Herbs have been used as medicine for centuries. Plants have a long and rich history of medicinal use and, even in the era of modern medicine, their medicinal properties are still sought after. Most of today’s medicines come from nature but herbs are still some of the strongest and most effective sources of medicine around.
Medicinal Plant Research focuses on the propagation, cultivation and processing of South African medicinal plants, especially those species that are highly utilised. Many of these medicinal plants including the endemic species are often harvested unsustainably from their natural population. As a result, some species are becoming rare or threatened with extinction. The development of optimised propagation and cultivation technologies for medicinal plants is an intervention that can ensure a sustainable supply of good quality plant material for the growing medicinal plant-based industries, contribute towards the conservation of our natural resources and create job opportunities.
South Africa has a rich heritage of traditional herbal remedies and the country is blessed with an abundance of indigenous plants known for their healing properties. A large portion of the country falls into the Cape Floral Kingdom, containing approximately 4% of all the world’s plant species. Of these plants, 70% are endemic, meaning that they don’t occur naturally anywhere else in the world. With nearly 9,000 plant species found naturally in this area, it’s no surprise that many of South Africa’s traditional remedies are based on the curative properties of plants.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant species of the genus Aloe. It is an evergreen perennial which comes from the Arabian Peninsula. It now grows wild in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid climates around the world. It is not only cultivated for agricultural and medicinal uses but is also used to decorate gardens and grows successfully indoors as a potted plant.
Aloe vera is found in many consumer products including beverages, skin lotion, cosmetics, ointments or in the form of gel for minor burns and sunburns. The clear gel and yellow latex are used to manufacture commercial products. Aloe gel typically is used to make topical medications for skin conditions, such as burns, wounds, frostbite, rashes, psoriasis, cold sores, or dry skin. It also provides relief from constipation and can be used as a natural laxative.
Lavender (lavandula) is popular for its soothing scent and ability to calm the nerves. Lavender tea is another drink you can whip up to help you unwind after a long day and have a good night’s rest. Lavender oil is also popular for massage treatments, aromatherapy and even hair treatment!
Lavender health benefits:
- Eases tension and reduces stress
- Relieves headaches and migraines
- Aids sleep
- Supports healthy hair and skin
- Fights acne
- Relieves pain
- Treats respiratory problems
- Brew flowers for a tea
- Use essential oil in a diffuser
- Apply essential oil topically
Peppermint (mentha × piperita) is a fresh herb that we taste in gum, toothpaste and desserts. This herb makes a tasty tea and helps relieve tummy aches, nausea and muscle pain (just to name a few). Peppermint tea is a good choice for pregnant moms who suffer from occasional morning sickness.
Peppermint health benefits:
- Relieves allergies
- Soothes muscle pain
- Relieves headaches
- Reduces nausea, gas and indigestion
- Supports digestive health
- Treats bad breath
- Highly antibacterial
- Brew leaves for a tea
- Apply essential oil topically
- Inhale essential oil
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a herb composed of the fresh or dried leaves of the oregano plant. The plant has tiny leaves that lend a pungent aroma and strong flavor to a variety of savory foods. Most people love to sprinkle it over pizzas, pasta dishes and other cheesy foods. When in bloom, the plant sports pink or purple flowers, which are also edible. It is gluten-free and suitable for vegan and paleo diets.
Oregano oil has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties and contains substances that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Oregano essential oil is employed in organic chicken farming in place of commercial antibiotics. Oregano tea and oregano oil have been used as a natural remedy for indigestion, coughs, allergies, arthritis, and to stimulate menstruation.