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.
|| 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
||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
||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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
|| Number of plant species used for different categories of
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
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
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
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.
|| Plants with several medicinal uses.
|* 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
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.
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.
|| Floristic composition and species with ethnobotanical value
|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
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.