Herbal Scripts

 Aloe vera: The Remarkable Herbal Medicine

Aloe is the general botanical genus name of the popular plant comprising over 360 species most of which originate from Africa. More species of Aloe are found in South Africa than in any other country in the world. Nearly 40 species of Aloe are found in the wild in Ethiopia with nearly 30 being endemic, signifying that these species are not known elsewhere in the world. Among the endemic species of Ethiopia: Aloe debrana (from Debre Berhan), A. sinana (Debre Sina), A. adigratana (Adigrat), A. ankoberensis (Ankober), A. yavellana (Yabello) etc. These plants are found as indicated in their names in specific localities. As many of these species of Ethiopia do not occur in any other country, the people here have special responsibility to conserve and care for them.
    Aloe species have been introduced over the ages in different parts of the world to as far as the West Indies in the New World, to China and Japan in the Orient. Aloe species characteristically possess thick succulent leaves but could vary considerably from each other in size, leaf and flower forms and shapes, such as from the tiny decorative pot plant A. aristata to the giant tree A. arborescens, the popular medicinal plant cultivated in Japan.
    The name Aloe is believed to be derived from the Hebrew or Arabic word “Alloeh” meaning “bitter”. The use of Aloe as medicine goes back to the days of the Egyptians. Legend has it that Cleopatra kept her fine complexion by spreading Aloe juice over her skin daily to prevent sunburn.
    A. vera is by far the most popular Aloe in the world as there is more scientific information on it than on any other Aloe species. A. vera is a domestic plant, known only in gardens and in cultivation sites but not in the wild. When very mature Aloe leaf is cut on the edge, bitter yellow exudate drips out, which when dried yields the laxative aloe drug, with the compound aloin as the active laxative component. If on the other hand the leaf is sliced in the middle into two parts, a viscous gel appears, which is remarkably effective in soothing and healing wounds and burns. The gel is made up of mucopolysaccharides, a group of complex natural polymers, which are responsible for the skin healing properties of Aloe gel.Aloe gel helps damaged skin cells to revive quickly and then multiply, thus making it useful to treat wounds and ulcer. Aloe gel is anti-oxidant. It neutralizes skin damaging active oxygen species or free radicals. The polysaccharides of the gel has soothing effect on mucous members and irritated skin.
    No wonder then, that Aloe body care products such as creams, soaps, shampoo etc enjoy worldwide demand with sales per annum of billions of U.S. dollars. Furthermore aloe products alleviate sunburn, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver troubles, aging, hemorrhoids, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, athlete’s foot etc. In short A. vera is a useful household remedy that should be within easy reach of family members. Keep an A. vera pot plant at your home and use the gel from a mature leaf for some of the above mentioned purposes. The reference can be viewed by clicking the download button. Download
    We have succeeded in propagating A. vera by tissue culture. The picture below shows Aloe vera seedlings propagated by this means in our business.

#1. Aloe vera in ALNAP garden               #2. Aloe pulcherrima (NDA 1245) in ALNAP garden               #3. Aloe pubescens (NDA 5060)      #4,#5 and #6. Aloe pubescens  being cultivated by tissue culture

Photo by Ermias Dagne

[Dagne, E., Bisrat, D., Viljoen, A., and Van Wyk, B-E. Chemistry of Aloe Species. Current Organic Chemistry 4, 1055-1078. 2000.]                                                                           Back To Useful Links

 Anchotey: Unique Food Plant from Ethiopia

The plant locally known as Anchotey (Oromifa) and Weshesh (Tigrigna) is a climbing perennial herb growing up to 3.5 m, with tuberous fleshy rootstock and yellow flowers. Anchotey is known in botany as Coccinia abyssinica and belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family.

Photo by Ermias Dagne

   Anchotey plant occurs in the wild and is also cultivated in backyard gardens for its edible tubers and aerial parts. It is interesting to note that this plant is found only in Ethiopia between altitudes of 1300-2400 m in North and Western parts of the country in particular in the provinces of Gojam, Gondar, Ilubabor, Kefa, Sidamo, Tigray and Welega. For full botanical description of this interesting plant the reader is referred to the “Flora of Ethiopia Vol. 2 part 2 p. 54”.
   The tubers of Anchotey are boiled and peeled, cut to small pieces, spiced with pepper and salt and served with butter. It is customary in Welega province to serve Anchote dish during festivities of Mesqel held regularly in the third week of September.
  Pictures shown in this article are of the aerial parts and tubers of Anchotey, taken by the author on plants grown in his home garden. Author is grateful to W/O Atsede Tesfaye for supply of the original tubers from Welega and for information how the food is prepared from it.                                                           Back To Useful Links

 Artemisia annua: The anti-malarial plant

Artemisia annua L. (also known as sweet wormwood) is an aromatic herb traditionally grown in China as a medicinal plant. Recent research has brought this plant into the limelight because of the discovery that it yields a compound known as artemisinin, that exhibits anti-malarial properties. Many countries have therefore approved use of artemisinin and its derivatives to treat malaria.
  A. annua is relatively easy to grow and very high biomass yields can be obtained in 5-6 month period. This plant was first successfully introduced by the German NGO Anamed (Action for Natural Medicine) on the highlands of Chencha in the Gamo Gofa Region of Ethiopia. It has then been introduced in other parts of the country. Anamed has also shown that taking the herb in the form of tea cures patients of malaria. In our laboratory, we have shown by chemical analysis that the leaves of the cultivar of Artemisia that has been introduced in Ethiopia contains significant amount of artemisinin.
    According to www.anamed.org, one liter of boiling water is poured onto 5 g dried leaves and allowed to brew for 10 to 15 minutes. This tea is then drunk by the malaria patient during the course of the day. Repeat this for 5-7 or so days to bring the total to 25-35 g of tea leaves. This experiment has been done successfully in Uganda, the DRC and Tanzania. This tea has also been found to be useful for other conditions such as against hemorrhoids (internally as tea and externally as ointment), eye infections, artemisia tea internally and as an eye bath, bronchitis, ointment against skin complaints, for digestive problems, chewing leaves to treat Candida infections of the mouth.

Photo by Ermias Dagne                                                                                     Back To Useful Links

 Besobla: The Popular Culinary Spice for Shero and other dishes

Immediately after the rainy season of the Ethiopian highlands we see fresh supply of bundles of Besobla being rushed from the country side to town markets. Besobla is one of the most common culinary plants of Ethiopia. Only a small piece of the fresh or dried herb is thrown into a cooked Shiro Wot in order to give it the tempting basil like fragrance and flavor.

Besobla is the local variety of the cosmopolitan sweet basil or Ocimum basilicum, the well known spice for spaghetti and other dishes of Europe and other parts of the world. Strictly speaking Besobla is known in science as O. basilicum var. basilicum. Ajuban, is the closely related species known botanically as O. basilicum var. thyrisiflorum. Flowering Ajuban is sold in road side markets and church gates in Addis Ababa particular during the rainy season, but it is used not as spice but mingled with fresh grass and spread on the floor at coffee ceremonies for its fragrance.
It is interesting to note that the cosmopolitan sweet basil is popularly used against indigestion, loss of appetite, for treating bad breath and headache, while its essential oil is used in the formulation of flavours, perfumes and insect repellants.

Ocimum is indeed an intriguing genus as it stands out in many cultures. Holy basil, previously known botanically as O. sanctum (now O. tenuiflorum), is among the most popular Indian medicinally plants where it is called Tulsi. In India Tulsi is used in Ayurvedic medicine and as herbal tea. In terms of use, the Ethiopian equivalent for Tulsi, is Damakese, or Ocimum lamiifolium. This is the traditional first aid-like medicine, which is recommended for various spontaneous ailments such as flu, cold, rash, high fever, nose bleeding etc. Normally one goes out into a garden to fetch some leaves, which are then crushed, squeezed, and the juice sniffed or mixed with water and taken internally. This popular medicinal plant is known as Yemitch Medhanit or “Medicine for rash or sudden illness”.
In 2012 the Ethiopian Postal Service Enterprise issued four stamps on common medicinal plants of Ethiopia. One of these stamps, shown above is for Damakese. The typographical error on the stamp in the species name should be corrected to Ocimum lamiifolium.

 

Photo by Ermias Dagne                                                       Back To Useful Links

 Black cumin oil: Is it really panacea for all diseases?

Nigella sativa is commonly known as black seed or black cumin because of the unique black colour of its seeds. The plant is an erect, usually profusely branched herb growing up to 70 cm tall. It is cultivated as spice crop in the Middle East, and in many parts of South Asia. When the seeds are pressed it gives about 30% black oil and when steam distilled it yields about 2% essential oil. It is known as Tikur Azmud (Amharic), Habesuda (Arabic) and Kalunji (Kiswahili). In many societies its seeds and the expressed oil are believed to be remedy for all ailments. This belief reminds one of the Chinese plant Panax ginseng, which is one of the most highly regarded traditional medicines of China, where its genus name Panax is derived from the Greek word “Panacea” which means cure all.    

Black seed is cultivated on large scale in Ethiopia, where it is among the most important export items of the country. In the Middle East oil from good quality Ethiopian black seed is held in greatest esteem. Among the main traditional uses of black seed the most important ones include treating ailments such as bronchial asthma, rheumatism, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, digestive disturbances, to support the body's immune system, to treat skin conditions such as eczema etc.

There is also now ample scientific evidence that clearly confirm black seed to possess the following effects: analgesic and anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anti-asthmatic, immunosuppressive, anti-allergic, anticonvulsant, blood glucose lowering, antioxidant etc. It is now also evident from scientific studies that most of the biological activities of black seed are due to thymoquinone, the principal secondary metabolite that is present both in the seeds as well as in pressed oil. No wonder then that black seed is considered by many societies

Photo by Ermias Dagne                                                         Back To Useful Links

 CASSAVA FROM BEDELE


Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is latex producing woody shrub or tree reaching to a height of 5 m, originally from Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. It is now widespread in tropical Africa,where it is a popular root crop; it is drought tolerant and capable of growing on poor soils. It is also a major staple food in the developing world being the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics (after rice and maize) and it is estimated that it is the principal

Cassava picture for WO

diet for over half a billion people. Nigeria is the world's largest producer of cassava.
    In Ethiopia cassava grows well at altitudes ranging between 1300-1550 m in western and southern parts of the country with local names such as Muka Furno (Orom.) and Ferenge Boye (Gamo Gofa & Wolayta).
    There are two types of cassava – one is sweet and the other bitter. The sweet type is processed for use as starch in foods, while the slightly toxic bitter type, which contains cyanide is recommended for making glue and also used as an additive inthe manufacture of textiles and paper. Nevertheless, farmers sometimes prefer the bitter variety because it deters pests, animals as well as thieves! In southern Ethiopia, sweet cassava is used alone or supplemented with other grains to make enjera, bread or porridge
     One cassava plant can produce up to 20 kg of root mass. Cassava is cultivated by planting 30 cm cuttings from its branches like in the propagation of sugar cane. The picture above shows half of the cassava tubers from just one 3 year old plant provided by Chemist Yetbarek Alemu who cultivates it in Bedele area and uses it to manufacture starch and glue in his family factory in Modjo town.                                                       Back To Useful Links

Coffee: Ethiopia’s Gift to the World

There is no doubt whatsoever now that the South West highlands of Ethiopia are the centers of origin and diversity of the legendary coffee plant, which is known by the scientific name Coffea arabica. It is interesting to note that Ethiopians originally did not drink coffee, they actually ate it. Raw beans are added to milk or butter which by infusion extract the bean’s power. This specialty food is offered on ceremonial occasions in areas where coffee grows such as in Kaffa and Wellega regions. Ethiopians knew also how to brew dried coffee leaves to make a herbal tea-like drink called Amertasa. In Harar it is customary to gently roast the coffee leaves before brewing it to Quti drink. The coffee husk is also brewed in Harar to make Hoja, which is called Qeshir if it is spiced with ginger.

     Coffee drink is the most popular beverage in the world rivaled only by tea. Both have not only the same stimulant substance caffeine in common but also share similar fascinating history. Caffeine was first isolated from coffee bean by the German Chemist Runge in 1820. As this was the time when the industrial revolution was ushered in Europe, drinking boiled tea and coffee became popular because this habit reduced incidence of the spread of disease among workers, while at the same time it helped them stay awake in night shifts. In many ways coffee has played significant role in spurring modern civilization, as it continues to do the same now.
     Coffee found its way through Harar to the port of Mocha in Yemen. Not only was Mocha the place from where coffee radiated to different parts of the world, it is probably there where the art of roasting and brewing it was developed. That is why the word Mocha is now almost synonymous with coffee. The Ottoman Turks who occupied Yemen for a long time, and had also direct contact with Harar in eastern Ethiopia, have played a pivotal role in developing the culture of coffee brewing and drinking. Italians also contributed to the art and technology of coffee brewing and drinking. It suffices to only mention espresso and macchiato.
     Equally fascinating is the development in Ethiopia of the art of not only roasting and brewing coffee bean but also of the culture of the coffee ceremony, which requires unique ambiance and a variety of support utensils, starting with the metal pan (Biret Mitad), the ceramic pot (Jebena), the cup holder (Rekebot) etc. In Ethiopia coffee is therefore not just drunk, but it is prepared and served with art.
     Even in towns, coffee is usually home roasted, although there are now some suppliers of machine roasted coffee. Quality is highly influenced by how coffee is roasted. This is because roasting changes both the physical and chemical state of coffee. When the beans are placed on the hot pan, first a yellow color develops, which then changes to brown, a bread like smell is generated, cracking sound follows, the size of the bean becomes larger, smoke (mainly CO2) follows and the bean becomes chocolate dark. If you capture this process with a digital camera, as I did once, you will capture for yourself these amazing transformations. If you stick a thermometer in the beans, you will be able to note that a yellow colour appears at 130°C, brown at 150°C and dark at 200°C. Heating the beans beyond this temperature results in charred coffee.
     The key to the unique taste and flavour of coffee is roasting, which produces over 400 compounds resulting from different chemical transformations of few compounds present in the green bean. Interestingly caffeine is present both in the green and roasted bean. Coffee can be roasted to three varying degrees, light, medium and dark. Both extremes of roasting are not desired. Very light roasting will not allow the generation of the transformation products responsible for the aroma and taste, while very dark roasting will result in the decomposition of many coffee substances including caffeine which leads to a bitter coffee brew. Modern roasting follows more or less the above regimen but in a highly controlled manner enabling one to get a uniformly roasted bean. Kaffa Coffee Call Poem  by Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin.                                                     Back To Useful Links

 Endod: A wondrous medicinal plant

Endod (Amh) or African soapberry (Eng.) is a much-branched shrub with stems up to 8 m long occurring in most parts of Ethiopia at altitudes between 1500 and 3000 m. It also occurs in other African countries like ? The seeds are used as soap substitute in particular for washing clothes [3]. The water extract has been found to be useful to control snails from ponds and water reservoirs. The active compounds are named as Lemmatoxins after the Ethiopian scientist Aklilu Lemma who first observed this phenomenon. The extract of Endod fruits has also been found to reduce population of leeches in ponds and streams. Other properties include abortifacient, against ascariasis, against eczema, infertility and dandruff.
For more information see references and links below:

1. For botanical and general information: http://www.alnapnetwork.com/SpeciesDetail.aspx?input=endod&selectedOption=0
2. Gelahun Abate, Etse Debdabe, Ethiopian Traditional Medicine, Addis Ababa University, 1989).
3. Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea Volume 2 Part 1 Page 274-275.
4. Link to view a Monograph in Amharic on Endod by Fekadu Fullas: http://www.alnapnetwork.com/files/Phytolacca%20dodecandra.pdf
5. In addition to the well-known detergent activity of Endod, the berries are also used traditionally as shampoo to treat fungal infection of the scalp. This topic was investigated by Dawit Abate and Sablework Fesseha and the results were published in a Proceedings of a Workshop held in Nazareth, Ethiopia 2-4 May, 1994. The full paper can be viewed by clicking the download button.  Download

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Frankincense

The frankincense tree or shrub belongs to the genus Boswellia and like myrrh it is also member of the Burseraceae family. Frankincense (or olibanum) is also the name given to hardened resinous exudate derived from different species of Boswellia. There are a dozen or so species in Africa, Arabia and India. Ethiopia has probably the largest number of Boswellia species and are known by the following scientific names: B. papyrifera, B. rivae, B. neglecta, B. pirottae, B. ogadensis, and B. microphylla. Most of the incense of commerce of this country is obtained from the first three species, known in trade as Tigray, Ogaden and Borana types respectively. There are two species of frankincense in Somalia namely B. frereana and B. sacra (Synonym: B. carteri). The later also occurs in Arabia (Oman). B. serrata (salai guggal) is a very well known species occurring in India.
     Due to its pleasant and refreshing aroma frankincense resin locally known as Etan, is burnt on special occasions such as weddings and coffee drinking ceremonies, as insect repellent and at places of worship. Local people chew fresh resins as mouth cleanser and also to suppress the feeling of thirst. Modern uses include to add flavour to foods, to make adhesives, chewing gums, perfumes etc
     When frankincense resin is steam distilled it yields a pleasant essential oil which is used in aromatherapy, perfume making, as flavor in the food and beverage industries, for making adhesives, chewing gum etc. It is also an important additive in the formulation of skin care products for use against acne, wrinkles etc. Frankincense oil combined with myrrh is recommended for the treatment of throat infections, mouth thrush, stomach and liver ailments etc. Another value added product from B. papyrifera resin is the absolute, which is obtained by macerating the resin with ethanol at room temperature.
   Ethiopia is one of the largest exporters of frankincense resin in the world in particular to catholic and orthodox churches, where burning incense is part of religious ritual. The Ethiopian Natural Gum Processing and Marketing Enterprise (NGPME) is the main organized exporter in the country.
   However, on a sad note, the ecological zones where these resources occur are very vulnerable to climate change and other human interference, which include increasing population pressure and conversion of woodlands to agricultural lands. Unregulated grazing by cattle is also another problem which hinders natural growth and regeneration. Hence measures should be taken to protect the fragile eco zones where these valuable resources are found.
    It is difficult to distinguish one type of resin from the other. Colour, crystal type, smell etc help one in identification. The resins also differ in solubility in different solvents.
Resins of six Boswellia species that are traded widely in the Horn of Africa are:-
• B. frereana Birdw. known only from Somalia, Meydi (resin).
• B. sacra Flueck. (syn B. carteri) from Somalia, Yemen and Oman
• B. papyrifera Hochst. from Ethiopia and Sudan
• B. rivae Engl. from Ethiopia
• B. neglecta S. Moore, Ethiopia and Kenya
The other very well known resin in the world is B. serrata Roxb. from India.
Extractability of resins: The Table below shows extractability data of resins of five frankincense species in four solvents. 

Species name Common name Water Ethanol Acetone Hexane
B. papyrifera Tigray-Type 20% 70% 50% 50%
B. rivae Ogaden Type 40% 60% 60% 80%
B. sacra Beyo 20% 70% 80% 40%
B. frereana Meydi 1-5% 90% 80% 90%
B. neglecta          

The above Table my help distinguish one resin from the other.

Photo by Ermias Dagne          

what others say about our frankincense products

  1. http://www.floracopeia.com/about/ethiopia-oils-and-resins/
  2. http://www.floracopeia.com/Floracopeia-Aromatherapy-and-Essential-Oils/?search=Ethiopia

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 Khat: The enigmatic sister of coffee from Harar

Khat is another fascinating plant whose origin is uncontested to be Ethiopia, most likely Harar.Catha edulis It is known in science as Catha edulis. If allowed to grow freely it can reach to a height of 25 m. It does well at mid altitudes of 1100 to 2100 m. Just like coffee, it also found its way to Yemen, which certainly is its second home. More recently it has been introduced into several eastern and southeastern African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar. This plant is known by several names, the common ones being: Chat, Jimmaa (Ethiopia) Gat, Khat, Qat (Arabic), Miraa (Swahili), Bushman’s tea (South Africa). In scientific papers it is referred to as “Khat”.
   The study of the chemistry of khat has attracted the attention of German chemists already in the 1870s. The presence of an alkaloid substance was establsihed then, which was named as cathine. However, it was clear that cathine did not account for all the known effects of khat. Scientists continued to look for the real active compound for nearly a hundred years until the middle of the 1970’s when the compound cathinone was discovered as the most important active chemical constituent of the fresh plant. This compound eluded the attention of chemists of earlier times because early researches were limited to dried material, in which cathinone is not present because it gets converted to the less active cathine. This finding also explained why Khat users prefer fresh material to the dried one.
   Thus in terms of its effects, its social value to societies that regularly use it, and also its economic significance, Khat is rivaled only by coffee. Its use was limited in the past to the regions where it is grown, because users prefer fresh leaves. However improved land and air transportation has made global supply of the leaves possible. Khat is freely used, traded, imported and exported in the countries of the region. Ethiopia is most likely the number one grower and exporter of this plant. The livelihood and daily income of millions of people depends of on it. Nationally it is most likely the second most important foreign exchange earner after coffee.
   It is now more or less clear that long-term use of Khat could have serious negative consequences on users inlcuding increase of blood pressure and heart rate, stomach and teeth problems, hemorrhoid, mood and anxiety disorders and even psychosis. Khat chewers should therefore be informed of the grave consequences of high degree of chewig, so that they reduce Khat usage or abandon it altogether. It is obvious that it is not worth putting at risk ones health for momentary pleasures and stimulation.
    One should also address the need to understand the case of casual and moderate users who might have their own justifications for limited use of khat due to social and other circumstances. In modern Ethiopia we need also to explore other ways of khat use than chewing it. In the Wello region, it is customary to drink khat leaf tea, called “Hawza”, a sort of “energy drink” which helps one stay alert, active and awake at night. In conclusion, since khat use and indeed abuse is spreading like wild fire in Ethiopia and its neigbouring countires and even beyond, more effort should be directed to research into the various aspects of khat including agronomic, medical, chemical, social, economic, cultural etc. It is imperative that at least a small percentage of the gains made from khat sales should be invested by governments into research on the above and related topics.

The author (E. Dagne) supported the initiative of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in the issuing of stamps, which in a way asserts that khat is after all “Ethiopian”, or as they call it outside of Ethiopia “Abyssinian Tea”. According to the artist, whose name appears on the stamps, the fingers, which are by the way mine, indicate the human connection to the plant. I would also like to mention that I wrote the article that was circulated worldwide on the day the stamps was launched on September 9, 2008. The pdf file of that write up can be viewed by downloading khat.pdf file.                   Back To Useful Links

 “Tazma Mar” (Stingless Bee Honey)

Common honey is produced by the common bee, which is known scientifically as Apis mellifera. There is another type of honey, produced by a unique bee known as “stingless bee” (SBs). Stingless bee belongs to two entirely different genera known as Melipona and Trigona. These bees are found mainly in the wild in South America, Australia, Asia and Africa. These bees are called ‘stingless bee’ because they do not sting like the common bees. They produce a unique honey known as “stingless bee honey” (SBH) or Tazma Mar in Amharic and Dama Boke in Oromiffa. Domestication of stingless bees has not yet been successful because they are so diverse and elusive in nature, hence they are very difficult to catch and domesticate. These wild SBs build their hives underground, in tree trunks and also in house wall cracks. The most common Ethiopian SB is the one that builds its hive underground, using tiny holes to come in and out of the surface of the earth.
The stingless bee honey (SBH) or Tazma Mar supply in the world market is limited partly because knowledge about this product is scant. However, SBH is regarded with high esteem by local communities and traditional medicine practitioners due to its nutritional and health benefits. In Ethiopia Tazma Mar is one of the most popular home remedy used to treat different ailments such as wounds, cough, asthma, sinus, allergy etc.
Although these two types of honeys are similar in their chemical composition, the moisture content of SBH is as high as 30%, while that of regular honey is less than 20%. This explains why SBH is thinner than regular honey. Both honeys contain over 30% fructose and glucose and several other secondary metabolites. Both are also slightly acidic in nature, which helps curb growth of microorganisms thus ensuring long shelf life.
The pictures below show a farmer digging underground to reach to an underground bee hive in order to harvest SBH. The bees do not sting at all, and are therefore harmless when digging and removing the honey.
Tazma Honey is available on sale at Ariti Herbal Shop in Addis Ababa and can also be delivered to our customers in other parts of the world by courier. To place an order please see our Contact Page.

Photo by Ermias Dagne Back To Useful Links

 Moringa -The increasingly popular food supplement

Plants have for centuries not only been the major sources of diet for human beings but also the principal means of keeping well and fighting disease. In developed countries, plant-based medicines faced a declining trend in the 19th century when people saw the almost miraculous effects of the wonder medicines such as anti-pain and antibiotic drugs. However, awareness of the limitations of modern drugs started to become obvious towards the end of the 20th century prompting the WHO in 2003 to declare the importance of traditional medicines in providing primary health care needs of people particularly in the developing world. There are now ample scientific evidences that clearly demonstrate the pivotal role medicinal plants play in curing sickness and above all in maintaining wellness.
   The subject of this article is Moringa, a plant that is considered as ‘super food’ due to the impressive health benefits when taken as a supplement. There are two Moringa species that are widely used as food supplements. The more well known species is Moringa oleifera, a plant originally from India, now cultivated in many parts of the world including tropical Africa. It is known by at least three common English names- “drumstick tree”, due to its unique long pods, “ horseradish tree” because its roots taste like horse radish and “Ben oil tree”, after the name of the oil obtained from the seeds also used in cosmetics.
  M. oleifera is a medium sized tree growing up to 10 m, with huge drumstick-like pods which can be as long as 1.2 m. The tree grows well in tropical areas at altitudes below 1000 m. In Ethiopia M. oleifera grows well in Gode and other towns at altitudes below 500 m above sea level. In India this plant is called the “miracle tree" because it cures many diseases. Since the leaves are edible, this plant is at the same time food and medicine. The leaf powder can be added to food regularly to boost ones health and also to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Another unique property of the seeds and roots of this plant is their ability to remove, by coagulation, dirt and suspended matter in water. This is particularly useful in rural areas where there is no proper water treatment facility. These and other uses of Moringa oleifera leaves and roots have been corroborated by scientific research. The plant contains vitamins, amino acids, cardiac and circulatory stimulants as well as a host of other substances that show anti-tumor, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, anti-hypertensive, cholesterol lowering, anti-diabetic, hepato-protective, antibacterial, antifungal etc agents.

   Moringa stenopetala is the closely related indigenous species that grows well in Ethiopia in particular in Arba Minch and the Wollayeta Sodo areas. The people call the plant "Aleko" or "Shiferaw" and believe the leaves and the roots to be highly medicinal and also nutritious. The plant is therefore widely grown in home gardens and farms. Almost all that has been said above about its sister species, M. oleifera, is most likely true of our "Shiferaw", a plant in our door steps waiting to be widely exploited as food and medicine.
The seeds of M. stenopetala when pressed yields a faint yellow oil which has great potential for body care. The oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids with oleic acid as the major followed by saturated fatty acids such as palmitic, stearic and behenic acids.

 

Photo by Ermias Dagne Back To Useful Links

 Myrrh
Myrrh is a legendary plant. It is stated that the three wise men of the Bible carried gold, frankincense and myrrh as gift to baby Christ. Both myrrh and frankincense belong to the same family Burseracease but belong to two different genera Commiphora for myrrh and Boswellia for frankincense. Myrrh is a thorny shrub or a tree reaching up to 4 m in height. The scientific name of the tree is Commiphora myrrha and is native to the countries of the Horn of Africa and Arabia, where it is known by different names. In Somali the tree is known as Dhidin and the gum-resin molmol (Amharic: Kerbe). In English myrrh is used as common name for the tree as well the gum-resin. The bark is silvery and easily peels off in small pieces. Strongly aromatic gum-resin, brown in colour, exudes out from natural cracks on the trunk of the tree with a characteristic deep balsamic aroma, not particularly pleasant, but not repulsive either. This exudate has a unique bitter taste that serves as a quick aid to distinguish it from many other related resins. The term gum-resin indicates a product that is partly soluble in water like a gum, and is also soluble in hydrocarbon solvents as resins usually do.
Best quality myrrh gum-resin is obtained when the exudates come out of the trunk naturally without tapping. Tapping of myrrh tree is not common in the Ogaden and Bale, two regions that produce most of the myrrh of Ethiopia. But in Wajir and Mandera regions of Kenya tapping is common and it results in light brown gum-resin of inferior quality. Hence the so called Kenya-myrrh, which is also sold widely in Addis Ababa markets at lower prices is myrrh of inferior quality. Ethiopia is one of the major suppliers of myrrh in the world. The Ethiopian Natural Gums Processing and Marketing Enterprise (NGPME) exports about 100 tons per year. The principal buyers are countries in the Middle East, Europe and China. Myrrh is an important ingredient in Chinese Traditional medicine.
Strictly speaking genuine myrrh resin, with the typical aroma and characteristic chemical composition, is derived only from C. myrrha. However, in commerce it is not uncommon to have resins of other Commiphora species, which are present as adulterants. This has resulted in reports in the literature of a large number of compounds that are not present in true myrrh. This is because most previous chemical studies reported from myrrh were based on resins from commerce rather than on materials obtained from properly identified trees. Contrary to other resins, myrrh is quite soluble in water.
Myrrh has been used since ancient times as medicine and for ceremonial and religious purposes. In ancient times, myrrh was used by the Egyptians for embalming. The European Commission E+ (Blumenthal et al., 2000) approved myrrh for topical treatment of mild inflammations of the oral and pharyngeal mucosa. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1996) indicates myrrh tincture as a mouthwash for gingivitis and ulcers. Myrrh is also an important drug in Chinese Traditional Medicine (Yen, 1992).
In Somalia and Ethiopia, a decoction of myrrh resin is used traditionally to treat stomachache; it is mixed with powdered charcoal to make ink for writing on parchments and burnt in houses and in the bush to chase away snakes. Modern uses include for flavoring foods, drinks and confectionary items, as additive of perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, bath lotions, toilet soaps, toothpastes, mouth washes, air fresheners etc.
Mekonen et al. (2003) showed the petrol extract of myrrh was not toxic to mice at a dose of 0.96g/kg while Rao et al (2001) found myrrh is not toxic to mice at doses of up to 3 g/kg. These results show the high degree of safety if myrrh is taken internally. However this may not be true of resins from other Commiphora species. For instance, the resin of C. erlageriana is known for its toxicity ascribed to unique podophylotoxin type compounds (Dekebo et al., 2002b).
The wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties of myrrh are well known, making it an important component of mouthwashes and toothpastes. For therapeutic use, myrrh is used in tincture form (1 part resin in 5 parts alcohol). A quick mouthwash is typically made by adding 5-10 drops of myrrh tincture to a glass of water. Other herbal ingredients such as clove, peppermint, rosemary or sage may be added. Myrrh tincture can also be applied to sore gums, lips, or mouth tissue up to three times a day and for skin wash or a vaginal douch
Somali culture has rich tradition of using myrrh. Its decoction, prepared by boiling about 5 g in a liter or so of water is used to treat stomach complaints; when burnt in houses and in the bush its smoke chases away snakes; when mixed with powdered charcoal it yields ink used for writing on parchments.
Modern uses include flavoring foods, drinks, and confectionary items, as additive to products for personal use such as perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, bath lotions, toilet soaps, toothpastes, mouth washes, air fresheners, etc.
   Pictures of  
   myrrh tree,
   Ogaden
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In commerce myrrh gum-resin is often processed to give value added products. It can be extracted by organic solvents such as hexane, which after removal of solvent gives a viscous mass, known in commerce as ‘’resinoid”. If the solvent used for extraction is alcohol, one obtains an ’’absolute’’.
                                 
  
 
 One of the most
 popular value
 added products of myrrh is       its essential oil, which is obtained by steam or hydro-distillation. Myrrh oil is viscous and dark-brown in colour. It is a popular ingredient in the preparation of skin care products and is also employed as fixative for perfumes.                         Back To Useful Links
 
 

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