10 Medicinal Plants Only Found in Africa and the Diseases They Treat

Indeed, Africa is blessed with enormous biodiversity resources and it is estimated to contain between 40 and 45,000 species of plant with a potential for development out of which 5,000 species are used medicinally.

This is not surprising since Africa is located within the tropical and subtropical climate and it is a known fact that plants accumulate important secondary metabolites through evolution as a natural means of surviving in a hostile environment

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 80% of the emerging world’s population relies on traditional medicine for therapy. During the past decades, the developed world has also witnessed an ascending trend in the utilization of complementary medicine, particularly herbal remedies.

Medicinal Plants Only Found in Africa and the Diseases They Treat

Below is a list of 10 plants that are found only in Africa in commercially exploitable quantities.

1. Acacia senegal (L.) Willd. (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae)—Gum Arabic

Acacia senegal (L.) Willd. (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae)—Gum Arabic

Acacia senegal, also known as gum arabic, is native to semidesert and drier regions of sub-Saharan Africa, but widespread from Southern to Northern Africa. It is used as a medicinal plant in parts of Northern Nigeria, West Africa, North Africa, and other parts of the world

Gum arabic has been used for at least 4,000 years by local people for the preparation of food, in human and veterinary medicine, in crafts, and as a cosmetic. It has also been used medicinally for centuries, and various parts of the plant are used to treat infections such as bleeding, bronchitis, diarrhea, gonorrhea, leprosy, typhoid fever, and upper respiratory tract infections. African herbalists use gum acacia to bind pills and to stabilize emulsions. It is also used in aromatherapy for applying essential oils

Medicinally, gum arabic is used extensively in pharmaceutical preparations and is a food additive approved as toxicologically safe by the Codex Alimentarius. It has been used as a demulcent, skin protective agent, and pharmaceutical aids such as emulsifier and stabilizer of suspensions and additives for solid formulations. It is sometimes used to treat bacterial and fungal infections of the skin and mouth. It has been reported to soothe the mucous membranes of the intestines and to treat inflamed skin.

2. Aloe ferox Mill. (Xanthorrhoeaceae)—Bitter Aloe or Cape Aloe

Aloe ferox Mill. (Xanthorrhoeaceae)—Bitter Aloe or Cape Aloe

Aloe ferox is native to South Africa and Lesotho and is considered to be the most common Aloe species in South Africa. A. ferox has been used since time immemorial and has a well-documented history of use as an alternative medicine and is one of the few plants depicted in San rock paintings.

The bitter latex, known as Cape aloe, is used as laxative medicine and is considered to have bitter tonic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties.

The use of A. ferox as a multipurpose traditional medicine has been translated into several commercial applications and it is a highly valued plant in the pharmaceutical, natural health, food, and cosmetic industries.

A. ferox gel contains at least 130 medicinal agents with anti-inflammatory, analgesic, calming, antiseptic, germicidal, antiviral, antiparasitic, antitumor, and anticancer effects encompassing all of the traditional uses and scientific studies done on A. ferox and its constituents.

3. Artemisia herba-alba Asso (Med)—Asteraceae—Wormwood

Artemisia herba-alba Asso (Med)—Asteraceae—Wormwood

Artemisia herba-alba is commonly known as wormwood or desert wormwood. It is a greyish strongly aromatic perennial dwarf shrub native to Northern Africa.

In Moroccan folk medicine, it is used to treat arterial hypertension and diabetes and in Tunisia, it is used to treat diabetes, bronchitis, diarrhea, hypertension, and neuralgias. Herbal tea from A. herba-alba has been used as an analgesic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and hemostatic agent in folk medicines.

Oral administration of 0.39 g/kg body weight of the aqueous extract of the leaves or barks of A. herba-alba has been documented to produce a significant reduction in blood glucose level, while the aqueous extract of roots and methanolic extract of the aerial parts of the plant produce almost no reduction in blood glucose level.

4. Aspalathus linearis (Brum.f.) R. Dahlg. (Fabaceae)—Rooibos

Aspalathus linearis (Brum.f.) R. Dahlg. (Fabaceae)—Rooibos

Aspalathus linearis, an endemic South African fynbos species, is cultivated to produce the well-known herbal tea, also commonly known as rooibos. Its caffeine-free and comparatively low tannin status, combined with its potential health-promoting properties, most notably antioxidant activity, has contributed to its popularity and consumer acceptance globally.

Rooibos is used traditionally throughout Africa in numerous ways. It has been used as a refreshment drink and as a healthy tea beverage. It was only after the discovery that an infusion of rooibos, when administered to her colicky baby, cured the chronic restlessness, vomiting, and stomach cramps that rooibos became well-known as a “healthy” beverage, leading to a broader consumer base. Many babies since then have been nurtured with rooibos—either added to their milk or given as a weak brew.

5. Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. (Apiaceae)—Centella

Centella asiatica (L.) Urb. (Apiaceae)—Centella

Centella asiatica is a medicinal plant that has been used since prehistoric times.

Traditionally, C. asiatica is used mainly for wound healing, burns, ulcers, leprosy, tuberculosis, lupus, skin diseases, eye diseases, fever, inflammation, asthma, hypertension, rheumatism, syphilis, epilepsy, diarrhea, and mental illness and is also eaten as a vegetable or used as a spice.

6. Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don (Apocynaceae)—Madagascan Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don (Apocynaceae)—Madagascan Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) is a well-known medicinal plant that has its roots in the African continent. The interest in this species arises from its therapeutic role, as it is the source of the anticancer alkaloids vincristine and vinblastine.

This plant can be retraced to Madagascar where healers have been using it extensively to treat panoply of ailments. It is commonly used in traditional medicine for the treatment of rheumatism, skin disorders, and venereal diseases.

7. Cyclopia genistoides (L.) Vent. (Fabaceae)—Honeybush

Cyclopia genistoides (L.) Vent. (Fabaceae)—Honeybush

Cyclopia genistoides is an indigenous herbal tea to South Africa and is considered a health food. Traditionally, the leafy shoots and flowers were fermented and dried to prepare tea.

It has also been used since early times for its direct positive effects on the urinary system and is valued as a stomachic that aids weak digestion without affecting the heart.

Research activities during the past 20 years have been geared towards propagation, production, genetic improvement, processing, composition, and the potential for value-adding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it stimulates milk production in breast-feeding women and treats colic in babies.

Other potential applications are for the prevention of skin cancer, alleviation of menopausal symptoms, and lowering of blood glucose levels.

8. Harpagophytum procumbens (Burch.) DC. (Pedaliaceae)—Devil’s Claw

Harpagophytum procumbens (Burch.) DC. (Pedaliaceae)—Devil’s Claw

Harpagophytum procumbens is native to the red sand areas in the Transvaal of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. It has spread throughout the Kalahari and Savannah desert regions. The indigenous San and Khoi peoples of Southern Africa have used Devil’s Claw medicinally for centuries.

Traditional uses recorded include allergies, analgesia, anorexia, antiarrhythmic, antidiabetic, appetite stimulant, arteriosclerosis, bitter tonic, blood diseases, boils (topical), childbirth difficulties, fever, fibromyalgia, fibrositis, gastrointestinal disorders, headache, heartburn, indigestion, liver and gall bladder tonic, malaria, and migraines.

9. Momordica charantia Linn. (Cucurbitaceae)—Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia Linn. (Cucurbitaceae)—Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia, also known as bitter melon, is a tropical vegetable grown throughout Africa that is a very common folklore remedy for diabetes. It has severally been referred to as vegetable insulin.

10. Pelargonium sidoides DC. (Geraniaceae)—Umckaloabo

Pelargonium sidoides DC. (Geraniaceae)—Umckaloabo

Pelargonium sidoides is native to the coastal regions of South Africa thought to be effective in the treatment of acute respiratory infections.

It may be effective in relieving symptoms of acute bronchitis in adults and children and sinusitis in adults.

You can let us know about more medicinal plants only found in Africa, and more specifically, your area in the comments.

Read Also: How to Eat Healthy on a Budget.