The use of some Indigenous Plants for Medicinal and other Purposes by Local Communities in Namibia with Emphasis on Oshikoto Region: A Review
Local communities in Namibia possess an in-depth knowledge of the use of medicinal plants and their environment. Medicinal plants contribute significantly to the intellectual property rights of poor local households in theses local communities. This review gives an overview of the use of indigenous knowledge held by traditional healers, the uses of indigenous plants for medicinal and other purposes, medicinal preparation methods and treated diseases in different parts of Namibia, in particular the Oshikoto region. Factors threatening the existence of the medicinal plants are discussed and the gaps in the indigenous knowledge on the uses of the medicinal plants are also presented. This review strongly recommends the importance of proper and comprehensive documentation of the traditional healing methods in Namibia, which will have a high potential for sustainable development for the medicinal plants in Namibia.
June 14, 2010; Accepted: August 05, 2010;
Published: November 08, 2010
Many attempts have been made to define Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS).
Until now, there is no universal accepted meaning of what indigenous knowledge
really is and whether it differs from traditional knowledge. IKS is defined
as local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. It is the knowledge
by which food security, animal and human health and sustainability is achieved.
In this sense, this knowledge is the local peoples capital (UNESCO,
1999; Mapaure and Hatuikulipi, 2007; Dan
et al., 2010).
Traditional medicinal practices are an important part of the primary health
care delivery system in most of the developing world (Sheldon
et al., 1997). The use of traditional medicine and medicinal plants
in most developing countries, as a normative basis for the maintenance of good
health, has been widely observed (UNESCO, 1996). Furthermore,
an increasing reliance on the use of medicinal plants in the industrialized
societies has been traced to the extraction and development of several drugs
and chemotherapeutics from these plants as well as from traditionally used rural
herbal remedies (UNESCO, 1998). Traditional African medicine
is 'the sum total of practices, measures, ingredients and procedures of all
kinds whether material or not, which from time immemorial has enabled the African
to guard against diseases, to alleviate his/her suffering and to cure him/herself'
(Busia, 2005). The traditional medical systems are generally
based on the uses of natural and local products which are commonly related to
the peoples perspective on the world and life (Toledo
et al., 2009).
Plants have been used in traditional medicine for several thousand years (Abu-Rabia,
2005). Medicinal plants are used to treat the spiritual origins of disease
as well as the physical symptoms. The vast knowledge of such plants is now beginning
to be acknowledged by the rest of the world; so is the role played by indigenous
people as custodians of the worlds genetic heritage (Idu
and Onyibe, 2007). It is also provides leads towards therapeutic concept
thereby accelerating drug discovery; this is now being called reverse pharmacology
(Chinsembu, 2009; Kaya, 2009).
The striking coincidence between indigenous medicinal plant uses and scientifically-proved phytochemical and pharmacological properties shows that the traditional remedies are an important and effective part of indigenous healthcare systems which is totally dependent on traditional healers. More detailed phytochemical and pharmacological studies of traditionally-used medicinal plants are thus an important line of research to be pursued. Medicinal plants provide huge opportunities for local communities development and livelihood improvement. However, indigenous people are often deprived of the benefits from these resources whenever they are commercialised. Proper management of high-value and high-priority medicinal plants could serve as a sustainable income source for the communities. This would in turn help generate incentives for biodiversity conservation, thus ensuring the long-term availability of medicinal plants for indigenous and commercial uses.
IKS AND THE MEDICINAL PLANTS IN NAMIBIA
Overview: Namibian vegetation as described by White
(1983) falls mainly within three phytochoria namely the Zambezian, Kalahari
Highveld and Karoo-Namib centers of endemism. Namibia's vegetation categories
have been proposed by Giess (1971); the main vegetation
types are: desert, savanna and woodland, which were subdivided in 14 smaller
vegetation units. There is a decreasing species diversity with decreasing rainfall
but endemism shows the opposite trend. This has a bearing on the availability
and range of plants for use by local communities (Mapaure
and Hatuikulipi, 2007). A total of 3159 plant species have been reported
to occur in Namibia (Cunningham, 1992; Marshall,
1998; Craven et al., 1997). A wide variety
of these plant species is used by local communities for medicinal and other
purposes. The Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL)
lists 615 plant species (19.5%) as being used for medicinal purposes in Namibia.
The traditional healing practices in Namibia have been studied by a number
of researchers (Lumpkin, 1994; Lebeau,
1998, 2003; Marshall, 1998;
Shapi et al., 2009; Chinsembu
and Hedimbi, 2010; Dan et al., 2010).
Lumpkin (1994) surveyed traditional medical practitioners
in Kavango, Caprivi, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto Regions and Katutura
in Windhoek. The survey was over 6 weeks through interviews of groups and individual
traditional healers in these places. Few diseases and their treatment using
plants are given but plant names are listed only in vernacular languages.
Marshall (1998) interviewed many traditional healers
in Windhoek. He notes that reliance on traditional medicine is high; in both
rural and urban areas emphasizing that people are more knowledgeable about identities
and applications of medicinal plants in rural areas. There are about 2400 traditional
medical practitioners in Namibia who are registered with the National Eagle
Traditional Healers Association (NETHA) but the actual number practicing could
be higher (Marshall, 1998). However, the number of local
plants used was found to be high, primarily originating from Kavango, Caprivi
and northern Namibia. The traditional medical practitioners reported that 53
plant species were in demand for medicinal trade in Windhoek (Marshall,
Lebeau (2003) dealt with traditional healing in Katutura,
Windhoek. She emphasized the practices, beliefs, witchcraft, etc. and human
behavior regarding traditional healing.
The ethnobotany and indigenous knowledge of Namibian traditional healers play
an important role in directing plant genetic resources conservation efforts
(Cunningham, 1992) and the variety of life styles and
land-use practices in Namibia, from San hunter-gatherers, pastoralists to subsistence
and commercial farmers have important roles on the medicinal plant use in Namibia.
The unfortunate situation is that the diversity of indigenous knowledge is rapidly
being lost as life styles of people change and many plant species are becoming
more difficult to obtain; such as Albizia brevifolia, Commiphora mollis,
Commiphora glaucescens, Commiphora pyracanthoides, Elephantorhiza
elephantina, Fockea angustifolia, Gardenia spatulifolia, Momordica
balsamina and Protea gaguedi. In some cases, local extinction of
species has been reported. A case in point is the local extermination of Protea
gaguedi populations in North-East of Namibia which occurred naturally along
the Okavango River in Namibia is practically extinct due to local trade in its
roots for traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac (Cunningham,
1992) and due to frequent field fires (Kolberg, 1995).
This species is, however, still available in neighboring countries. It is noted
that more detailed knowledge is held by local specialists such as traditional
healers and can be a useful guide not only to medicinal plants but also to over-exploited
species (Marshall, 1998).
The anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy and phytotherapy are being recognized
by the public health services in Namibia, hence research into and use of the
natural vegetation is justified and the valuable knowledge is enshrined in herbalists
and the danger is that it may soon be irretrievably lost with the passing away
of the herbalists (Von Koenen, 2001). A list of 598 plant
species and 2 fungi species were used as food and medicine and plants poisonous
to humans and livestock. There is a vast field of applications for the medicinal
plants and many pharmacies which used to stock only pharmaceutical medicines
now maintain large stocks of anthroposophical, homeopathic and phytotherapeutic
remedies (Von Koenen, 2001).
Topnaar communities: Topnaar communities live in the Kuiseb valley and
Sesfontein situated in the south west of Namibia. A detailed ethnobotanical
study was carried out by Eynden et al. (1992)
who described 42 plant species found in Kuiseb valley and 53 plant species in
Sesfontein. Some of the plant species are used for medicinal purposes while
others are consumed as food, food preservation, cosmetics and fodder. Another
ethnobotanical survey by Eynden and van Damme (1993)
also reported on the use of medicinal and aromatic plants. A list of plant species
was compiled including plant names, systematic classification and ethnobotanical
properties. Many plants were analyzed for active substances. The Topnaar communities
make their own traditional medicine by using mixtures of animal and plant products
but no specification on medicinal plant uses are given. The most popular plant
of food use is the !Nara (Acanthosycios horridus) (Botelle
and Kowalski, 1999).
San communities: The term San or Bushman is considered the most neutral
by anthropologists; they are the indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert in
southern Africa. The San were and are largely still are perceived by their various
neighbors to be different from all other people and are sometimes perceived
negatively as constituting an inferior or more primitive ethnic community. There
are just over 30,000 San living in Namibia, making up less than 2 percent of
the national population (Berger and Mazive, 2002; Dan
et al., 2010).
Medical plant uses by communities of San people in the north-eastern part of
the Otjozondjupa Region has been reported by Leger (1997)
who compiled a list of 110 plant species used by the !Kung for various purposes,
47 have been specifically used for medicinal purposes. The main community of
the San is the !Kung, who belong to three different tribes, the Ju\hoansi,
Punguvlei and Vasekele. The !Kung hunter-gatherers have a particularly rich
knowledge of tubers and roots with edible or medicinal value. The genera Boophane,
Urginea, Ornithogalum and Asclepidaceae may contain certain
glycosides or alkaloids, are highly toxic but are sometimes selected for medicinal
purposes (Cunningham, 1992).
Another field study was carried out by Leffers (2003)
between 1999 and 2002 in Nyae Nyae Conservancy in the eastern Tsumkwe Constituency,
which is the home to one of the oldest and most fascinating cultures on the
African continent, the Ju\hoansi. The following communities Makuri, Xamsa,
N≠anemh,!Aotta, N!on!xom, Denlui, !Aotcha, Djxohoe and Baraka were studied
using participatory approaches involving semi-structured interviews. The goal
of this study was to document the wisdom and experience of indigenous people
in order to contribute to preserving this part of the San peoples heritage
for future generations. Leffers (2003) described 238
plant species occurring in the area and highlights their traditional uses. A
wide range of different plants and plant parts are used but plant roots play
a significantly important role. The study also noted that in some cases, potentially
toxic plants are used as medicines, hence dosage is very important. Some applications
noted in the area were not compatible with western medical tradition, as locals
have a different understanding of how certain diseases are caused. This is largely
because traditional healing is a very complex issue involving rituals and spiritual
aspects, far more than simply the use of plants (Leffers,
2003; Lebeau, 2003). Several plant species are used
as insect repellents while others are worn as belts, pendants, or as protective
charms against diseases. Inhalation of smoke or vapour from a wide range of
plant species is also practiced. It is worthwhile to note that some species
used by the Ju\'hoansi are protected by law in Namibia while some are on the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Appendices, e.g., Ceropegia genus, Brachystelma gymnopodum and
some members of the genera Harpagophytum, Euphorbia, Eulophia
and Aloe (Leffers, 2003). Dan
et al. (2010) reported the uses of 17 medicinal plants by the San
community living on Farm Six, located in the Mangetti west area north of Tsumeb.
These medicinal plants are used as the sources of traditional medicine at Farm
Six are either collected from the surrounding area or foraged from deeper in
the bush. These remedies are easier to obtain during the rainy season, when
leaves and roots are easily available. The aliments or diseases treated by these
plants are tuberculosis (TB), stomach ache, malaria, coughs, colds and flu,
legs pain, runny nose, back pain, chest pain and high blood pressure (Dan
et al., 2010). One example of these medicinal plants is Ximenia;
which the seed kernels of Ximenia americana are roasted and used as a
remedy for flu in children and wounds healing. The roasted seeds are crushed
and applied directly to the wound. In the same manner; the kernels of Ximenia
caffra are used for preparing a valued ointment for healing wounds (Dan
et al., 2010).
Owambo communities: A detailed study on the medical culture of the Owambo
people of southern Angola and northern Namibia was reported by Davies
(1994). All aspects of the medical culture were considered on Owambo beliefs
and practices relating to health and health maintenance. The research work pays
particular attention to use of plants as medicines by the Owambo communities
as well as to their prophylactic and propitiatory measures. The study gives
details of the plants used-species, parts used, preparation of drugs and ailments
treated. The number of plants listed is slightly more than the 103 in the Powell-Cotton
Museum collection in Kent, United Kingdom (collected from the region) for medicinal
Lozi people (Caprivians): The Lozi people of Caprivi region especially
in the capital city of this region; Katima Mulilo have very strong beliefs in
the use and efficacy of ethnomedicines (Chinsembu and Hedimbi,
2010). An ethnobotanical survey in Caprivi region on the uses of indigenous
plants to manage HIV/AIDS opportunistic infections in Katima Mulilo was carried
out by Chinsembu and Hedimbi (2010). They interviewed
14 traditional healers (73% male, 27% female) in June and November 2009 and
April 2010. A total of 71 plants belong to 28 families were identified. The
most used families were Combretaceae (14%), Anacardiaceae (8%), Mimosaceae (8%)
and Ebanaceae (7%). The most plant parts used were leaves (33%), bark (32%)
and roots (28%). The traditional healers used these plants to treat various
conditions were: diarrhoea (29%), malaria (24%), herpes simplex 15%, tuberculosis
(14%), meningitis (11%), skin infections (11%), herpes zoster 10%, candidiasis
(7%) and others ailments (29%). For example, Aloe zebrina leaves were
used to treat herpes zoster which can be also treated with several plants, including:
Rhus natalensis, Annona senegalensis, Capparis tomentosa,
Garcinia buchananii and Syzygium guineense (Chinsembu
and Hedimbi, 2010). The inclusion of anti-HIV ethnomedicines based drugs
and other natural products in official HIV/AIDS policy is an extremely sensitive
and contentious issue, because anti-HIV ethnomedicines and other natural products
can easily become a scapegoat for denial and inertia to roll-out ART (Chinsembu,
Other communities: Nharo people live between the Amunis reserve in Namibia
and Botswana border. Steyn (1981) reported that the
Nharo collect 130 different plant species for various uses including medicines,
but no details are given on the indigenous medicinal uses for these plants.
Malan and Owen-Smith (1974) conducted field work in
Kaokoland and recorded 272 plant species and interviewed 60 informants about
plant use. They described 192 plant species of importance to the communities,
documenting their distribution in the area, growth characteristics and uses.
A study in the Khowarib Schluct area in the Kunene region conducted by McGrath
(1999) described the uses of 20 plant species, including those used for
medicinal purposes but the text uses local Damara plant names.
Hachfeld and Schippmann (2000) concentrated on the
Devils claw trade. This plant is considered as the most popularly used
medicinal plant in Namibia. Similiar studies are described by Craven
and Sullivan (2002) and Stewart and Cole (2005).
Devils claw which includes two species; Hapagophytum procumbens
and Hapagophytum zeyheri is used in the treatment of arthritic conditions.
The former species is very popular and has been commercialised, with huge exports
to other countries each year. Namibia contributes 96% of worlds production
of Devils claw with a mean of 423 tons/year in the last 15 years. Devils
claw became a regulated product because of dangers of over-harvesting (Bennett,
Mu Ashekele (2004) reported on medical and pharmaceutical
technologies in the Omusati region. The following indigenous technologies/products
were studied for information collection: Okupanga oipute nozido; treatment of
wounds and swelling; Endjadja, treatment of stomach pain; Oshinona; Treatment
of epileptic fit; Okupanga ouzio; Treatment of poisoning; Okupanga oupulile,
eemhepo veakwamhungu; Bad spirits Okuhena oluvalo; infertility Treatment. (Shapi,
2004), from a field study conducted in the Kavango region reported that
some medical and pharmaceutical technologies are used by traditional healers
in this region; which include: Ruvaro, Treatment of infertility for both men
and women; Musira, Treatment of Haemorrhoid; Kukwika, Surgery Mukongo; Treatment
of polio and Mukota; Treatment of Bleeding.
Other popular species are Hoodia gordonii and Hoodia officinalis.
These are also now under cultivation and marketed for medicinal use as an appetite
suppressant and for weight loss. On the Farm Jena located in the Hardap region;
there are 10 ha of these two species at 60000 plants per ha to have a targeted
annual production of 12 tons/year of dry material (Braun,
MEDICINAL INDIGENOUS PLANTS IN OSHIKOTO REGION, NAMIBIA: A PILOT STUDY
Overview: The database of plants occurring in Oshikoto provided by the
National Herbarium of Namibia (WIND) (2007) contains 753 species. Cross-checking
this list with the SEPASAL database (www.kew.org/sepasalweb/sepaweb)
for plants recorded as specifically used for medicinal purposes in Namibia revealed
that 36.4% of these plants have been used for this purpose. Shapi
et al. (2009) conducted a field study in the Oshikoto region to collect
information from traditional healers during the period September-October 2008
and reported on the use of 61 medicinal plants species that belong to 25 families
for the treatment of various diseases and disorders. Trees were found to be
the most used plants followed by herbs then shrubs and climbers. The average
of the informant consensus factor (FIC) value for all ailment categories
was 0.75. High FIC values were obtained for weakness and dizziness
problems, snake bite, swelling and cardiovascular disorders. Table
1 summarizes the diseases, disorders and indigenous knowledge of the traditional
healers on medicinal plant therapies in Oshikoto Region.
Geographic distribution of the medicinal plants: The majority of the
medicinal plants in the Oshikoto region are found in the surrounding areas of
the villages; however, some of the medicinal plants were from the neighboring
towns such as Eenhana and Odibo in Ohangwena region and in Grootfontein and
the Kavango region. Some of these plants are from Ondjiva in Angola. There is
no surprise of this distribution since the major part of Oshikoto region belongs
to the Cuvelai system, which is not normally preferred by some of the medicinal
plants (Shapi et al., 2009).
Changes in the medicinal plants quantity: The change in quantity of
the natural resources in the Oshikoto region has been attributed to natural
and human factors. Sixty six percent of the respondents indicated that there
has been no change in the quantity of medicinal plants in the area. This is
because of the sustainable harvesting techniques they are using. Additionally,
it was also reported that the number of the medicinal plants in their areas
were stable because the amount of rain received has not changed too much over
the years (Shapi et al., 2009). Thirty four percent
of the respondents reported that there has been a change in the quantity of
medicinal plants in their areas (Shapi et al., 2009).
The following are observations on changes in the quantity of the medicinal plants
in the Oshikoto region:
plants used by traditional healers to treat different ailments in Oshikoto
region, Namibia (Adopted from Shapi et al.,
Geographical factors: some of the medicinal plants are
only found in outside Oshikoto region like Eenhana and Namukulo, or even
in neighbouring countries like Angola
techniques: sustainable harvesting techniques are not applied by traditional
healers themselves or by other medicinal plant harvesters
some species have decreased because goats and cattle feed on them; such
factor falls within the human settlement patterns
in population growth and the high demand for the medicinal plants
Despite the increasing use of medicinal plants, their future is threatened
by complacency concerning their conservation. Reserves of medicinal plants in
developing countries are diminishing and in danger of extinction as a result
of growing trade demands for cheaper healthcare products and new plant-based
therapeutic markets in preference to more expensive target-specific drugs and
biopharmaceuticals (Idu and Onyibe, 2007).
Indigenous identification, part used and preparation methods of medicinal
plants: Shapi et al. (2009) reported that
most of the respondents indicated that the ability to demonstrate, identify
and distinguish various types of medicinal plants is a pre-condition for practicing,
consequently most of them they identify plants as they were taught. The roots
were the most used part for the treatment of diseases followed by leaves, whole
plant parts, barks, tubers, seeds, fruits, pods and stems (Table
1). The preparation method of the medicinal plant(s) depends on the type
of diseases. Some plants need to be boiled while others applied directly in
fresh form. Fifty percent of these plants were used in fresh and dry form combination,
then with 30% in fresh form and 20% for the dry form (Table 1);
however, all the respondents indicated that they prepare the medicine as they
were trained by their mentors (Shapi et al., 2009).
Leffers (2003) points out the existence of many modifications
in the preparation of drugs from the plants and treatment of diseases within
the community, as was the traditional plant use and naming, which showed a high
degree of variation from village to village, even from individual to individual.
The following parts of Ximenia plant: roots, leaves and barks of were found
to be the most frequently used parts in the treatment of many diseases and ailment.
The traditional healers prescribed their Ximenia based treatment either
on single plant use like the remedies for Scoliosis, or using combination of
different plants combined with Ximenia as it was prescribed for Culture Bound
Syndrome (CBS), impotency and gonorrhea (Cheikhyoussef et
Types of ailments and diseases treated: Forty seven traditional healers
in Oshikoto region have used 61 medicinal plants to treat 43 types of ailments
and diseases in both humans and animals (Table 1). Several
common diseases such as back pains, chicken pox, ear infection, stroke, diarrhoea,
wound healing and skin diseases were reported to be among the illnesses that
traditional healers could treat (Shapi et al., 2009).
Ximenia has been observed to be the most frequently used medicinal plant among
traditional healers. The traditional healers have used Ximenia americana
and Ximenia caffra to treat various diseases and disorders such as Lindongo:
Gonorrhea; Mukayo: CBS; Uuta: Impotency and Ondjaba: Scoliosis (Cheikhyoussef
et al., 2010a). The average of the Fidelity Level (FL) of the both
species for all ailments was 33.33% with the highest FL for X. caffra
to treat CBS of 66.66% (Cheikhyoussef et al., 2010a).
Chest ailments have been treated with decoction root of the X. caffra
by the San people in farm six in northern Namibia (Dan et
OTHER INDIGENOUS USES OF MEDICINAL PLANTS BY LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN NAMIBIA
The San communities use plants for food and water (Story,
1958). Saar (1995) conducted a survey of woody plants
used in west San or Bushman land for fruits and crafts. A socio-ecological survey
using video recording, interviews and questionnaire surveys was conducted by
Botelle and Kowalski (1999) to study the changing relationships
of the Topnaar communities and their physical environment, the causes of these
changes and conflicts experienced in managing the resources in the lower Kuiseb
valley. They noted that !Nara (Acanthosycios horridus) harvesting for
fodder and cosmetics was a key activity among the communities. Hangula
et al. (1998) recorded a number of plant species used in Owamboland
for various purposes. These plants are used for food: Fruits; Berchemia discolor,
Sclerocarya birrea, Hyphaene petersiana, Diospyros mespiliformis;
Vegetables; Cleome gynandra, Sesuvium sesuviodes and for shade;
Peltophorum africanum, Entandrophragma caudatum, Adansonia
digitata. Other important multipurpose plants recorded are Schinziophyton
rautanenii, Strychnos madagascariensis, Nymphaea capensis,
Lapeirousia littoralis and Aloe zebrina.
Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) is a particularly very important multipurpose
species as it provides fruits, shade, browse, timber, crafts (Cunningham,
2007). The indigenous uses of this plant were studied by Botelle
(2001) in Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshana regions. Du
Plessis (2004) advocated for the promotion of growing indigenous fruit plants
such as Sclerocarya birrea, Schinziophyton rautanenii, Ximenia
sp., Acanthosycios horridus, Adansonia digitata, Kigelia
africana, Berchemia discolor, Hyphaene petersiana, Strychnos
spinosa, Diospyros mespiliformis. The San or Bushman communities
use variety of poisons on their arrows to kill animals during hunting. Preparation
of arrow poison is highly complex, with many variations regarding additives
(Leffers, 2003). Some of the important plants to the
Ju\'hoansi culture belong to the genera Brachystelma, Ceropegia,
Fockea and Vigna which produce edible tubers (Leffers,
2003). Many species are eaten raw and those eaten prepared are done so in
a variety of ways, sometimes this depends on the stage of plants development.
Winter food plants include Citrulus lanatus, Schinziophyton rautanenii,
Vigna labatifolia. In general, food plants are highly subject to personal
preferences (Leffers, 2003) just like medicinal plants.
Some plants are used as construction materials, cosmetics, tools, crafts, musical
instruments, tanning and dyeing for which specific species are chosen on the
basis of their properties. Social traditions are also important and some plant
species are used for this, e.g., they use powdered Pterocarpus angolensis
to adorn and strengthen girls when they experience their first menstruation
(Leffers, 2003). The Vigorous Indigenous Vegetables for
Africa (VIVA) program (Du Plessis, 2004) aims to support
increased cultivation and marketing of indigenous vegetables by Namibian small-holder
farmers. The program started in Nyae Nyae conservation area. The indigenous
vegetables identified are Hibiscus sabdarifolia, Sesuvium sesuvioides,
Cleome gynandra and Amaranthus tricolor. Du
Plessis (2004) also recommended a medium-term goal for indigenous vegetable
use as a better and more accessible nutrition for people with HIV/AIDS. In the
Kunene region (Knott, 2007) documented the importance
of Commiphora resin to the local Himba communities. They use plant resin
for cosmetics, medicine, washing clothes, cleaning teeth, tanning, glue and
dye. The main species used are Commiphora wildii and C. virgata.
Mallet (2007) discussed the importance of the Kalahari melon;
Citrulus lanatus and how it can be cultivated for the benefit of communities.
Another underutilized indigenous plant in Namibia is Berchemia discolor
or Eembe; which is the most popular wild fruits in the northern parts
of the country (Hailwa, 2002). The indigenous people
eat it fresh or dried and stored for use in the dry season. The dried fruit
have a date like flavor. Fresh and dry fruit is fermented to make beer and wine
(Barrion et al., 2001). A qualitative phytochemical
analysis of the extracts (fruits, leaves and barks) of Berchemia discolor
was conducted (Cheikhyoussef et al., 2010b).
The analysis revealed the presence of terpenoids, total phenols, saponins and
alkaloids in the aqueous extract; flavonoid, tannins, terpenoids, total phenols
and Cardiac glycoside in the methanol extracts; Cardiac glycoside, flavonoid,
terpenoids and total phenols in the ethanol extracts (Cheikhyoussef
et al., 2010b). The leaves and fruits did not show the presence of
Anthraquinone and Phlobatanins in any of the extracts that were tested for its
presence; they are only found in barks; this could explain the indigenous use
of the barks for basket dyeing by the local communities in the northern parts
in Namibia (Cheikhyoussef et al., 2010b). Berchemia
discolor can be seen as a potential source of useful drugs since it seems
as rich source of terpenoids, total phenols, saponins, flavonoid, tannins and
Cardiac glycoside. The distribution of its phytochemicals will contribute in
elucidating the importance of this plant in ethnomedicine in Namibia (Cheikhyoussef
et al., 2010b).
GAPS IN IKS USE FOR MEDICINAL PLANTS IN NAMIBIA
Cunningham (1997) commented that the remarkable issue
is the continuity in use of few key plant species over large areas of their
range in Africa for food and medicine. Such plants include: food-Sclerocarya
birrea, Schinziophyton rautanenii, !nara (Acanthosycios horridus),
Aspalanthus linearis, Agathosma betulina - all highly significant
for hunter-gatherer communities; medicine- Prunus africana, Warburgia
salutaris, Abrus precatorius, Afzelia qaunzensis, Synaptolepis
kirkii, Myrothamnus flabellifolius.
Some of the gaps that have been identified are: Existing literature indicates (part of this literature is presented in this review) that we know substantially a lot on the use of indigenous plants for medicinal purposes for only a handful of cultures in Namibia, the majority of cultures still need to be studied.
Some work has been done in Owamboland, Damaraland, Kavango and Caprivi but such information has a focused bias on food and other uses of plants, with medicinal plant use aspects superficially dealt with. This gap must be addressed in further research work.
It has been demonstrated that the distribution of research efforts in Namibia on medicinal plant use has been skewed towards selected communities, especially the San communities, the Topnaar, parts of Owamboland and in Windhoek with other communities not being considered but may hold potential(s).
Some literature is focused on the practices of traditional healing that are dependent on rituals, magic and spiritual beliefs. Focus needs to be shifted to the more straight-forward, non-complex but still little-understood uses that are more relevant to improvement of primary health care.
In general, detailed ethnobotanical studies are lacking, not just in Namibia, but in many countries. Hence, future studies must collect more detail on the use of indigenous knowledge in the utilization of plant resources.
This review gives a good overview of the application of indigenous knowledge by local communities in the utilization of plant species for various purposes in Namibia, with emphasis on medicinal plants. There is no doubt that indigenous knowledge is very important in the development process, which is why today, more efforts are devoted towards documenting it before it disappears. Communities are utilizing a wide range of plant species for medicine, food, fodder, construction, shade, hunting and in social events. However, much still remains to be done to document the information in areas that have not been studied, or that have been little-studied. The traditional healing knowledge of the use of the medicinal plants to treat diseases has been with the traditional healers for generations but has not been recorded and this knowledge remains mostly with the traditional healers who are mostly old people. Since the use of plants has been demonstrated to sometimes be culture-specific, ethnic group-specific or location-specific, efforts to document such information in detail in specific locations in the various Namibian regions should be worthwhile because the loss of the indigenous knowledge and practices on the traditional healing could negatively affect the healthcare system of the people in Namibia. The local communities should be educated on the sustainable methods of harvesting and managing the medicinal plants. The youth should also be encouraged to learn the traditional healing knowledge to preserve it from being lost with the older generation.
The authors would like to thank the Ministry of Education through the Directorate of Research Science and Technology for the financial assistance. We would like to acknowledge the willingness of the traditional healers interviewed in this study for making it possible for us to speak to them. Equally so, we appreciate the support we received from all the Regional Councilors in the ten constituencies of Oshikoto region. The National Herbarium of Namibia is thanked for the use of information from the specimen database: SPMNDB, National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Windhoek, Namibia.
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