. The
pharmacological studies showed that crude extract of this plant possess a
sedative and analgesic effect. ( Abena
et al., 2003).
��� Known as �bitter leaf� is a widely used
medicinal plant in Africa. It is applies in various
ailments (Iwu, 1993). The leaves are reputed to be
an effective remedy for fevers and gastro-intestinal disorders. The fresh
leaves are believed to be abortifacient and also
used in purgative enemas. The leaf extract of V. amygdalina
yields a sesquiterpene lactone
vernolepin which possesses antiplatelet
activity (Venton et al., 1991).
8. Taddalia asiatica (L.) Lam.
plant is used traditionally in Kenya
by many communities for the treatment of malaria and other ailments. All
parts of the plant are claimed to have medicinal value, but the roots in
particular are believed to be more potent. Decoctions or infusions of the
roots are drunk to treat malaria, fever and to cure stomachache. For
toothache the root is chewed whereas for the treatment of coughs the fruits
are chewed (Kokwaro, 1993; Beentje,
1994; Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). The ethyl
acetate extract of T. asiatica root contain a comarin derivative, as the major antimalarial
principle of this extract (Oketch-Rabah et al.,
9. Entada abyssinica Steus. Ex
a tree that is found all over tropical Africa. The plant has been used for the treatment of bronchitis,
coughs and to alleviate arthritic pains (Kokwaro,
1976). It is also in the treatment of miscarriage, fever and abdominal pain.
The juice of E. abyssinica is employed as an
instillation for eye inflammation (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk,
1962). E. abyssinica has been demonstrated
to be antibacterial, antitrypanocidal and
antifungal in various studies (Iwu, 1993).
���� The plant is traditionally used in Congo
against various diseases such as asthma, fever, cold, epilepsy, abdominal
cramps and pains, as well as in the culinary domain and in the making of
perfumes (Takaisi-Kikuni et al., 200).
Most East and Central
African countries with frequent usage of ethnomedical
treatments have many traditional healers preparaing herbal remedies or providing preparation
instructions to local populations. These healers could be used to great
advantage if they were organized and encouraged to use only efficacious and
safe herbal remedies while discouraging the use of ineffective and
potentially toxic remedies. By performing scientific evaluations of efficacy
for local ethnomedical preparations as well as
organizing and disseminating scientific information to the local traditional
healers, we could provide indigenous populations better access to efficacious
drug treatment and an improved health status for those who cannot afford the
benefits of modern medicines.
Industry and the
conservation of medicinal plants
�� Medicinal plants represent a primary
source of products for the pharmaceutical industry. Large quantities are used
in the preparation of infusions and decoction where traditional medicine is
still of great therapeutical, social and economic
importance and� in
the so-called industrial countries, where an over-growing propotion
of the population is using medicinal plants for self-medication. In
ecological terms, the continued use of wild plants may cause incalculable
damage to the environment and fauna include. The dange
is still more serious when parts of medicinal plants such as the roots, seeds
and flowers, which are essential to the survival of the plant itself are used. In terms of quality, wild plants are
often heterogenous as regards age, zone and period
of picking, drying methods and, consequently, active constituents content.
��� African medicinal plant resources may be
doomed to extinction by over-exploitation resulting from excessive commercialisation, habitat destruction and other natural
and man-made destructive influences unless energetic conservation measures
are taken to ensure their continued availability.
����� At present, in East and Central African
countries, there are no country-wide quantitative data available on the
supply of, or consumer demand for, medicinal plants and an economic benefits
derived by the use of medicinal plants and their contribution to healthcare.
Similarly, most collectors/producers and end users are unaware of the extent
to which the expanding demand in medicinal plants is threatening the survival
of increasing number of medicnal plants species.
The prices paid to collectors tend to be very low, and resources are
frequently open-access or common property. As a result, commercial plant
gatherers often �minc� the resources rather than
Urgent action needed for
African medicinal plants
��� Many wild medicinal plants are becoming
scarce in East and Central African countries. Failure to stabilize the status
of these plants would negatively effect not only the environment but also the
health of millions of people in this region.
�� The greater use of medicinal plants is for
local use rather than export to foreign markets, but demand often exceeds
supply and apperars to be increasing. The vast
majority of the plants used are taken directly from the wild. Where some
species are already critically endangered and the status of others becoming
precarious. In many cases, the status of valued medicinal species is simply
������ The conservation of medicinal plant
resources in East and Central Africa will require
management, awareness, regulation and research initiatives by a range of
institutions. Solutions to the problem of increasing pressure and scarcity of
wild medicinal plants are:
Actions for specific
species, increased collaboration with traditional healers to promote
propagation of endangered medicinal plants and sustainable harvest
techniques, and public awareness activities aimed at regulatory agencies in
the region. Demand for wild medicinal plants appears to be increasing and as
it does so it will become necessary to increase the supply. For endangered
and critically endangered species, efforts should be made to discourage use
of the medicinal species, until the status of the species improve.
���� In most African countries, there is a
cadre of highly-trained professionals whose talents and expertise in the
field of plant chemisrty, pharmacognosy,
pharmacology, natural resource management, and the industrial utilization of
medicinal plant-based products are underutilized. These professionals
acknowledge their indebtedness to traditional healers and birth attendants
and the need to work together to establish processes to manage and validate
traditional medicine. At present, both levels of knowledge capital
(traditional and scientifically-based) are underutilized. To maximise the potential of African traditional medicines
as a source ofhealthcare the safety, efficacy and
quality need to be assessed. There are numerous herbal remedies that could
hold the potential of being effective but still need investigation.
The collection of medicinal plant materials from wild
sources for use, trade for industrial use should be managed on sustainable
bases. Efforts should be made to conserve natural resources and to
domesticate selected plant species. A high level of pharmacological content
should be ensured, using modern cultivation and preparation methods. The
systematic cultivation of medicinal herbs could facilitate industrial scale
The formulation of an appropriate regional strategy
should constitute an important, initial step towards the utilization and
industrialization of medicinal and aromatic plants. For this purpose, the
governmental research organizatipons should
establish regional/national commitees comprising
experts from the sectors of industry, agriculture, health and commerce as
well as from related research institutions. These commitees
could help to promote the developmental programmes
of the subsector and to formulate policies,
strategies and put forward plans for its sustainability. These policies
should cover, at the minimum, aspects such as:
The country-wide promotion of the use of herbal
medicines as well as their incorporation in the national health-delivery
system such a programme could form part of the
promotion of the national heritage;
The formulation and/or strengthening of policies for
establishing national during regulatory and registration authorities for plant-based
The enactment of policies that will facilitate the
development of small- and medium- scale industries for the production of
essential oils from aromatic plants for local consumption and export; this
should attract a large rural sector and alleviate the living conditions of
collectors, encourage cultivators and local traders.
The incorporation of conservation as the central
theme in policies related to the sustainability and adequate development of
Ethnomedical studies can be
utilized to understand the social, cultural and economic factors influencing
ideas and actions concerning health and illness, and also to get information
on types of diseases and health problems prevalent among the people of a
particular locality. Such studies may help to provide the basic health-care
services to the greater part of the rural population in an effective way,
provided that such studies are conducted hand-in-hand with phytochemical, pharmacological and perhaps clinical
Processing of herbal medicines from local materials
for local industries with simple dosage forms being standardised
and packges at low cost using appropriate
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