African traditional healers carry a wealth of knowledge about the properties of healing plants from ancient African cultures. Unfortunately, many of the plants that ancient healers turned to are disappearing due to deforestation. If the world has a better understanding of the invaluable properties of these 10 plants, it may help preserve their habitats.
This is an updated version of an article originally published Dec. 12, 2013.
Arrowroot, found mostly in East Africa, is a perennial herb, meaning it lives more than two years. Arrowroot is highly nutritious and easily digestible, which is why some mothers feed it to infants, and why it’s given to elderly patients with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
The castor plant is an evergreen annual shrub found in Eastern Africa. Castor oil can be applied to sore muscles, areas afflicted by arthritis and areas suffering from nerve damage to relieve pain. It can also be used to treat chronic pain and swelling.
You may have heard a yoga instructor or masseuse refer to geranium oil — this is the same as rose-scented pelargonium oil and has long been used by South Africans for healing cold sores, soothing sore throats and fighting infection.
Gotu kola is a popular herb with alternative and holistic healers in Africa, but is actually native to the Philippines, parts of Asia and Australia. It’s said to treat afflictions of both mind and body. Several clinical studies have shown that the plant improves memory and rejuvenates skin and body tissue.
Myrrh was an integral part of many ancient Egyptian rituals and is still used today for its antifungal, antiseptic and astringent properties.
Rooibos comes from a perennial woody bush in South Africa. It’s consumed in tea, and is a popular caffeine-free alternative. The herb is high in antioxidants and low in tannin compared to most teas.
This herb comes from a perennial vine native to Southern Africa and has been shown to provide long-lasting relief to joint pain brought on by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It can also help enhance mobility.
Buchu, found in South Africa, has leaves and flowers with healing properties. The leaves are used as a diuretic, plus they’re antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Buchu is often used to treat bladder and urinary tract infections, as well as prostate infections.
Sometimes called the Egyptian thorn, the acacia is a shrub found in South Africa, Madagascar and many other parts of Africa. Its oil often shows up in aromatherapy essential oils. Acacia is also used in a lot of candies and soft drinks because of its glue-like properties. It’s an ingredient in the recipes of many organic products because it’s a natural alternative to chemical binders.
Caralluma is found all over Africa, is eaten like food and has been shown to treat symptoms of joint pain, migraines, diabetes, rheumatism, paralysis, fever, malaria and inflammation. Caralluma is used as a digestive aid but it has also gained attention for its appetite-suppressant properties. It’s popular with dieters.