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Research Article

Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria

M. Idu, B.C. Ndukwu and O.O. Osemwegie
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Ethno-floristic studies of Ethiope Council area of Delta State, Nigeria was carried out with a view to take inventory of the flora and establish the varying ways plants are used by the aborigines. A total of 145 plant species distributed into 51 angiosperm families were recorded in the area. The studies indicate that the indigenous people have developed various ways and methods for the utilization of their plant resources. Efforts were made to track and document the customary knowledge and use of these plants. The information is intended to contribute to the current global efforts at safeguarding the loss of indigenous values and knowledge of biological resources.

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  How to cite this article:

M. Idu, B.C. Ndukwu and O.O. Osemwegie , 2007. Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria. Journal of Plant Sciences, 2: 1-13.

DOI: 10.3923/jps.2007.1.13



The subject of ethno-botany and the related science of ethno-floristic have continued to elicit increasing interest (WHO, 1976; Jain, 1989; Gill, 1992). As mankind continues to seek ways to harness the resources of his environment to solve the numerous challenges to his well being, issues of ethno-botany will be assuming greater relevance (Victor and Habertla, 1991).

Studies involving ethno-botanical uses of plants in several parts of the world have been documented (Kerharo and Adams, 1974; Gill and Akinmumi, 1986; Idu and Olorunfemi, 2000; Ndukwu and Obute, 2002; Ilondu and Okoegwale, 2002; Mirutse et al., 2003; Harsha et al., 2003). There has also been a concomitant upsurge of interest, mostly arising from the global anxiety over the loss of indigenous and customary knowledge and use of plants (Cunningham, 1994; Gill, 1992).

The present studies constitute part of the efforts at providing information about the plants and utilization by the local people in Ethiope Council area of Delta State, Nigeria.

Geo-climate and Location of Study Area
Ethiope, named after River Ethiope is a lowland area close to Sapele Delta State, Nigeria. It lies within geographical co-ordinates of 6.00°-7.00°E and 4.50°-5.50°N (Fig. 1).

The climate is typical of that found in any tropical area. It is humid for most parts of the year. In the areas where the river runs through, the effect of land and sea breeze is strongly felt. Rainfall here is usually quite heavy, leaving areas with poorly drained soils. The climate here is therefore very favorable for the growth of a diverse number of plant species. The vegetation is predominantly semi-evergreen forest and derived savanna.

Materials and Methods

The study was carried out in Ethiope East Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria between June and October 2004. Field studies covered key communities, including Abraka, Eku, Orevokpe, Isokolo, Oviore, Okpara and Kokori.

Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
Fig. 1: Map of Deltan State showing the study area

The field work involved collection and identification of plants used by the indigenous people for various economic purposes such as food, medicine, building material, fuel, ornamentals and recreations.

Other ethnographic data were also collected during the field visits. Identification of plant specimens was made in the field using Floras and aids including FWTA by Hutchinson and Dalziel (1954, 1968) and Gill (1988). Voucher Specimens of all living plants collected were deposited at the University of Benin Herbarium.

For the ethno-botanical assessment, a guided questionnaire with the following information (Box I) was administered and latter analyzed.

Box 1: Form with Guides to the Ethno-botanical Assessment of Ethiope East Council Area

Family name:
Generic name:
Common (English name):
Local name(s) (Specify dialect):
Locality (Detailed description):
Description of plant:
Uses (e.g. food, condiment, medicinal etc be specific):
Plant parts used:
Method of preparation (provide details about amount of plant part required, whether fresh or dried, ratio of plant to men strum, etc):
Route of administration and dosage:
Are incantations involved? Yes or No
Other plants or ingredients included in the preparation
Names-species, genus, family name; local name and part used
Botanist who identified the plant:

Results and Discussion

The study recorded a total of 145 species distributed into 51 angiosperm families. A number of the plants were observed to have multiple ethno-botanical uses by the indigenous people of the study area.

However, most of the species were first and foremost food plants, but due to the multifarious needs of mankind the people have had to develop through trial and error various other uses for these species. In particular, a number of the plants recorded are used by the local herbal practitioners in the treatment and management of varying ailments among the population. It was also observed that due to general knowledge of plants in the area, self-medication is very rampant among the people. It is important to note that this phenomenon further demonstrated the invaluable role of customary knowledge as passed down from one generation to another Cunningham (1994).

The varying uses of these plants by the indigenous peoples as identified and recorded in the study are further presented and discussed below.

Plants used in Ceremonies and Rituals
Like most rural communities, ceremonies are a very important part of the lives of the indigenes of Ethiope. Ceremonies are of various types and different plants are used as appropriate:

Birth (Naming Ceremony)
Here, an animal is usually slaughtered depending on the financial resources of the parents and members of the extended family of the child. Some of the plants utilized during this ceremony include Aframomum meleguata, Cola nitida, Cola acuminata and wine from Raphia vinifera. There are also several natural food substances, which are symbolic to this ceremony such as honey and salt, which represent good things to the future of the child.

Marriage ceremony (According to Native law and Custom)
Here, the groom is required to bring a dowry to the family of the bride and this dowry comes in form of various food substances with only a little amount of money presented. Some of the food substances include Dioscorea species, Musa paradisiaca, Musa sapientum, oil from Elaeis guineensis, wine from Raphia vinifera, Cola acuminata, Cola nitida, Cocos nucifera, etc. Certain animal products can also be presented.

Plants used for Building
Basically in the more rural areas where there are lower levels of development, buildings, which are not made of cement, are primarily made of clay, wood and bamboo as well as leaves from palms. The various types of buildings found include:

Houses built of cement in which wood is used for the primary structure of the roof
Houses built of clay with a skeletal structure of Bambusa bambusa (Bamboo).
Houses not used for settlement but for other purposes like recreation creation centers e.g. bars can be made of a skeletal structure of bamboo with palm fronds as coverings for the walls and roof. Some types of wood used for building are Milicia excelsa and Triplochiton scleroxylon,

Fencing is usually done with cement walls or bricks, but for cases where security is not maximally required or where finances are not available ornamental plants are used for fencing. These plants include Ice plant, Ixora coccinea, Annona muricata, Acalypha tricolor, Agave Americana. In cases where medium security is required, Bambusa bambusa is used. Thus fencing plants can be divided into living and non-living material, with ornamental plants forming the living plant materials because they are planted for palm frond and bamboo, forming the non-living materials, because they are cut off the living trees and used for the fencing.

Food Plants
Edible Seeds
These are normally in use after the seeds have been grinded, although sometimes they can be used whole. Some seeds which are used grinded include those of Irvingia gabonensis and Curcumis melo. Cyprus tuberous is chewed raw, but it is not normally swallowed because it can induce a coughing fit. However, the seeds of several other species are boiled or roasted or processed in several forms before they are consumed. These include Oryza sativa, Phaseolus vulgaris, Zea mays (which can be blended into a thick pasty cereal called akamu (pap), which is commonly fed to infants). The grinded seeds are usually used to prepare soup while the seeds, which are cooked whole, are converted to meals on their own. The seeds of Elais guineensis are however of great importance because they are not only used to prepare soup, they are a source of palm oil which is economically important both within and outside the region.

Edible Leaves
Almost all the edible leaves are used to make soup. Leaves used for making soup include Telfariia occidentalis, Talinum triangulare, Amaranthus hybridus, Celosia argentea, Allium ampelprasum, Vernonia amygdalina etc. An advantage of use, is that most of the leaves have medicinal properties, they are good sources of vitamins and help to build the immune system. Some leaves, not used for making soup can be used in other forms for cooking or making salads.

Edible Fruits
Most of the edible fruits found here are those found commonly within and outside the state. They include members of the Rutaceae family such as Citrus saniensis and Citrus reticulate. Also observed are Musa sapientum, Psidium guajava, Mangifera indica, Ananas comosus, Solanum melongena. The majority of these fruits are consumed raw, but there are some others that are cooked before consumption e.g., Lycopersicum esculentum (tomato). Some fruits may also be blended before being used to cook e.g., Capsicum annuum. The most common fruits found here grow in the wild; They include Anarcadium occidentalis, Psidium guajava, Cocos nucifera, Citrus sinensis and a few others. The trees in which these fruits are found have other parts like their roots and leaves, which have high medicinal values, like the leaves of Carica papaya, which help to reduce blood pressure.

Edible Roots and Tubers
A number of species of different genera have edible tubers. These tubers are the storage site of carbohydrate thus they have very high energy yield and thus they form the staple food of the region e.g., Manihot esculenta (cassava) is a very important plant in the region, it is one of the most important food plants because the tuber can be processed into various edible forms for consumption, these forms are widely eaten local delicacies, some of their local names are eba, amala, starch, etc. Also, Dioescoria sp. Yam can be pounded into a pulp called pounded yam. In producing food from Cassava, care must be taken to ensure that the cyanide content has been totally removed. These plants are commonly consumed in this region because they thrive very well on the soil and the physical environment.

Edible Stems
The soft stem of several species can be chewed for their sweet taste. In most instances, only the juice is swallowed and the remains are discarded. An example is Saccaharum officinarum (Sugar cane).

Plants Used as Spices
These plants are commonly used all over the region and their uses are generally homogenous. The use of these plants is not restricted to only one particular part of the plant; various parts of these plants are used as spices. For example, the fruit of Capsicum annum is the spice, the seeds of Monodora myristica are the spice and while the leaves of Ocimum gratissimum is the spice.

Plants Used for Beverages
Extracting the juices of fruits like Citrus sinensis, Ananas comosus, makes a large number of these beverages. These constitute the non-alcoholic beverages. The alcoholic beverages are usually those obtained from other parts of the trees of other plants e.g., Wine and gin obtained from Raphia vinifera.

Medicinal Plants
According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 1976) The Traditional Healer is a person who is recognized by the community in which he lives as competent to provide health care by using vegetable, animal and mineral substances and certain other methods based on the social, cultural and religious background as well as on the knowledge, attributes and beliefs that are prevalent in the community regarding physical, mental and social well being and causation of diseases and disability (Gill, 1992). Furthermore, WHO (1977) defines medicinal plant as any plant which in one or more of its organs contain substances that can be used for the therapeutic purposes or which are precursors for the synthesis of useful drugs. Based on this definition, it is possible to distinguish between medicinal plants whose constituents and medicinal properties have been well established scientifically and plants that are regarded as medicinal but which have not yet been subjected to thorough investigation (Gill, 1992).

Also in many developing countries like Nigeria, in order to promote traditional healing systems, the traditional healers from time immemorial included rituals, magic, incantations and sacrifices etc., in their methods of treatment, now these rituals have become a part and parcel of the traditional healing system (Gill, 1992).

In Ethiope, this is usually the case, although a lot of the cures involve simply mixing one or two plants together to produce the desired effect.

A fact that is interesting to note is that of all the plants identified, about half have medicinal properties and some of them combine these with other properties, examples are Telfariia occidentalis, which while serving as an edible vegetable also acts as a blood tonic and treats convulsion, Gossypium hirsutum which is a fiber plant can be used as an eye drop and to cure ulcers and sores, Citrus sinensis which is a fruit also treats dysentery as well as others.

The common diseases found in this region include digestive system disorders, fevers and skin infections. This is confirmed by the large number of species used in the treatment of these ailments. Some species are used in the treatment of more than one disease and these are very important to herbal practitioners (Table 1).

Aches and Pains
This class includes backache, painful joints, rheumatic pain, headache and general body ache. In referring to the backache, included are pains emanating from the spinal cord, pains from kidney and even pains form other diseases, which greatly affect the back.

Table 1: Number of plant species used for different categories of ailments
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria

Most of the treatment for pain involves mostly the leaves and they are mostly applied externally on the affected areas. Also used for the pain are certain liniments, which are oils extracted from the kernels of certain plants like Elaeis guineensis.

Circulatory System Disorders
These are the problems common among the people, however the treatment is not as common as the occurrence. Some plants are taken as blood purifiers e.g., Azadirachta indica. The circulatory system disorders that occur here basically affect the liver and are more common among the men because of the large quantity of alcohol they consume over the years. They are also fond of consuming alcohol along with their native medical treatment; this alcohol is a form of gin locally called Ogogoro (Gin).

Digestive System Disorders
Here, most of the plants used are used to treat dysentery and diarrhea. Purgatives and laxatives are commonly used because a lot of the plants with these properties grow in the wild and are readily available and the knowledge of their use is passed down from generation to generation e.g., Vernonia amygdalina.

Eye Diseases
Eye infections are not very common among the indigenes of this area. Most common is the use of medicinal plants to clear the eyes. The extreme cases of eye problems like myopia and hypermetropia are referred to orthodox medical practitioners.

The most common fevers here are malaria and typhoid. Malaria fever is common because there are few preventive measures taken against it. Typhoid fever exists is prevalent because of the unhygienic drinking water which is available and also due to the general lack of cleanliness and unhygienic cooking and living habits of the people. However, there is a lower level of awareness on the treatment of this ailment because most fevers are first classified as malaria fever and it is only after the sufferer does not respond to treatment that alternative measures are taken. Most of the people suffering from typhoid fever most often resort to orthodox medicine.

Respiratory System Disorders
Some of these diseases include colds, coughs, sore throat and tuberculosis as well as asthma. There are various species used to treat these sorts of diseases, they include Aloe barteri, Cymbopogon citratus.

Table 2: Plants with several medicinal uses.
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
* These species are reported to have other medicinal uses, which could not be documented

Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are quite common in this region but there are equally a number of treatments available to people suffering from them. A good number of them are sexually transmitted and the most prevalent one is gonorrhea. Some species used to treat it are Acalypha hispida, Bambusa vulgaris and Solanum nigrum.

Wounds, Sores and Cuts
The treatment for wounds and cuts are quite varied depending on the type of wound, sore or cuts. For example, some plants are used to treat maggot-infested wounds, others are used to treats sores that arise from boils. Musa paradisiaca is commonly used for these treatments. Furthermore, Manihot esculenta was reported to be part of the ingredients used in preparation of charm that prevent knife or machete (cutlass) but was not verified because it involved incantations and could not be scientifically explained or investigated. Snakebites can also be treated with Oldendia corymbosa.

Skin Infections
These are fairly common probably because of poor hygienic conditions in this region. Those, which are most common, are those caused by fungi. However, there are a wide variety of treatments for them involving the use of plants like Mammea africana, Pterocarpus osun, Mitracarpus scaber. As stated earlier, several plants have been reported to be of value in the treatment of more than one ailment and are shown in Table 2.

Table 3: Floristic composition and species with ethnobotanical value
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
Image for - Ethnofloristic Studies of Ethiope Council Area of Delta State, Nigeria
B: Building, F: Food, F and C: Food and Ceremony, M: Medicine, R: M: Raw material

Diversity of Floristic Composition
The ethno-floristic composition of the study area indicates relatively diverse flora with about 51 families and 145 species. Table 2 shows the number of families as well as the species recorded and possess ethno-botanical value.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The study strongly supports the need to strike a fine balance between science and nature in order to integrate global and local perspective on the use of plants, biodiversity information and economic development with cultural and linguistic diversity as earlier pointed out by Martin et al. (2002). The study further revealed the value of local knowledge of plants in folk practices as is being currently recognized all over the world.

Ethno-botanical studies can become effective tool in the efforts at capturing community people and their interplay with the surrounding biological, cultural and linguistic diversity. The study also revealed that the indigenous people are inextricably dependent on their flora. Therefore, the use of plant and plant products is a huge business both within and between the various communities. There is a strong indication that attempts at developing the plant resources of the area will certainly contribute to not only the average income of the people but would significantly enhance the overall well being.

Moreover, the conservation of these plant resources in view of the current uninformed and reckless harvesting for the various traditional uses could be better handled with accurate documentation. It is against this backdrop that the present studies have become very relevant.


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