Ethnobotanical Study of Plants Used for the Treatment of Diarrhoea in the Eastern Cape, South Africa
An ethnobotanical study of plants used for the treatment
of diarrhoea in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa was carried out,
using a questionnaire which was administered to herbalists, traditional
healers and rural dwellers. Information collected revealed the names of
plants used for the treatment of diarrhoea, the parts used and the methods
of preparation. This survey indicated a total of 17 plant species from
14 families used in the Province. Elephantorrhiza elephantina,
Hermannia incana, Pelargonium reniforme, Alepidea amatymbica
and Bulbine latifolia were the most frequently mentioned and
highly recommended plants for the treatment of diarrhoea by both the traditional
healers and rural dwellers. Roots, bark and leaves are the common parts
of plants used, while decoctions and infusions are the main methods of
Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in
developing countries. It is most commonly caused by gastrointestinal infections
and kills around 4.6 million people, including 2.5 million children, every
year (Thapar and Sanderson, 2004). Diarrhoea is the passage of watery
stools, usually at least three times in a 24 h period. The main cause
of death from diarrhoea is dehydration, which results from the loss of
electrolytes in diarrhoeal stools. Cholera and dysentery are severe, sometimes
life threatening forms of diarrhoea (Thapar and Sanderson, 2004). The
use of clean potable water is an important preventive measure against
the disease. In South Africa, with its mix of developed and developing
regions, 9.7 million people do not have access to adequate water supply
and 16 million lack proper sanitation services (Kahinda et al.,
2007). It is estimated that about 1.5 million cases of diarrhoea in children
under the age of 5 are reported annually (DWAF, 2001) and about 43,000
South Africans die every year from diarrhoeal disease while the annual
public and private direct health care cost incurred due to diarrhoea alone
is $ 4.3 million (Pegram et al., 1998).
Medicinal plants have proven to be an abundant source of biologically
active compounds. About 80% of people in developing countries use traditional
medicines for their health care (Kim, 2005), including the treatment of
diarrhoea. Continuous usage of traditional medicine by a large proportion
of the population in developing countries is largely due to the high cost
of Western medications and healthcare. It is therefore important to identify
and evaluate the safety and efficacy of available natural medications
as alternatives to currently used anti-diarrhoeal drugs. Plant extracts
are known to have antispasmodic effects, delay gastrointestinal transit,
suppress gut motility, stimulate water adsorption or reduce electrolyte
secretion (Palombo, 2006). All these activities may explain the benefits
of using certain plants in the treatment of diarrhoeal disease. The use
of herbal drugs in the treatment of various infections is a common practice
in South Africa. An estimated three million people in South Africa are
currently using indigenous, traditional plant medicine for primary health
care purposes (Van Wyk and Gericke, 2000), hence a range of medicinal
plants with antimicrobial properties has been widely used by the traditional
healers in the Eastern Cape. The people of this province have a long history
of traditional medicine usage for the treatment of various infections,
diseases and ailments (Van Wyk et al., 1997). The present study
reports the local and scientific names of the plants used for the treatment
of diarrhoea in this province as well as the parts of the plants used
and the various methods of preparation and administration.
Similar ethnobotanical studies have been reported in another part of
South Africa (Lin et al., 2002; Mathabe et al., 2006) and
some other part of the world (Mukherjee et al., 1998; Rahman et
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Information for this study was collected in June 2007 through scientifically
guided questionnaires, interviews and general conversations from the herbalists
and rural dwellers in the Eastern Cape Province. The study area falls
within the latitudes 30 °00`-34 °15`S and longitudes 22 °45`-
30 °15`E. It is bounded by the sea in the East and the drier Karroo
(semi-desert vegetation) in the West. The elevation ranges from sea-level
to approximately 2200 m in the North and the vegetation is veld type 7,
known as the Eastern Cape thorn veld (Masika and Afolayan, 2003). This
area consists of many villages which are generally classified as rural
During this survey some of the plants implicated in the treatment of
diarrhoea were obtained directly from the healers and herbalists, while
others were collected during walk through the forest accompanied by traditional
healers and rural dwellers. The plants were initially identified by their
vernacular names through consultations with the local people. The information
collected included local names, the parts of the plant used, methods of
preparation and the experience of healers. Voucher specimens were prepared
and deposited in the herbarium of the Department of Botany, University
of Fort Hare.
Additional information on the identification of the plants and their
uses in other communities was collected and new findings established by
consulting Roberts (1990), Van Wyk et al. (1997) and Van Wyk and
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
This study revealed 17 plant species belonging to 14 families that were
frequently used for the treatment of diarrhoea by the people of the Eastern
Cape Province, South Africa (Table 1). Members of the
family Fabaceae were the most commonly used plants, followed by Anacardiaceae
(two species) while the remaining families all had one species each for
the treatment of diarrhoea. Different parts of plants were used by the
local traditional healers. Among the different parts, roots were most
frequently used, followed by the bark, leaves and bulbs. The observed
methods of preparation involved the use of only a single plant part but
more than one method of preparation. Decoctions and infusions were the
main methods of preparation. The data also showed that majority of the
remedies were taken orally. The dosage depended on the age of the patient
and was administered orally until the patient was healed.
|| Medicinal plants used for the treatment of diarrhoea
in the Eastern Cape Province , South Africa
Of these plants, five were frequently mentioned and highly recommended
by both the traditional healers and rural dwellers. These are Elephantorrhiza
elephantina, Hermannia incana, Pelargonium reniforme, Alepidea amatymbica
and Bulbine latifolia. Most of these plants were also used
for coughs, colds, fever and wound treatment. Elephantorrhiza elephantina
has also been reported to be used for diarrhoeal treatment in Limpopo
province, South Africa and has shown appreciable antimicrobial activity
(Mathabe et al., 2006). Bulbine latifolia is popular among
the traditional healers. The roots are used to treat diarrhoea and a number
of other ailments (Van Wyk et al., 1997). Hermannia incana
is used by the local people as an emetic and the leaf sap extracted in
cold water, is used to treat stomach-ache and diarrhoea, having purgative
and diaphoretic effects. Decoctions of the whole plant are taken to soothe
coughs. However, no other studies relating to the chemical composition
of this species have earlier been reported. Pelargonium reniforme is
indigenous to South Africa and abundant in the Eastern Cape Province.
The extracts of P. reniforme have modest antibacterial activity
(Kayser and Kolodziej, 1997). Alepidea amatymbica is described
as a popular remedy for colds, coughs and chest complaints as well as
for asthma, influenza, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, sore throats and rheumatism
(Van Wyk et al., 1997). Antidiarrhoeal and antidysenteric properties
of medicinal plants were found to be due to the presence of tannins, alkaloids,
saponins, flavonoids, steroids and terpenoids (Palombo, 2006).
The results of the present study provide enough evidence that medicinal
plants still play an important role in the primary health care system
of the people of this province. During this survey, it was observed that
most of these people questioned use medicinal plants regularly to treat
many ailments, including diarrhoea. Study is in progress on the ethnopharmacological,
phytochemical and pharmacological aspects of some of these plants.
This research was supported by the National Research Foundation (Grant
No U1D T147) of South Africa.
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