Before Aspirin and Chloroquine came and lost their efficacy, the world was flexible, the jungle a whole mass of a hospital where nature provided what today’s variety of scientific medicines are offering. Then, a headache was treated with a few leaves and blades of grass, running stomach was treated with some extractions from plants, etc.
However, the contemporary world of paracetamol has set an all together different footing in treatment of diseases as well as prevention. Ironically, health is increasingly becoming more complex today than it seemingly was a hundred or so years ago.
The ancient African healers had an elaborate materia medica (the science or study of drugs: their preparation and properties, uses and effects), with most of the more than 5,000 plant species used for food and medicine for centuries. But not all nature’s healing wonders have been washed away in residue of laboratory works; a good number of herbs and other medicinal plants are still at the disposal of humanity.
Dr Rajab Sasi, a lecturer at Kigali Health Institute, said natural medicines such as aloe vela, moringa, avocado leaves, among others, are good for healing wounds and relieving pain.
“People trust modern medications sometimes without considering the warnings written on the pack. The number of those who have died while on modern medication is probably higher than those cured by them. There are issues of overdose, wrong prescription and so much more, compared to walking into the bush to fetch a few leaves, stems and roots that can be boiled and the liquid consumed. This doesn’t come with those warnings,” Dr Sasi said.
He said natural medicine is one of the best herbs for soothing skin and healing burns, rashes, frostbite, and severe wounds. It also used to treat eczema, dandruff, acne, ringworm, gum disease, and poison. It is easy to get and cheaper to access.
Aloe vera, for instance, contains chrysophanic acid, which is highly effective in healing abrasions he said.
Dr Sasi said plants such as garlic increase the body’s immunity to fight infections, and by stimulating other immune cells which fight viral and bacterial infections as well as cancer.
This plant is so common that you are likely to find it potted in flower vases. Often times, those who do so are not even aware of the wonders of aloe vera.
Aloe (often called aloe vera) produces two substances, gel and latex, which are used as medicines. Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant's skin and is yellow in colour. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex. Aloe vera gel is an indispensable part of your herbal dispensary.
Psoriasis. Applying a cream containing 0.5 per cent aloe for four weeks reduces the skin ‘plaques’ associated with psoriasis.
Constipation. According to webMD, taking aloe latex by mouth can reduce constipation and cause diarrhoea. It takes about 10 hours for aloe latex to cause a bowel movement. With continued use, increasing doses are needed for the same laxative effect. This is because aloe latex causes loss of potassium from cells lining the intestine. This results in a kind of paralysis of the walls of the intestine, literally making a bowel movement difficult. Taking large doses of aloe latex or using it for a long time can be dangerous.
MindBodyGreen, a medicinal web site, lists other uses of aloe vera as;
Makeup remover. Aloe is a perfect alternative to oil based removers, plus you know exactly what ingredients being applied on your skin. Refrigerated aloe vera gel soaked in cotton balls also provide a great compress for tired, puffy eyes.
Skin and sunburn soother. Acne, eczema, and skin irritation respond well to the natural antiseptics in aloe. Apply gel two to three times a day to the area until it is healed. Aloe also contains cooling properties similar to menthol which makes it a great way to sooth sunburns. It acts as a protective layer on the skin and helps replenish its moisture. When the skin is hydrated, then it will recover faster from the sunburn.
Natural shaving gel and aftershave. Aloe vera is anti-inflammatory thanks to its enzymes and with its high water content, it is hydrating. It provides a smooth surface on your skin giving you a close shave. Aloe also can be used as an aftershave to prevent razor bumps.
Wrinkle repair. Skin loves vitamins C and E, which are present in Aloe, helping to improve skins firmness and keep it hydrated. Combining virgin coconut oil can make a creamier way to supplement nutrients, essential fats and moisture. Aloe vera gel penetrates skin almost four times faster than water, and its super emollient qualities help it moisturise the under layers of skin.
Internal health. Loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B12, C, E, Folic Acid and niacin, aloe helps replenish vitamins and amino acids to our diets. What better way than by drinking in these vitamin benefits of aloe vera juice while building the body’s defence system naturally against stress. Start in small amounts and check with your doctor before beginning an aloe vera regimen.
Dr Emmanuel Nkeramihigo, from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Rwanda, said lemon grass has many therapeutic and medical benefits such as aiding digestion, calming nervous disorders and helping in the treatment of high blood pressure. Lemon grass contains vitamin A, and is good for brightening eyes and clearing the skin.
Lemon grass is an anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, antioxidant and therapeutic properties make lemon grass a useful alternative or complementary remedy for a wide spectrum of common ailments. Whether using the dried leaves steeped to make tea or the extracted essential oil, lemon grass produces considerable benefits.
Like garlic, ginger roots are spice, which can increase the production of saliva, also used as medicinal ingredient that can help cure diabetes, headaches, colds, fatigue, nausea and the flu, coughs, depression, dizziness when used in tea or as food additives.
Ginger powder boiled in water and taken as tea, promotes energy circulation in the body while positively increasing metabolic rate,” Dr Sasi said.
The web site, disabled-world.com, says ginger has many uses in home remedies such as;
Muscle strains. Apply warm ginger paste with turmeric to the affected area twice a day.
Sore throat. Boil some water and add a dash of cinnamon, a little piece of ginger, one teaspoon honey and drink.
Persistent cough. Take half teaspoonful of ginger powder, a pinch of clove with a pinch of cinnamon powder and honey in a cup of boiled water as tea.
Ashma. A teaspoon of fresh ginger juice mixed with a cup of fenugreek decoction and honey to acts as a excellent expectorant in the treatment of asthma.
Headaches. Dilute a paste of ginger powder, about half a teaspoon, with water and apply to your forehead.
Colds. Boil a teaspoonful of ginger powder in one quart of water and inhale the steam. It helps alleviate colds.
Diabetes. Some doctors recommend drinking ginger in water first thing in the morning to help regulate glucose level.
The magic of this plant is that every part of it has some stellar use to humans. Moringa is used for anemia, arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism), asthma, cancer, constipation, diabetes, diarrhoea, epilepsy; stomach pain, stomach and intestinal ulcers, intestinal spasms and headache. It also helps in heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections.
Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic.
Moringa is sometimes applied directly to the skin as a germ-killer or drying agent (astringent). It is also used topically for treating pockets of infection (abscesses), athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease (gingivitis), snakebites, warts, and wounds.
Oil from moringa seeds is used in foods, perfume, and hair care products, and as a machine lubricant.
Dr Emmanuel Nkeramihigo, from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Rwanda, said neem is good in fighting skin infections such as acne, psoriasis, scabies eczema and allergies ulcers. Neem juice helps burn calories in the body, thereby reducing weight. He said applying neem oil to the skin helps relieve dry skin and soothe itchy, red, irritated skin.
Mycologists argue that mushrooms contain some of the most potent natural medicines on the planet. Of the 140,000 species of mushroom-forming fungi, science is familiar with only 10 per cent.
One only has to watch out for poisonous mushrooms, otherwise the edible types are a good source of;
Weight management. Substituting red meat with white button mushrooms can help enhance weight loss, according to the web site, mercola.com. Obese participants with a mean age of just over 48 ate about one cup of mushrooms per day in place of meat. The control group ate a standard diet without mushrooms.
At the end of the 12-month trial, the intervention group had lost an average of 3.6 per cent of their starting weight. They also showed improvements in body composition, such as reduced waist circumference, and ability to maintain their weight loss, compared to the control group.
Improved nutrition. One dietary analysis found that mushroom consumption was associated with better diet quality and improved nutrition.
Increasing vitamin D. Consuming dried white button mushroom extract was found to be as effective as taking supplemental vitamin D2 or D3 for increasing vitamin D levels.
Improved immune system function. Long chain polysaccharides, particularly alpha and beta glucan molecules, are primarily responsible for the mushrooms' beneficial effect on the immune system. Adding one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms is beneficial, modulating effect on immune system function. Study done on mice found that white button mushrooms enhanced the adaptive immunity response to salmonella.