Photo by Linda De Volder
Last year, when I was hiking the northern mountains of Ethiopia, I came across many native plants. For example the pretty famous and widely used in the west aloe vera (eret in Amharic). This succulent plant seems to have originated in Northern Africa and from there was introduced to America, Europe, and Asia. In Ethiopia alone, there are about 38 species of aloe which have traditionally been used in skin and hair care products and also to form the basis of health drinks and tonics. In rural parts of Ethiopia the fluid coming from the cut leaf is applied to cuts and wounds to prevent infections and bring about healing. The gel is known to cause drying of the skin and the dried and powdered roots, together with the dried leaves of other species are applied for the treatment of a skin lesion caused by the herpes infection.
These are only some uses of one widely known plant so imagine how many more Ethiopian plants can be found that are not listed in any database.
Most herbs in Ethiopia are regularly used in local medicine and are the first step, and often the only one, to treat illnesses for millions of Ethiopians.
All that herbal knowledge is at risk of being lost, first due to lack of documentation, and second because of the extinction of native plants. Climate change, soil degradation and intensive use of land to cultivate more profitable crops by foreign companies are primary the culprit of their disappearance.
Besides the fact that herbs are already in use to treat different ailments, there is a huge potential of discovering new uses for them, whether as herbal treatments or as pharmaceutical products. Many plants have never been experimented with in western medicine, and if they are lost they never will.
While I was researching this subject, I discovered that traditional Ethiopian medicine is not only practiced by Ethiopians in their country but also by those living abroad who brought with them the knowledge passed from generation to generation. There is an interesting article online by Dikla Danino and Zohar Amar about this happening in Israel: Little Ethiopia: An Ethno pharmacological Study of the Ethiopian Community in Israel .
So imagine the value all this knowledge has and the importance of preserving it.
Here is where I want to mention Botanica Ethiopia, a joint Ethiopian-Australian project based in Fiche created to preserve herbal information.
I don’t know in which stage this project is, but their idea is to build an herb garden to propagate the plants and instruct locals of their use and at the same create a database with all this information. This garden can later be replicated in different parts of the country.
I think it is important for Ethiopians to have access to this information since they should be the first ones to benefit from it. It is also part of their culture.
If you are interested to investigate more, here is some information available online:
A review of selected plants used in the maintenance of health and wellness in Ethiopia (.pdf) Ethiopian e-journal for research and innovation foresight.
Studies on extracts of some medicinal plants traditionally used for dermatological disorders in Ethiopia (.pdf) By Bruck Messele (B. Pharm)
Study on Actual Situation of Medicinal Plants in Ethiopia (.pdf) by Endashaw Bekele
Ethiopia: An Ethiopian Herbal First-Aid Kit All Africa
Herbalists in Addis Ababa and Butajira, Central Ethiopia: Mode of service delivery and traditional pharmaceutical practice (.pdf) by Teferi Gedif and Heinz-Jürgen Hahn