African traditional medicine has a rich heritage and a wide range of applications rooted in indigenous plants. Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) is helping to cultivate a sustainable economy for traditional medicinal plants via indigenous nurseries and training in correct harvesting habits.
South Africa has the fourth highest number of medicinal plant species in the world. Some traditional knowledge has been lost in the face of advances in modern medicine. However, there is now a major shift back towards our country’s indigenous knowledge systems. More than 60% of South Africans use indigenous medicinal plants in their healthcare, nutritional, or cultural practices.
Challenges associated with harvesting indigenous trees for traditional medicine
Destructive harvesting methods and other unsustainable practices threaten the survival of our diverse medicinal plants. Most of these plants are endemic species whose medicinal properties rely on stimuli from their natural environment. For this reason, sustainable wild harvesting is the most important conservation measure for overused, vulnerable, and endangered plants.
Plants with a wide range of uses are more sought after. Consequently the harvesting of these endemic medicinal plants in the wild has the greatest negative effect. African Ginger, for example, is used as a cure for a host of ailments, from colds and asthma to nausea, headaches, and pain. The method used to harvest wild ginger provides an example of the benefits of education: harvesting the rhizomes instead of the root is easier and increases the chances that the plant will survive and regenerate.
Indigenous trees cultivate medicinal sustainability
Wild nurseries can provide huge benefits, as does having direct access to indigenous trees. Research has shown that in some cases, more than half the indigenous plants used for traditional medicine are woody trees and shrubs. FTFA aims to help make more medicinal plants readily available and reduce threats to rare species. Planting indigenous trees helps achieve this. Urbanisation has distanced many communities from traditional harvesting areas. Indiscriminate harvesting in communal land areas and unregulated informal trade, meanwhile, have made it very difficult to maintain the sustainability of the sector.
Reliance on traditional belief systems has an important and ongoing role to play in South Africa. The misuse of this traditional knowledge is, however, one of the major threats to indigenous medicinal trees. Links to this knowledge need to be maintained for new generations to preserve the integrity of sustainable traditional approaches.
Creating awareness around the impacts of incorrect harvesting, promoting traditional medicinal knowledge, and providing access to indigenous medicinal plants will help to harness the multitude of benefits provided by South Africa’s indigenous trees.
You too can help this worthy cause. Donate an indigenous tree today to assist FTFA in supporting the sustainable use and reuse of indigenous medicinal plants in South Africa. At the same time, you will be helping to maintain our links with our country’s immense trove of traditional knowledge.