The natural remedies that really do work

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A "living database" is being compiled of the thousands of plants with medicinal properties growing on continental Africa.

The list will seek to test and record the properties of hundreds of plants and herbs traditionally thought to have healing powers. The continent is home to some 30 per cent of the world's plant life, with approximately 3,400 species believed to have medicinal properties.

The hope is that the "pharmacopoeia" will help to overcome ignorance about what truly works and what is myth. Each profile will contain a detailed description of the plant itself, its medicinal properties, and chemical tests that can be used to identify it.

The programme, to be overseen by the newly formed Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards (AAMPS), is already under way. It features detailed profiles of 23 plants, including devil's claw, which is used to treat rheumatism; red stinkwood, whose bark provides an ingredient for prostate cancer drugs; and African ginger, which is good for relieving headaches.

According to the World Health Organisation, the global market for medicinal plants exceeds $60bn (£31bn) a year, most of which is spent on plants from Asia. African medicinal plants are often ignored because foreign buyers have no quality guarantee and so valuable trade is lost.

"Now it's Africa's turn," says Professor Kobus Eloff of the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Kola nut: Cola

FOUND: The rainforests of West Africa

HISTORY: It gave Coca-Cola its name

USE: A common additive in slimming pills

Honeybush: Cyclopia intermedia

FOUND: Near Cape Town, South Africa

HISTORY: A treatment for the menopause

USE: Sinus relief and possibly for diabetes

Cancer bush: Sutherlandia frutescens

FOUND: South Africa

HISTORY: Used as a pick-me-up

USE: To help those with Aids and cancer, and tuberculosis

Rooibos tea: Aspalathus linearis

FOUND: South Africa

HISTORY: Farmers kept a pot brewing

USE: Said to have anti-HIV properties and to be a calming remedy

Lily of the desert

Aloe ferox

FOUND: South Africa

HISTORY: Healing burns, after nuclear bombs fell on Japan

USE: As an antiseptic and in moisturiser

Devil's claw: Harpagophytum procumbens

FOUND: South Africa

HISTORY: Painkiller

USE: In treatments for muscular back and rheumatic disorders

Boswellia: Frankincense

FOUND: North and North East Africa

HISTORY: Used to treat arthritis, dysentery

USE: As an anti-inflammatory

African ginger: Siphonochilus

aethiopicus

FOUND: South Africa

HISTORY: Highly prized by the Zulus

USE: Can help combat asthma and colds

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