African Herbal Medicine

Traditional African medicine is a traditional medicine discipline involving indigenous herbalism and African spirituality, typically involving diviners, midwives, and herbalists. Practitioners of traditional African medicine claim to be able to cure various and diverse conditions such as cancers, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, cholera, most venereal diseases, epilepsy, asthma, eczema, fever, anxiety, depression, benign prostatic hyperplasia, urinary tract infections, gout, and healing of wounds and burns and even Ebola.

Diagnosis is reached through spiritual means and a treatment is prescribed, usually consisting of a herbal remedy that is considered to have not only healing abilities but also symbolic and spiritual significance. Traditional African medicine, with its belief that illness is not derived from chance occurrences, but through spiritual or social imbalance, differs greatly from modern scientific medicine, which is technically and analytically based. In the 21st century, modern pharmaceuticals and medical procedures remain inaccessible to large numbers of African people due to their relatively high cost and concentration of health facilities in urban centers.

Before the establishment of science-based medicine, traditional medicine was the dominant medical system for millions of people in Africa but the arrival of the Europeans was a noticeable turning point in the history of this ancient tradition and culture. According to Ko -Tsekpo [African Journal of Health Sciences], the term “African traditional medicine” is not synonymous with “alternative and complementary medicine.” African traditional medicine is the African indigenous system of health care and therefore cannot be seen as an alternative. 

According to Msiu and Chhabra there are four main types of traditional healers. There is the herbalist, who treats his patients purely by using herbal medicine, minerals, and animal extracts. There is the herbalist-ritualist, who along with herbal remedies uses rituals to help diagnose and treat health problems. There is the ritualist-herbalist, who bases healing rites on the attributes of the specific spirits deemed responsible for patients’ problems. And then there is the spiritualist, who performs socio-cultural rituals and divination. His therapeutic activity extends beyond illness to problems of daily living. Even in the profession of natural medicine, there are many different options for different problems that people have to choose from as we do in modern society, the only difference is for Africans this has been a norm for hundreds of years.

There are strong spiritual aspects to traditional African medicine, with a widespread belief among practitioners that psycho spiritual aspects must be addressed before medical aspects. Among traditional healers, the ability to diagnose an illness is considered a gift from both God and the practitioner's ancestors. A major emphasis is placed on determining the root cause underlying any sickness or bad luck. Illness is said to stem from a lack of balance between the patient and his or her social environment. It is this imbalance that determines the choice of the healing plant, which is valued as much for its symbolic and spiritual significance as for its medicinal effect.

The role of Spirituality in the work of the traditional healer and the whole creed surrounding healing is explicitly stated in the Ghanan Akan proverb, ―se Nyame ma wo yaree, osan ma wo hahama a esa yaree no,‖ which translates to mean ― "When God gives you a disease, He also gives a local plant to heal it."


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