Traditional medicine practitioners visit the Heritage Garden

Traditional medicineTraditional medicine practitioners from Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, and Madagascar visited the medicinal garden at the Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman on Thursday 7 February 2013. The practitioners were attending an inaugural meeting of a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) project held in Seychelles between 4 and 6 February, whose aim is to support traditional medicinal knowledge in the Indian Ocean Small Island States and Madagascar.

The meeting  helped participants to share experiences and good practices from their own countries, as well as challenges they face in respect to their profession. They drew up priority actions that would help to reinforce the spread of traditional medicinal  knowledge and practice, including the setting up of a platform for knowledge sharing. Traditional medicine is in danger of dying out especially as most practitioners do not commonly share knowledge outside their lineage. The project is working directly with the traditional practitioners to ensure their voices and perspectives more effectively inform policy making and scientific research.

Lucina Denis and Martin Varley of Nature Seychelles showed the visitors around the Heritage Garden, and with the help of the Seychelles practitioners, discussed the various ways the plants found there have been used in Seychelles. Those from the other islands also shared how the plants are used in their countries, creating interesting exchanges.

There was the Yapanna (Ayapana triplinervis) whose leaves are used as a tea to relieve indigestion and stomach pains, Lapsuli (Justicia gendarussa) used to treat skin problems and the Bwa Zoliker (Pittosporum senacia) whose leaves or wood is drank as a tonic to aid high blood pressure.

Zanbrovat (Cajanus cajan, pigeon pea) also treats high blood pressure as well as the stomach, while a paste of the Lerb Sat (Acalypha indica) treats skin infection. An infusion of the leaves of the humble Kari Pile (Murraya koenigii, curry leaf)  after meals is used to treat digestive problems and an infusion of Grobonm leaves (Plectrantus aromaticus, Spanish thyme) drank as a tea is used to treat coughs, sore throats and nasal congestion.

Other plants of interest were the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus, Rozanmer), which has a long history of use in traditional medicine particularly for treating diabetes, and from which two chemicals, vinblastine and vincristine with active anti-cancer agents, are now extracted for use in chemotherapy.

None of these plants should of course be used without the direction of someone with knowledge of their healing properties.

Traditional medicine has been used in virtually all cultures, although in many places it has come to be associated with superstition. It is still widely used today with the World Health Organisation estimating that in some Asian and African countries, 80% of the population depend on traditional medicine and on local medicinal plants to satisfy their primary health care needs.  

Natural products, found especially in plants, are widely used in pharmacology and alternative medicine. Herbal medicines are the most well known and lucrative form of traditional medicine, generating billions of dollars in revenue.

In Seychelles, the National Heritage and Research Section of the Ministry of Education has held well-received traditional medicine open days, where practitioners have shared their knowledge and products. The healing properties of plants like Noni (Morinda Citrifolia) have generated a lot of interest.

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