Herbalism, the use of herbs to treat diseases, is taking deep root in the modern world. Since the ancient times, Africans, Chinese, Indians and many other tribes used roots, leaves, and other plant parts to cure various ailments. In Africa, this was practiced until colonialists introduced the use of over the counter and prescription drugs. The colonizers termed traditional herbalist as dirty, unhygienic and witches. This diminished the practice.
Herbs boost immunity, purify blood and cure for typhoid, malaria, amoeba, arthritis, allergy and many other ailments. Herbs are currently being used as sweets, toothpaste, soap and even shaving crèmes.
Many people have set up herbal clinics. The proprietors confirm that there has been an increase in the number of people seeking their services and products.
Dr. Kabugia runs Olive herbal clinic in Nairobi and for the last five years says the number of patients visiting his clinic have increased from 7-10 per day when he started to now 17-20 patients per day. Kabugia learnt the “herbal art” from his grandfather who was a herbalist. He says that though the colonial government frowned upon herbal medicine, the practice never really died. “Individuals would still use herbs, Neem tree (mwarubaini) for example, whose bark and leaves were boiled and the broth taken for curing malaria and fever. It’s the commercialization aspect that had not been exploited,” he says. He continues that use of herbal medicine is not new to Africans. Value addition has seen herbs converted to syrups or powder and bottled to improve their outlook and longevity.
Wangari, a young lady of 26yrs, had been diagnosed with amoebiasis.: “I had used enough pills prescribed from the hospital but the ailment never went away. I’d almost given up until a friend advised me to visit a herbalist.” At first, she was reluctant but when she did, she never regretted. She got healed completely.
Another herbalist, Emmanuel, who also learnt about the curative nature of herbs from his grandfather, cites effectiveness as the greatest factor that’s making people seek herbal medicine. “Although herbal medicine is slower compared to pills, when it cures, it does so completely. This is unlike prescription drugs to which the body quickly develops resistance and are addictive when constantly used,” he says.
Mr. Samuel, aged 55years visits a Chinese herbalist and says that their herbal medicines are very effective but more expensive. He however warns that combining herbal medicine and prescription drugs without consulting a physician may lead to devastating effects. Users say herbal medicines are available and affordable. One can spend as little as Kshs.100 to as much as Kshs.3000 per month depending on the ailment.
Most people who use herbal medicine cite promotions, road shows and media as the major informants on herbal medicine. To sustain the art, governments have resorted to registering the practitioners. In Kenya, herbal clinics are registered under the ministry of culture and the office of the Attorney General in Kenya. The government has also organized herbalists’ seminars and registered their associations hence boosting their credibility and observance of standards.
Like in any another marketable opportunity, quacks have infiltrated the market. Emmanuel warns people to be aware of opportunistic individuals posing as herbalists. He says that a herbalist who is honest must be certified by the appropriate government authority.
Although the market for herbal medicine is good and profitable, herbalists are crying for protection from other doctors who steal their medicines and patent them as their own, due to lack of knowledge on intellectual property rights. Only by the placement of proper constitution will herbalists be sure of owning patent rights thus selling their medicines to the global market for the betterment of their people’s health and their country’s wealth.
Could we be spending more going outside when resources reside with us?