By Femi Kusa
NIGERIA is blessed by mother nature with plant medicines for all ailments, including malaria. But, somehow, we have become too distant from this caring mother. We are shown how stupid we have become in the works of several researchers, including those of Prof. L.S. Gill, an Indian who spent many years teaching at the University of Benin, and gathering knowledge about Nigeria’s medicinal plants. This part of the series will rely on some of his experiences which are well documented in the book he gave to us…Ethnomedical Uses of Plants in Nigeria
For the introduction of the book, Prof. F. I. Opute, the provost of the college of Agriculture, Science and Engineering of the University of Benin in 1992, said in the forward:
“The book Enthnomedical uses of plants in Nigeria” is an original attempt to collate information on the medicinal uses of a wide range and number of plants employed by the indigenous people of Nigeria in the practice of healing and cure of diseases and different afflictions. The author for ease of identification has painstakingly given the valid scientific nomenclature as well as the common English and the local native names as much as possible. The various parts or organs of the plants used and the possible constituents are also indicated. In rather detailed form, the author lists the different ailments and diseases that could be cured by the plants, including in some cases traditional recipes.
“In suggesting the possible use to which the plants may be put, the author cannot vouch for the efficacy and curative power and the various claims therein contained. The book, on the other hand, has assembled very important information gathered from different sources which may be of therapeutic value. By clearly identifying the plants, the job is made easier for detailed phytochemical and pharmacological studies in order to isolate and characterise the active therapeutic principles. Rather than dismiss the claims of the traditional medical practitioners, it is my belief that their knowledge should be scientifically investigated and where useful and proven, as they sometimes turn out to be, should be incorporated into the National Health Care Delivery System”.
“The book is recommended as a useful reference or resource material to a wide range of the reading public, especially students of plants science, orthodox medical practice, pharmaceutics, pharmacognosy and pharmacology, as well as traditional medical practitioners, including all those interested in the manufacture of drugs and medicine from indigenous plant resources”.
We are far away from the dreams of Prof. Opute. Many doctors and nurses still do not pay attention to herbs when it comes to the treatment of malaria. Yet hundreds of thousands of people, especially children under the age of five years and pregnant women, are dying of malaria every year and malaria fever or complications such as organ failures and cancers. Prof L. S. Gill, author of the book in reference, is an interesting and dedicated scholar, and I would like to introduce him, as he is in the book….
“Prof L.S. Gill has been associated with teaching and research for the past 26 years and has authored one text book “Taxonomy of Flowering Plants” and over 215 scientific research papers in international Journals all over the world. He was born in 1940 in the Punjab State of India. He took his B.Sc. general degree in Botany, Zoology and Chemistry in 1959 from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Later, he joined the Honours school in Botany of the same University and obtained in 1961 his B.Sc Hons. School with distinction. He had his M.Sc. Hons. School in Cytology from the same university in 1963. For three years, he was a Senior Research Fellow of the Government of India at Punjab University Chandigarh. In 1966, he joined as Research Fellow in the United States of America Peace Public Law 480 project on the “Cytology of economic plants of Western Himalayas” and carried out Cytogenetic Research on the Bicarpellatae group of plants from Western Himalayas. In 1967 he joined Punjabi University Patiala, India as Lecturer and curator of the herbarium. In 1969 he was awarded a research fellowship by the University of Waterloo, Canada and from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1971. For three years, he worked as teaching Post – Doctorial Fellow at the University of Waterloo, Canada. In 1974 he joined the University of Dares-Salaam, Tanzania and Senior Lecturer. In July 1976, he moved as Senior Lecturer to the University of Benin, Nigeria where he has been Professor of Botany since 1982″.
“Professor Gill is actively engaged in research in Biosystematics, Cytogenetics, Morphology, Ecology of weeds and applied Botany. He has supervised many post-graduate in these various aspects of Botany. Presently(1992), five students are working under his supervision for their Ph.D degrees. He has been external examiner to many universities for M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees.
“Professor Gill is an active member of many professional organisations, and also a Fellow of the Linnean Society London and Indian Academy of Wood Science. He is on editorial boards of several scientific journals. In 1986, Prof. Gill was awarded “Men of Achievement Certificate” by international Biographical Centre, Cambridge, London. In 1988, he was chosen for distinguished standing and has been conferred with an honorary appointment to the “Research Board of Advisors” by the American Biographical Institute”.
Fagara (Zanthoxylum Zanthoxyloides)
Up country Yorubas use it as (a peppery) chewing stick (Orin Ota) to prevent and treat gum and teeth problems. A few decades ago, scientists studied it as an anti-sickling agent in the treatment of sickle cell challenges when red blood cells gum together. This anti-sickling property recommend Fagara root for use against blood clot such as in heart attacks, strokes and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and to prevent these conditions as well as in the clearance of tiny blood vessels blocked by remnants of red blood cells destroyed in the attacks of P.Falciparum, the malaria parasite. Recently, I joined the club of Fagara root users for gum boils. I soaked some cuttings in 40 per cent spirit. One tort at a time was more than I could cope with because it more than doubled my sleep time day and night. Some people may better tolerate solarised Fagara root. In this case, the root is put in a clear glass bottle filled with water, kept in the sun and drunk as needed. The spirit extract may act gentler if taken as a tincture…..just a few drops at a time. Prof. Gill says of Fagara root:
“It is extensively used in folkloric medicine for general body weakness, as anthelmintic, emmenagogue, stimulant, toothache, gonorrohea and for sickle cell anemia and obesity. In Igboland, aqueous extract of the bark is used to prepare yam porridge which is then served to the patient suffering from tuberculosis. The dose is a plateful of porridge twice a day. The root extract is also prescribed as urinary antiseptic and bark has antimicrobial properties”.
“Local names: Hausa – Fasa kuwari, Fulani – fasokorini, Yoruba – ata, Bini – ughanghan, Etako – studio, Itsekiri – atako, Urhobo – ujo, Ijaw – korokuma, Igbo – akuku nkita”.
Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon Citratus )
In many parts of rural Nigeria, Lemongrass is well known as an anti-snake and anti-malarial herb. Some decades ago, a United Kingdom tea company which was a member of a multinational company commissioned the Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi(FIIRO) Lagos to assess the antimalarial value of this folkloric herb. FIIRO reported that the hot water extracts killed P.Falciparium in the bloodstream. But the tea company developed cold feet about producing and pushing Lemongrass as a Nigerian antimalarial tea because, as its international head offices in the U.K. observed, this could threaten the market of a global brand of British origins which was the reason for the tea company being in Nigeria.
An English man who would later read the stories in this column would come to Nigeria and, from Billings Way Factories at Ikeja Industrial Estate, Lagos, produce cuttings which is sold in Nigeria, through Rev Father Adodo’s Pax Herbal Centre. Beyond malaria, Lemongrass has been found to be useful in cancer therapy through one of its extracts called Citral. In several studies published in PUBMED, the extracts induced apoptosis(cell death) in cancer cells but not in normal cells. Prof. Gill says:
“Decoction of the leaves along with onion and honey is believed to cure cough, malaria fever and chest pains. The dose is a wine glassful thrice daily. A decoction of the grass is used over rheumatic joints, lumbago and sprains. A tea made from the leaves is a stomachic tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic and refrigerant. A paste of the leaves made with butter milk Yogurt is applied to ringworm. Fresh or dried roots are chewed to stimulate the nervous system. The herb is an ingredient of many recipes of traditional healer”.
“Local names: Urhobo – iti, Yoruba – waapa, Kooko – oba”.
Pawpaw Leaf (Caricapapaya)
This is one of the most dynamic plant leaves from my experience. While some people prefer the juice. I enjoy the raw leaf as salad in my meals. I cannot say here for want of s “Carica papaya also simply known as papaya or pawpaw is a type of tropical, fruit-bearing tree native to Mexico and northern regions of South America. Today, papaya is one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world. Its fruit, seeds and leaves are frequently utilized in a variety of culinary and folk medicine practices. Papaya leaf contains unique plant compounds that have demonstrated broad pharmacological potential in test-tube and animal studies. Although human research is lacking, many papaya leaf preparations, such as teas, extracts, tablets and juices, are often used to treat illnesses and promote health in numerous ways. Here are emerging benefits and uses of papaya leaf….treats symptoms related to dengue fever, promotes balanced blood sugar, support digestive function, have anti-inflammatory effects, supports hair growth, promotes healthy skin, have anti-cancer properties, etc”.
Prof. Gill says:
“The fallen dry leaves are rich in phenolic constituents and are used in many traditional prescription. The fallen dry leaves along with leaves of Neem tree, Lemongrass, Guava and stem bark of cheese wood are boiled together, cooled and drunk one wine glass full thrice daily is a good remedy for malaria fever. The patient is also given bath with this decoction. The cold infusion of fallen dried leaves along with the leaves of serpent wood, African birch is used for bath to bring the body temperature down. The decoction of fallen dry leaves along with one teaspoonful of rock salt and Ethiopian pepper fruits is a good remedy for diabetic conditions. The dose is half a cup every morning and evening. In Northern Nigeria, herbalists recommend the use of fresh leaves for gonorrhoea and syphilis. Leaves are very efficacious for the treatment of amoebic dysentery. Slightly bruised roasted leaves are applied as a galactagogue to breasts of nursing mothers, a poultice of the leaves is applied for reducing elephantoid growths, the fresh leaves are a useful dressing for foul wounds.
“The unripe fruit is a mild laxative and diuretic, the cooked unripe fruit is eaten as a galactagogue. The milky juice of the unripe fruit is a powerful anthelmintic for roundworms, a tablespoonful each of the fresh juice and honey mixed with three or four tablespoonfuls of hot water is prescribed for adult, this dose is followed two hours later by a dose of castor oil. The above treatment may be repeated if necessary. The milky juice is a remedy for stomach disorders and enlargement of the liver and spleen and it also serves as emmenagogue. The ripe fruit is cooked as soup with melon seeds and other ingredients, it serves as a preventive medicament in antenatal cases against mild convulsions. Ripe fruits is given as laxative. Seeds contain glucocide-caricin, are mixed with honey and given for expelling roundworms. Seeds boiled with milk are believed to be a powerful remedy for diabetes.
“Roots of male plants chewed with seven seed of Grains of Paradise during labour is supposed to cause an immediate delivery”. (The use as an abortifacients is excluded here for understandable reasons).
“Local names: Yoruba – ibepe, sigun, gbegbere, seyinbo, Bini – uhoro, Hausa – gwanda, Igbo – Ojo, okwere, Efik – etihi-mbakara, Urhobo – eto-oyibo”.
Utazi (Gongronema Latifolium)
This herb is more popular among the Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria than it is in other regions. The Yoruba’s of the Southwest call it Arokeke, the Igbos Utazi. In Igboland, Utazi leaves are cooked in peppersoup sause for women who have just had babies, to help them drain off abdominal fluid accumulations. The men may use it as tea or peppersoup to tone down abdominal pouches. Beyond these uses, Utazi is also a good fighter against malaria. Although Prof. Gill does not mention this role in his book, Google says:
“A herbal preparation made predominantly with garlic, ginger, onions, scent leaf, lemon grass, unripe pawpaw, lime/lemon, African pepper (Uda in Igbo), clove, Gongronema latifolium (Utazi in Igbo, arokeke in Yoruba) and West African Black pepper (Uziza in Igbo) has been effectively used to stop malaria and typhoid”.
Prof.Gill cites other uses:
“The decoction of the stem is prescribed for colic. The dose is one tea cup twice a day. The stem twigs are chewed for cleaning teeth and sore gums”.
“Local names: Yoruba – auje-adiye, iteji, itaji”.
Iseketu (SidaI Acuta)
Goats love this plant. The Yorubas who named it Iseketu employ bunches of it to sweep their homes and other accomodation during disease epidemics, believing its radiations keep germs at bay. In the early days of HIV/AIDS ingress into Nigeria, it was recognised as a valuable antiviral and used as such. Of this plant, Prof.Gill says:
“Fresh leaves are crushed with few drops of water, the extract is put into the eyes during fever. The decoction of leaves is prescribed during malaria fever. The dose is two wineglassful a day. A decoction made of the leaf juice is an anthelmintic for intestinal worms. Warm leaves coated with the palm oil are applied over abscesses to hasten suppuration. The leaves are also used as abortifacient. The infusion of leaves is given to women in labour. The leaves with lime juice is a remedy for ulcers.
“The root is a bitter tonic, cooling, astringent and antipyretics. The decoction of the root with ginger and salt is given in nervous diseases, urinary diseases, chronic bowel complaints and mild cases of debility. The dose is two teacupful twice a day”.
“Local names: Igbo – udo, Akoko-Edo – erumava-ibia, Yoruba – iseketu, esoketu, olosinkutu”.
I can take a bet that, even if you are a Yoruba, you would be wide off the mark on the English name of this antimalarial. In English language, Egungun eja translates as fishbone. But, oh no! We are not talking about fishbone. We are talking about a herb the leaves of which are as ragged at the edges as the spinal formations of a fish. Egungun eja is a bitter herb most lovers of bitter principles may find detestable.
Nigeria needs an industry to transform these antimalarial herbs into well reserved and well packaged proprietary blends, some of which are coming up in trickles. On the shelf, there is Donkak Ali sold by Dynapharm from Malaysia. From Nigeria, there is Jobelyn to replenish, within 48 hours, blood hematocrit lost in several conditions, including malaria. It comes from Health Forever Limited, makers of the alcohol based Benabiotics, which is anti-parasitic, and Albaleria, equally well researched for malaria. In http://m.covenantuniversity.edu.ng/Profiles/Yakubu-Omolara/Evaluation-of-antimalarial-and-biochemical-profiles-of-Abaleria-R-in-Plasmodium-berghei-infected-mice, a study on mice shows that Albaleria reduces Plasmodium blood levels as favorably as chloroquine diphosphate (CDP) while its favourably moderates blood fats as well. Ajadilopea didn’t go too far. Made by Dr. Ajadi of the English Department of the University of Ilorin, Ajadilopea caught the attention of U.S Army after publications about it in The Comet newspaper. Prof. Moris Iwu, before he became Chief Electoral Officer in Nigeria under the Obasanjo administration, researched AJADILOPEA for the Americans and found the shelf life too short for use by U.S soldiers in malaria prone regions abroad. There is also MALSOL from Pax Herbal Center which now runs an herbal medicines only hospital at Ikeja GRA, Lagos. MALSOL is both prophylatic and curative, says the center, if used every two months. This list is by no means exhaustive. Nor is the list of the healing plants mentioned in the series.