Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conservational concern over exploitation of indigenous plants for medicinal purposes in KwaZulu Natal South Africa.

South Africa’s indigenous plants are facing threat of extinction due to medicinal harvest. The Researched done by Institute of Natural Resource indicate that the medicinal trade has been increased. [1] The harvests of indigenous plants have raised much concern from the conservation perspective. This is because commercial gathers target most of the rare indigenous species. The purpose of this article is to address the threats that are rising from the use of indigenous plants for medicinal purpose without conserving it.

There is a cultural belief held by African culture that certain diseases and divines can be found or healed by using indigenous plants. For this reason, traditional healers are held in high esteem in African cultures and are regularly consulted by a large portion of the population. [1] The traditional healers help to specify the plant that can be used for treatment. The concern of over exploitation has risen because nowadays, people are turning medicinal harvest into commercial. They harvest plant roots, barks, and bulb to make profit by selling them in the street market and to the traditional healers. [1][3]

In the early ages, conservation of medicinal plants was achieved by various customary practises, such as religious belief, taboos, social restriction, and season of harvesting[1]
The early conservation practise monitor the harvest of indigenous plants for medicinal purpose by allowing plants gather to collect what they need not more than they need. This is to ensure that the plants can have ability to regenerate. The conservation practise also monitors the tools that plants gathers use to remove bulbs and roots; this was done to prevent distraction of plant growth and over exploitation. However, nowadays plants gather, they no longer follow the conservation method, which was used in the early age. They have moved from conserving to profit making. [1]

Overexploitation of indigenous plant for medicinal purpose has been a topic in most part of South Africa. The Institute of Natural Resource has done research about the trade of medicinal plant, in KwaZulu Natal. It has estimated to about R62 million per annum, “which is nearly equally to the one third of maize harvest”. [1] The demand for indigenous plant for medicine is still rising. This is because people demand medicine from indigenous plants than primary health care treatment. [1]

The exploitation of the indigenous plants occurs when the plant gathers chop, strip barks, and dig roots of the plants. This exploitation also occurs as competition from gatherers, who remove the parts they want before others. Due to this competition, they extract the plant without conserving it for the future. [1]

This overexploitation of indigenous plant for medicinal purpose has social and ecological impact, on our biodiversity. From social perspective, people tend to lose some indigenous plants for medicine harvest, due to overexploitation. In this case, some diseases are no longer cured because of the shortage of medicinal plants. In ecological perspective, plants are green glue that bind soil and keep animals alive in the biodiversity. [1]

Plants that are facing threat of overexploitation in KwaZulu Natal are Bowia volubilis (climbing onion); Eucomis autumnalis (pineapple flower) and Ocotea bullata (stinkwood tree) [1].These are the plant species, which plant gathers trade annually in KwaZulu Natal. In KZN, most of the medicines are traded in the informal street. [1]

The street trader of medicinal plants in KZN by plant gathers. [1]

This utilization of indigenous plant for medicinal purpose has raised much concern in conservations perspective. These over utilisation need to be addressed and monitored, so that the plants that are present can be conserved and sustained. However, cultural belief on the use of medicine from indigenous plants will also need to be considered.

In order to control the harvest of indigenous plants for medicine Traditional healers need to obtain permit for extracting indigenous plants. This can serve as management tool to guide people through conservation. The permit will also give authorisation of selling the medicine in the street. This will mean that only authorised people can sell, to reduce plant gathers who overexploit the medicinal plants for profit.

Policies to monitor and regulate the non-sustainable harvesting need to set for both public and private land. This will not only conserve indigenous species and environment it will also save human life, due to shortage of medicine when the species face threat of extinction. [2] “If they are not protected from overharvest, human health may suffer as medicinal species disappear”.2

Over exploitation of indigenous plants for medicine, need to be addressed to the plant gathers and traditional healers, so that conservation can be achieved. It may also be important to sustain this indigenous plants medicine, some researcher can find cure for HIV-AIDS out of it. This may be a call to the Conservationist and the traditional healers to work hand in hand to protect and conserve our indigenous plants and biodiversity.

1. Steve McKean .The Medicinal Plant Trade in KwaZulu-Natal
Conservation Concerns and Actions: [internet] cited 2007 February 26. Available from:

2. Westfall R.E and Glickman W. B. Conservation of indigenous medicinal plants in Canada [internet] cited 2007 February 26. Available from

3. Mahonge C.P.I, Nsenga J.V. Mtengeti E.J, and Mattee .A.Z. (2006) Utilization of Medicinal Plants by Waluguru People in East Uluguru Mountains Tanzania African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 121-134 [internet] cited 2007 February 26. Available from:


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