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Herbal Traditions of Africa

When it comes to any other continent in the world, Africa exhibits some of the greatest variety in herbal traditions. Unfortunately, when the colonial period made its mark, native herbal practices suffered as a result. However, today , we see a great deal of conventional methods blended with the traditions of the past. This article will explore some of the herbs associated with ancient medicinal treatments of Africa.

During the earliest times of Africa, medicinal plants found a place in the world of therapeutic healing. By browsing ancient texts from Egypt, we learn that herbal medicines were used as a valuable source of healing throughout the northern part of Africa for thousands of years.

For instance, the Ebers papyrus (1500 BC) serves as one of the oldest medical texts to survive throughout time. Inside, more than 870 formulas and prescriptions have been found. The description of 700 medicinal herbs was also included. Medical conditions were illustrated in the text, showcasing how to treat ailments, from crocodile bites to problems with the chest region. It is believed that this text and the teachings that came from it would establish the basis of classical medical practices in Rome, Greece, and Arabia.

The African and Middle East Connection in Medicine

Methods and traditions of African herbal healing traveled from place to place thanks to trade that took place between the Middle East, India, and northeastern Africa. This practice lasted for about 3,000 years. The trade allowed various herbs to find their way to other parts of the world. For example, the Middle East would have never known herbs (like myrrh) if samples never left the Horn of Africa or Somalia. The exchange of such herbs also helped further the advancement of Arab doctors, who pushed the envelope of medicine between the 5th century and 13th century.

Ancient Beliefs

When it came to the medicine of the world, inhabitants (namely nomadic people) did not become affected by the changes that were taking place over time. If you lived in a remote part of Africa at that time, you most likely held true to your own herbal traditions that often centered on “magical” practices of healing. It was quite common to believe that spirits played a role in the health of people , possessing the power to affect illness and death. In order to restore the health of a local, a great deal of “magical” herbs were called upon to help.

African Herbs

Thankfully, Africa is a region where an abundance of herbs grew wild and locally , with a hefty amount of medicinal plants finding their ways to markets. Many natural medicines were prescribed to solve a multitude of health problems. African herbs also served another purpose for locals, as many plants were used during ceremonies, especially those with religious significance. Some medicinal plants (like iboga) were chewed in an effort to stop fatigue from settling in during ceremonies.

To gain a better understanding regarding African herbal traditions, consider reading the article titled, “Ancient African Herbs.”