Solanum incanum growing in the greenhouse of the Deutsches Institut für tropische und subtropische Landwirtschaft, Witzenhausen, Germany is courtesy James Steakley.
Alternative Medicine

Healing Plants Of Northern Ethiopia

A new study by Getnet Chekole, of the University of Gondar in Ethiopia, finds that the people of Northern Ethiopia are currently using at least 135 medicinal plants to treat medical conditions that range from serious to minor and from chronic to acute. Those plants, says Chekole, span 120 genera in 64 botanical families and play a vital role in the health of Ethiopia’s people.

The research turned up some interesting tidbits. Many of the 84 volunteers, for example, were working as healers, despite not being authorized to do so. And the vast majority–around 90%–reported only verbal, and informal, education on the use of medicinal plants. This knowledge was passed on in secret, they said, because the plants’ healing powers would be diminished if the information became commonly known.

On the other hand, the 5 Muslim healers who were interviewed reported a formal education in traditional herbal remedies and said that any healer not trained in the use of healing botanicals was unqualified to practice effectively.

Most of the study volunteers were men and more than 83% were farmers. Most were middle-aged or older.

Ethiopia’s Healing Plants

Ethiopians use their traditional healing plants to treat everything from stomachache to malaria. Some of the most important botanicals are:

  • Withania somnifera, which is commonly known as ashwaganda or Indian ginseng
  • Tragia brevipes, which is also called noseburns
  • Cucumis ficifolius,  which is muskmelon
  • Zingiber officinale, or ordinary ginger
  • Ziziphus spina-christi, which Christianity made into Christ’s crown of thorns
  • Salvia merjamie, which is most notable for its rat-like scent
  • Salvia nilotica, which is little-known outside Northern Africa
  • Plantago lanceolata, which is also known as ribleaf or English plantain
  • Ruellia patula, which is erroneously known as wild petunia

The most common uses for medicinal herbs involve dermal conditions like eczema and wound care; various digestive problems come in a close second.

The author of this study believes that the research will underline the need for more formal study of ethnobotanical remedies in rural Ethiopia.

Ziziphus spina-christi is one of northern Ethiopia's most impotant traditional medicines.
Photo of Ziziphus spina-christi flower and tree photographed in the Arava area in Israel, which in Christian tradition was the source of Christ’s crown of thorns, was taken by Dov Grobgeld.

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